Zainul Abedin

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This article is about the painter from Bangladesh. For the great-grandson of Muhammad, see Zayn al-‘Ābidīn.
Zainul Abedin
Zainul Abedin.jpg
Abedin in 1955
Native name জয়নুল আবেদিন
Born (1914-12-29)29 December 1914
Kishoreganj, East Bengal, British Raj (now Bangladesh)
Died 28 May 1976(1976-05-28) (aged 61)
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Nationality Bangladeshi
Known for Painting, drawing, sculpture
Notable work
  • The Struggle
  • Rebel cow
  • Famine paintings
  • Nobanno
  • Study of a Crow
  • Two faces

Zainul Abedin (29 December 1914 – 28 May 1976) was a Bangladeshi painter. He got the break through in 1944 with his Famine Series paintings of 1943. After partition he moved to Pakistan; and finally when Bangladesh was created in 1971, he was rightly considered by Syed Manzoorul Islam as the founding father of Bangladeshi modern art.[1] In 1948 he helped establish the Institute of Arts and Crafts (now Faculty of Fine Arts) at Dhaka University.[2] The Indian Express described him as a Legendary Bangladeshi painter.[3] Like many of his contemporaries, his paintings on the Bengal famine of 1943 is probably his most characteristic work. He was given the title Shilpacharya (Great Teacher of the Arts) in Bangladesh for his artistic and visionary qualities.[4][5][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Abedin was born in Kishoreganj, East Bengal on December 29, 1914.[7] Much of his childhood was spent near the scenic banks of the Brahmaputra river. 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 Abedin did as his tribute to the Brahmaputra 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 Abedin the confidence to create his own visual style.[8]

In 1933, Abedin was admitted to Calcutta Government Art School in Calcutta. 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 orientalist style and the limitations of European academic style and this led him towards realism. He was the pioneer of the modern art movement that took place in Bangladesh. In 1948 he, and with the help of few of his colleagues, founded an art institute in Dhaka. That time there were no art institute present in Dhaka and he was the founding principal of that institute. It was considered the best art institute in Pakistan during its early years. He worked in the Pakistan government for a while.[10] He taught at the institute and among his students was Pakistani artist Mansur Rahi.[11] He also taught Bangladeshi artist Mohammad Kibria.[12]

After completing his two years of training from an art school in London, he began a new style, "Bengali style", where folk forms with their geometric shapes, sometimes semi-abstract representation, the use of primary colors were the main features. But in all his drawing one thing was prominent that his lack of idea in 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 combination of art that would be realistic but modern in appearance.[13][14]


Jainul Abedin Gallary

Among all the contemporary works of Abedin, his famine sketches of the 1940s are his most remarkable works. He created his famine painting set, which, when 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 sensitive heart very deeply. He made his own ink by burning charcoal and using it on cheap ordinary packing paper, he depicted those starving people who were dying by the road side in search of little bit of food.[2] What Abedin did was not just documented the famine, but in his sketches the famine showed its sinister face through the skeletal figures of people fated to die of starvation in a man-made difficulty. [15]

Abedin depicted this inhuman story with very human emotions. This drawings became iconic images of human suffering. This sketches helped him find his way in a realistic approach that focused the human suffering, struggle and protest. He was more socially aware focusing on the working class and their struggles.[16] The Rebel crow 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.[17] His did modernist paintings on Santhals notable among them is "Two Santhal Women".[18]

He visited Palestinian camps in Syria and Jordan in 1970 and made 60-70 paintings of the refugees there.[19] He also painted the 1970 Bhola cyclone that devastated then East Pakistan.[10]

Liberation movement[edit]

Abedin's tomb

He was involved in the Bengali Language Movement of East Pakistan.[3] 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, Abedin painted a scroll using Chinese ink, watercolor and wax named Nabanna. This was to celebrate the ongoing non-cooperation movement.

Post-independence era[edit]

In 1974 he received Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Delhi, India.[20] In 1975, he founded the Folk Art Museum at Sonargaon in Narayanganj, and Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala, a gallery of his own works in Mymensingh.[21] 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]

Abedin was married to Jahanara Abedin.[7]He developed lung cancer and died on May 28, 1976 in Dhaka. Two faces was his last painting, completed shortly before his death.[2] He was buried beside the Dhaka University Central Mosque.[22]



In 2009, a crater on the planet Mercury was named Abedin after the painter.[23] His birthday his celebrated in Bangladesh, with a festival in Dhaka University and children's art competition in Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala (art gallery).[24][25][26] His sketch was auctioned at auction house Bonhams.[27] Zainul Abedin Museum in Mymensingh, Bangladesh is dedicated to his work.


  1. ^ "Zainul Abedin". Christie's. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Noor pays tribute to Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin". Archived from the original on 6 January 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  5. ^ "‘Zainul’s devotion to art never bothered me,’ says Jahanara". Weekly Holiday (Dhaka: Holiday Publication Limited). 2011-12-11. Archived from the original on 2016-01-09. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  6. ^ "Pho Photography exhibition on Zainul's life begins at DU". (Dhaka). 2005-12-28. Archived from the original on 2016-01-09. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  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. ^ Manzoorul Islam, Syed (16 June 2014). "Abedin, Zainul". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia (2nd ed.). Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  9. ^ Islam, Monwarul (29 December 2014). "Shilpacharya 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 (newspaper) (Karachi). 2013-01-06. Archived from the original on 2016-01-05. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  11. ^ Chatterjee, Partha (4 December 2009). "Gentle rainbow". Frontline. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  12. ^ Haq, Fayza (2011-07-01). ""To sir, with love"– Kibria: Immortal in our hearts". The Star (Dhaka: The Daily Star). Archived from the original on 2013-10-27. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  13. ^ "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin’s 39th death anniversary". Dhaka Courier (Dhaka). 2015-06-04. Archived from the original on 2016-01-10. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  14. ^ "Museum displays 100 artworks of Shilpacharya". New Age (Bangladesh) (Dhaka). 2014-12-29. Archived from the original on 2016-01-10. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  15. ^ Alom, Zahangir (2014-11-18). "Fine art and artists through the eyes of Fayza Haq". The Daily Star (Dhaka). Archived from the original on 2015-02-08. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  16. ^ Ali, Atteqa. "Modern Art in West and East Pakistan". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 2015-12-31. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  17. ^ "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin's 36th death anniversary observed". he Daily Star (Dhaka). 2012-05-29. Archived from the original on 2016-01-05. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  18. ^ Bhasin, Tanushree (2013-09-07). "South Asia’s organic brand of Modernism". Sunday Guardian. Archived from the original on 2013-11-05. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  19. ^ Zaman, Mustafa (2004-12-24). "The Artist of People's Struggle". Star Weekend Magazine (Dhaka). Archived from the original on 2016-01-05. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  20. ^ "Zainul Abedin". The Daily Star (Bangladesh) (Dhaka). 2015-10-16. Archived from the original on 2016-01-18. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  21. ^ "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin’s 100th birthday today". Dhaka Tribune (Dhaka). 2013-12-28. Archived from the original on 2016-01-18. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  22. ^ "Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin’s birth centenary today". The Independent (Bangladesh) (Dhaka). 2015-12-29. Archived from the original on 2016-01-05. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  23. ^ "Abedin". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. United States Geological Survey. 2011-03-07. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  24. ^ Alom, Zahangir (2015-12-30). "Zainul Utshab 2015". The Daily Star (Bangladesh) (Dhaka). Archived from the original on 2016-01-05. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  25. ^ Isalm, Aminul (2015-12-21). "Shilpacharya's birth anniversary celebrated in Mymensingh". The Daily Star (Bangladesh) (Dhaka). Archived from the original on 2016-01-05. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  26. ^ "Year long Zainul festival at Shilpakala Academy". The Daily Star (Bangladesh) (Dhaka). 2014-01-05. Archived from the original on 2012-01-12. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  27. ^ "Fire sale auction of Pakistani masters in London". DAWN (newspaper). 2015-06-07. Archived from the original on 2015-09-19. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 

External links[edit]