Zainul Abedin

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Shilpacharya - Master of Art

Zainul Abedin
জয়নুল আবেদিন
Zainul Abedin in 1955
Born(1914-12-29)29 December 1914
Died28 May 1976(1976-05-28) (aged 61)
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Known forPainting, drawing
Notable work
  • The Struggle
  • Rebel cow
  • Famine paintings
  • Nobanno
  • Study of a Crow
  • Two faces

Zainul Abedin (29 December 1914 – 28 May 1976), also known as Shilpacharya (Master of Art) was a prominent Bangladeshi painter. He became well known in 1944 through his series of paintings depicting some of the great famines in Bengal during its British colonial period. After the Partition of Indian subcontinent he moved to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In 1948, he helped to establish the Institute of Arts and Crafts (now Faculty of Fine Arts) at the University of Dhaka.[1] The Indian Express has described him as a legendary Bangladeshi painter and activist.[2] Like many of his contemporaries, his paintings on the Bengal famine of 1943 are viewed as his most characteristic works. His homeland honored him with given the title "Shilpacharya" (Bengali: শিল্পাচার্য) "Great teacher of the arts" for his artistic and visionary attributes.[3][4][5] He was the pioneer of the modern art movement that took place in Bangladesh and was rightly considered by Syed Manzoorul Islam as the founding father of Bangladeshi modern arts, soon after Bangladesh earned the status of an independent republic.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Zainul Abedin was born in Kishoreganj on 29 December 1914.[7] Much of his childhood was spent near the scenic banks of the Brahmaputra River. The Brahmaputra would later appear in many of his paintings and be a source of inspiration all throughout his career. Many of his works framed Brahmaputra and a series of watercolors that Zainul Abedin did as his tribute to the river earned him the Governor's gold medal in an all-India exhibition in 1938. This was the first time when he came under spotlight and this award gave Zainul Abedin the confidence to create his own visual style.[8]

In 1933, Zainul Abedin was admitted to the Government School of Art in Calcutta (now Government College of Art & Craft, Kolkata, India). Here for five years he learned British/ European academic style and later he joined the faculty of the same school after his graduation. He was the first Muslim student to obtain first class distinction from the school.[9] He was dissatisfied with the oriental style and the limitations of European academic style and this led him towards realism. In 1948, with help from a few colleagues, he founded an art institute in Dhaka. Back then, there were no art institutes in the city. Soon after, it went on to be considered the best art institute in Pakistan during its early years. He worked in the Pakistani government for a while.[10] He taught at the institute and among his students was Pakistani artist Mansur Rahi.[11] He also taught Bangladeshi artists such as Monirul Islam[12] and Mohammad Kibria.[13]

After completing his two years of training from Slade School of Fine Art in London, he began a new style, the 'Bengali style', where the main features were: folk forms with their geometric shapes, sometimes semi-abstract representation, and the use of primary colors. But he lacked the sense of perspective. Later he realized the limitations of folk art, so he went back to the nature, rural life and the daily struggles of man to make art that would be realistic but modern in appearance.[14][15]


Jainul Abedin Gallary

Among all the contemporary works of Zainul Abedin, his famine sketches of the 1940s are his most remarkable works. His famine painting set which, exhibited in 1944, brought him even more critical acclaim. The miserable situation of the starving people during the Great Famine of Bengal in 1943 touched his heart. He made his own ink by burning charcoal and used it on cheap, ordinary packing paper. He depicted those starving people who were dying by the road-side.[1] Zainul Abedin not only documented the famine, he also revealed the famine's sinister face through the skeletal figures of people fated to die of starvation. [16]

Zainul Abedin depicted this inhuman story with very human emotions. These drawings became iconic images of human suffering. These sketches helped him find his way in a realistic approach that focused on the human suffering, struggle and protest. He was more socially aware focusing on the working class and their struggles.[17] The Rebel Cow marks a high point of that style. This particular brand of realism combines social inquiry and the protest with higher aesthetics. He was an influential member of the Calcutta Group of progressive artists and was friends with Shahid Suhrawardy and Ahmed Ali of the Progressive Writers' Movement.[18] He made modernist paintings of Santhal people. Notable among them is "Two Santhal Women".[19]

He visited Palestinian camps in Syria and Jordan in 1970 and made 60–70 paintings of the refugees there.[20] He also painted the 1970 Bhola cyclone that devastated East Pakistan.[10]

Liberation movement[edit]

He was involved in the Bengali Language Movement of East Pakistan.[2] Zainul Abedin was involved in the Bangladesh liberation war movement. He was at the forefront of the cultural movement to re-establish the Bengali identity, marginalized by the Pakistan government. In 1969, Zainul Abedin painted a scroll using Chinese ink, watercolor and wax named Nabanna. This was to celebrate the ongoing non-cooperation movement.[8]

Post-independence era[edit]

In 1974 he received Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Delhi, India.[21] In 1975, he founded the Folk Art Museum at Sonargaon in Narayanganj, and Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala, a gallery of his own works in Mymensingh.[22] In 1982, 17 of the 70 pictures housed in Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala were stolen. Only 10 were later recovered. His famous painting "Study of a Crow" (Ink Wash) in the collection of Professor Ahmed Ali is listed in the book Arts in Pakistan by Jalaluddin Ahmed, 1952, including an exclusive monologue on him published by FOMMA, Karachi, along with his many Famine Series paintings of 1943.

Personal life and death[edit]

Grave of Zainul Abedin

Zainul Abedin was married to Jahanara Abedin.[7] He developed lung cancer and died on 28 May 1976 in Dhaka. Two faces was his last painting, completed shortly before his death.[1] He was buried beside the Dhaka University Central Mosque.[23]


Sculpture of Shilpacharya in the premises of Folk Art Museum

In 2009, a crater on the planet Mercury was named Abedin after the painter.[24] His birthday was celebrated in Bangladesh, with a festival in University of Dhaka and children's art competition in Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala (art gallery).[25][26][27] An academic building of the University of Rajshahi, has recently been named after him which is the home to its fine arts faculty. His sketch was auctioned at auction house Bonhams.[28] Zainul Abedin Museum in Mymensingh, Bangladesh is dedicated to his work.

In December 2014, Bangladeshi various socio-cultural organisations have arranged elaborate birth centenary programmes throughout the country.[23] On 29 December 2019, Google celebrated his 105th birthday with a Google Doodle.[29]



  1. ^ a b c Alom, Zahangir (29 December 2015). "Homage to Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin". The Daily Star. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  2. ^ a b Sinha, Nidhi (27 August 2014). "Celebrating the work of Bangladeshi painter and activist Zainul Abedin". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 27 September 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  3. ^ "Noor pays tribute to Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin". Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha. Archived from the original on 6 January 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  4. ^ "'Zainul's devotion to art never bothered me,' says Jahanara". Weekly Holiday. Dhaka: Holiday Publication Limited. 11 December 2011. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  5. ^ "Pho Photography exhibition on Zainul's life begins at DU". Dhaka. 28 December 2005. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  6. ^ "Zainul Abedin". Christie's. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Zainul Abedin's birth centenary event starts". The Daily Star. 20 December 2014. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  8. ^ a b Manzoorul Islam, Syed (16 June 2014). "Abedin, Zainul". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia (2nd ed.). Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  9. ^ Islam, Monwarul (29 December 2014). "Shilpacharjo Zainul Abedin's birth centenary today". New Age. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Portrait of an artist in divided South Asia". DAWN. Karachi. 6 January 2013. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  11. ^ Chatterjee, Partha (4 December 2009). "Gentle Rainbow". Frontline. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  12. ^ "Artist Monirul Islam conferred Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Shammanana". The Daily Observer. 30 December 2018.
  13. ^ Haq, Fayza (1 July 2011). ""To sir, with love"– Kibria: Immortal in our hearts". The Daily Star. Dhaka. Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  14. ^ "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin's 39th death anniversary". Dhaka Courier. Dhaka. 4 June 2015. Archived from the original on 10 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Museum displays 100 artworks of Shilpacharya". New Age. Dhaka. 29 December 2014. Archived from the original on 10 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  16. ^ Alom, Zahangir (18 November 2014). "Fine art and artists through the eyes of Fayza Haq". The Daily Star. Dhaka. Archived from the original on 8 February 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  17. ^ Ali, Atteqa. "Modern Art in West and East Pakistan". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 31 December 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  18. ^ "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin's 36th death anniversary observed". he Daily Star. Dhaka. 29 May 2012. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  19. ^ Bhasin, Tanushree (7 September 2013). "South Asia's organic brand of Modernism". Sunday Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  20. ^ Zaman, Mustafa (24 December 2004). "The Artist of People's Struggle". Star Weekend Magazine. Dhaka. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  21. ^ "Zainul Abedin". The Daily Star. Dhaka. 16 October 2015. Archived from the original on 18 January 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin's 100th birthday today". Dhaka Tribune. Dhaka. 28 December 2013. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  23. ^ a b "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin's birth centenary today". The Independent. Dhaka. 29 December 2015. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  24. ^ "Abedin". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. United States Geological Survey. 7 March 2011. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  25. ^ Alom, Zahangir (30 December 2015). "Zainul Utshab 2015". The Daily Star. Dhaka. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  26. ^ Isalm, Aminul (21 December 2015). "Shilpacharya's birth anniversary celebrated in Mymensingh". The Daily Star. Dhaka. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Year long Zainul festival at Shilpakala Academy". The Daily Star. Dhaka. 5 January 2014. Archived from the original on 12 January 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  28. ^ "Fire sale auction of Pakistani masters in London". DAWN. 7 June 2015. Archived from the original on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  29. ^ "Zainul Abedin's 105th Birthday". Google. 29 December 2019.

External links[edit]