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Dhaka Tribune

Bhaskar Rasha: Spreading artwork worldwide

  • Utilizing wood, tree branches for artwork
  • Exhibitions held worldwide
  • Artwork focuses on Bangladesh
Update : 22 Sep 2023, 02:34 PM

In accordance with the Bengali saying, "Wherever you see ash, look for it; you can find a priceless jewel," the sculptures of New York-based expatriate artist Akhtar Ahmed Rasha exemplify how seemingly insignificant things can be transformed into invaluable treasures. Rasha has turned the Atlantic Ocean into his source of sculptural materials, utilizing wood and tree branches washed ashore by the mighty waves of the beach.

Rasha has already held several solo exhibitions of his artwork in Bangladesh, New York, and various other countries. His artistic talent has been recognized and appreciated not only in Bangladesh but also around the world.

Born in Nilphamari, Rasha pursued English Literature at Jahangirnagar University. However, he relocated to New York for medical treatment three decades ago, where he has resided ever since. Despite his physical distance from Bangladesh, his artwork serves as a medium to spotlight the country's tensions, love, traditions, and struggles before the world.

Akhtar Ahmed Rasha has already made more than 500 works of art using the collected branches and wood. Among these are the language movement, slaughterhouse, mass uprising of 1960s, liberation war, village of Bangladesh, Rohingyas who fled from Myanmar due to torture, Covid epidemic, mother and child, palm juice on winter mornings, cartoon character Tokai, and love.

His collection includes Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Lalon, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jibananand Das, Zainul Abedin, Shah Abdul Karim, Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Haque, Ferdowsi Priyabhashini, Asad Chowdhury, Salim Al Din, Azam Khan, Mirza Ghalib, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, Ravi Shankar, Satyajit Ray, Sophia Loren, George Harrison, Bob Dylan have been painted in wood. His kind of work is increasing day by day. 

Bhaskar Rasha is also making wall art in addition to making artwork with stars.

This image shows a view of Akhtar Ahmed Rasha’s solo exhibition ‘Drifting to the Root, Drifting to Love’ in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi. Photo: Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

He has already gained fame by holding several solo exhibitions at home and abroad. Among them, Akhtar organized a solo exhibition in New Jersey in 2015 titled “Onubhurtir Muhurto”, in 2017 “Emon Dine Tare Bola Jay”, in 2020 “Shilpe Shikhor”. 

In 2019, he participated in the party exhibition titled “Protirodh o Bijoy”. In 2021, an exhibition titled “Ogroj Shonnidhe Shilpo Sondha” was held. In this exhibition, Akhtar Ahmed handed over the sculptures made of some prominent people in wood.

Recently, he participated in "Drifting to the Root, Drifting to Love" in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi. Akhtar Ahmed Rasha again came into the discussion by organizing a solo exhibition under the title.

In an exclusive interview with Shamima Rita of Dhaka Tribune, Akhtar Ahmed Rasha, who originally studied English literature, shared the story of his life’s journey and transformation into "Bhaskar Rasha."

Q: How does it feel to be known as Bhaskar Rasha?

A: Every man's actions are his identity. I may have been able to stir up my sculpting addiction and work among others. It is a wonderful feeling when I see my sculpture adorning the living room of someone abroad. It doesn't feel bad when someone calls me Bhaskar Rasha. However, there is still a long way to go. 

Q: Where did you get the inspiration to make sculptures?

A: In 2002, I was inspired by the exhibition of Ferdousi Priyabhashini. Since then, the thoughts have built a nest in my head. One day while walking along the sea some distance from home, I collected some wood and twigs. And with that wood and branches, I started making some sculptures for the house as a hobby.

Q: How did it become a profession?

A: People appreciate this kind of artworks in foreign countries more than in Bangladesh. But I did not know about the income that can be made from sculpture because I am not an established artist or sculptor. I don’t have any technical education in this regard. But when someone appreciates a work, the interest towards the work also increases. My first income came from a foreign neighbour friend. He bought one of my sculptures with great interest and gave a very good price.

Then in an exhibition, the translator Anisuzzaman was moved by seeing a work of art showing refugees going on bullock carts during the liberation war. His own experience during the liberation war coincided with this artwork. He bought the artwork for more than its asking price. 33 of the 66 artworks in the first solo exhibition titled “Onubhurtir Muhurto” were sold. After that, from 2007, I started making scuptures professionally with the inspiration of family and friends.

Q: Tell me about your initial experience.

A: So far, I have made sculptures of various famous people including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. At first it was a little difficult, then it became a habit. A few days later a neighbour of mine inspired me. Back then, there was no thought of income by making this sculpture. Then gradually the hobby turned into a profession and a source of income.

Q: Why is "drift wood" the main material of your sculpture?

A: These woods floating on the beach are called 'drift wood'. This driftwood is durable and beautiful, and easily accessible for me as well. Besides, these woods are not easily destroyed because the wood forms a durable coating after being in the sea salt water for a long time. As a result, it can be stored for a long time. They are very useful for artwork. But it is quite difficult to collect. An artwork may not immediately come to mind after collecting it. Cleaning them, hammering them into shape – all in all a work of hard work and patience. It is not possible to do this work for a long time without the support of his wife and two sons. My wife and children inspire me a lot.

Akhtar Ahmed Rasha (L) is seen beside lawmaker Asaduzzaman Noor at the former’s solo exhibition titled ‘Drifting to the Root, Drifting to Love’ in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi. Photo: Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Q: How long does it take to transform a piece of wood or branch into a sculpture?

A: The time depends on the collected wood or pulse. It is not always possible to think about the shape. And it is not always possible to make sculptures by cutting wood or branches like stone. The subject of the sculpture depends on the shape of the branch or wood. So, the time is not fixed. In some cases, eyes, nose and lips are made with wood powder, cement and glue. Colour is used to bring out the subject of the sculpture.

Q: Which of your sculptures do you like most?

Each sculpture is handcrafted with great care. However, the sculptures made about Jessore Road, mother, language movement, liberation war, Rohingya give me relief.

Q: How is the interest among the people of the country about sculpture?

A: They are few in number who work with this kind of sculpture in Bangladesh. As a result, there is a love for sculpture among people when they notice a work of art can be made without paint. As the idea that sculpture means something made of stone is changed, people’s interest will increase.

Q: What kind of message do you want to convey to the world including the country of your sculpture?

A: Actually, I want the world to know about Bangladesh. Bringing the message of peace, Bangladesh is already well known in the world. But through my sculptures, I want to tell about Bangladesh's villages, towns and villages, people's struggle, liberation war, and language movement. I want to bring the tradition of Bangladesh to every home abroad. Foreigners are interested to know about the liberation war of Bangladesh. Although America was not in favour of Bangladesh in 1971, but the oppression that happened to the people of Bengal at that time, the way women had to be oppressed, these issues still create a stir among foreigners.

But I work more with women. I think women are moving forward in the society, country and the world. But their struggle is still ongoing.

Q: What are your future plans for the sculpture?

A: When I started, there was no plan to do anything. But as time goes by the motivation to do something new is increasing. The beginning was very small, then with the inspiration of friends, the exhibition was completely solo. About 33 of my art sculptures were sold there. After that, I did several sculpture exhibitions in the country and abroad. I want to highlight the culture and struggle of my country through my sculptures. But the artist has no problem. I don't have either. I want to express my feelings through action. I want to deliver art to people's homes.

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