In 2011, Studio Shunno in Dhaka invited twenty Bangladeshi artists to create etchings for a portfolio entitled Line of Ascent, which reflects and expands the contours of the spirit and culture of Bangladesh.
The featured artists represent two generations, all born between the early 1930s and ’60s. They were witness to and participated in significant moments in the region’s tumultuous history, such as the Bengali (Bangla) Nationalist Movement and the Bangladesh Liberation War. The portfolio prints share deep resonance with the adjoining exhibition, Partition, marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Partition of India when, in 1947, India was divided into India, West Pakistan, and East Bengal, which would become East Pakistan in 1955. These two exhibitions weave together shared themes around language, culture, strife, nationalism and independence, famine, and the participation of women artists.
Most of these artists studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka (then the East Pakistan College of Arts and Crafts), or the Institute of Fine Arts at Chittagong University. The cities of Dhaka and Chittagong (or Chattogram) continue to be pivotal nodes for engaging in art and intellectual praxis. Some went on to teach in these universities, run institutions such as the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and Bangladesh National Museum, or establish independent practices. At the University of Dhaka, some studied under pioneering artists including Zainul Abedin, Aminul Islam, Mustafa Manwar, and Safiuddin Ahmed. Abedin, Ahmed, and Quamrul Hassan were all instrumental in fostering a modern art movement in Bangladesh.
Some artists also had the opportunity to study at art schools in India (such as the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda and at Santiniketan in West Bengal) as well as in Japan, Greece, and Spain. Many have also been recipients of the Ekushey Padak (“Twenty-First Award”), the second-highest civilian award in the country, instituted to commemorate martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement. The reference to twenty-one marks the importance of the date February 21, 1952, when student activists who had been campaigning for the inclusion of Bangla as one of Pakistan’s state languages, along with Urdu and English, were killed during a protest. This day sparked mass civil unrest that finally led to the government granting official status to Bangla four years later in 1956, after nearly a decade of protests. In 1999, UNESCO instituted February 21 as “International Mother Language Day,” in recognition of the movement and of the language rights of people across the world.
The Johnson Museum is grateful to Razima Selim Chowdhury, senior lecturer in charge of the Bengali language program in the Department of Asian Studies, for lending this portfolio.
PhD candidate and curatorial assistant for Asian art