Zainul Abedin in 1955
29 December 1914|
Kishoreganj, East Bengal, British Raj (now Bangladesh)
|Died||28 May 1976
|Known for||Painting, drawing, sculpture|
Zainul Abedin (Bengali: জয়নুল আবেদিন; 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. In 1948 he helped establish the Institute of Arts and Crafts (now Faculty of Fine Arts) at Dhaka University. The Indian Express described him as a Legendary Bangladeshi painter. 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.
Early life and education
Zainul Abedin was born in Kishoreganj, East Bengal on December 29, 1914. 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 Zainul 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.
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. 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. He taught at the institute and among his students was Pakistani artist Mansur Rahi. He also taught Bangladeshi artist Mohammad Kibria.
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.
Among all the contemporary works of Zainul Abedin, his famine sketches of 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. What Zainul 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. 
Zainul 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. 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. His did modernist paintings on Santhals notable among them is "Two Santhal Women".
He was involved in the Bengali Language Movement of East Pakistan. Abedin was involved in the Bangladesh liberation war movement. He was in 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.
In 1974 he received Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Delhi, India. In 1975, he founded the Folk Art Museum at Sonargaon in Narayanganj, and Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala, a gallery of his own works in Mymensingh. 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.
Zainul Abedin was married to Jahanara Abedin.
In 2009, a crater on the planet Mercury was named Abedin after the painter. His birthday his celebrated in Bangladesh, with a festival in Dhaka University and children's art competition in Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala (art gallery). His sketch was auctioned at auction house Bonhams. Zainul Abedin Museum in Mymensingh, Bangladesh is dedicated to his work.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Zainul Abedin.|
- Painting by Shilpacharjya Zainul Abedin
- Zainul Abedin @ Gallery Jolrong
- Islam, Syed Manzoorul (2012). "Abedin, Zainul". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.