Legendary artist SM Sultan, best known for his unique depiction of the strength, vigour and vitality of rural people, occupies an important place in the art scene of the sub-continent.
He earned the epithet of ‘contextual modernist’ for his unique vision and bold, linear style.
Today is the 25th death anniversary of SM Sultan, whose philosophy which was grounded on simplicity strongly influenced both his life and art.
This correspondent spoke to a number of leading contemporary artists who shared their thoughts on SM Sultan on the eve of the artist’s death anniversary.
Dean of Dhaka University fine arts faculty professor Nisar Hossain said, ‘SM Sultan successfully bridged art and life. He created a unique and distinctive style and promoted art among the mass people in Narail. He narrated stories of the mass people with his brush and canvas. His artworks established him as a master artist across the globe.’
Acclaimed artist Hashem Khan, also chairman of the Bangladesh National Museum trustee board said, ‘SM Sultan is considered as one of the most powerful artists in Bangladesh who had enriched our country’s art scene with his unique style of expression. He portrayed the farmers as mighty beings with powerful muscles. Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin brought him to lime light. SM Sultan also taught students at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy after the Liberation War. He had in-depth knowledge of art but wasn’t a big fan of academic rules and regulations.’
Seasoned artist Ranjit Das said, ‘SM Sultan’s works give the viewers a glimpse into the original scenario of rural Bengal along with the plight of the marginalised people. He had created a unique style. He will live on through his works.’
SM Sultan was born on August 10, 1923, in Masimdia, Narail.
A young Sultan dropped out of school due to financial constraints at an early age and began working for his father, a mason.
As a child, he had a strong inclination for art and did not waste any opportunity to draw even if it was with charcoal.
While he did not have the financial means to pursue an education in art, fate would have it otherwise for a young Sultan. He eventually travelled to Kolkata in 1938, with the local zamindar bearing the travel expenses. However, owing to his lack of a proper academic background, it was at first impossible for him to gain admission to the Art School in Kolkata. As luck would have it, he was able to bypass the admission process and join the institution with the help of renowned poet and art critic Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy. However, after three years, he left the institution to travel around India, working as a freelance artist.
During his time in Bangladesh, Sultan mostly lived in Narail in a building overlooking the river Chitra. He lived a life in perfect synchrony with the paintings he drew.
Sultan won many awards during his lifetime including the Ekushey Padak, Bangladesh Charu Shilpi Sangsad Award and the Independence Award. Besides, Cambridge University, in 1982, declared him ‘Man of Asia’.
The artist breathed his last on October 10, 1994, in Jashore.
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