Eminent artist Kalidas Karmakar was recently awarded the Ekushey Padak for outstanding contributions to Fine Arts. The second highest civilian award in Bangladesh, the Padak is given in memory of the martyrs of the Language Movement of 1952.
According to Karmakar, “Our language movement is a great inspiration not only for artists, but for everyone in this country. Sometimes, an event may inspire an artist, but the product in the form of painting, poetry, or writing, may take many years to come. I was a young schoolboy at that time, and was not in Dhaka yet. However, the movement affected every one of us. Whenever I go to the Shahid Minar, there’s a kind of spiritual feeling in me.”
However, he doesn't seem to want to attach undue weight upon the honour that has been bestowed upon him.
“Any recognition is an inspiration for creative people to continue their journey. For me, it’s the same. But creative people do not work for recognition. They work because it makes them feel happy. When you make art, you become totally involved in it.”
What is it that inspires the art?
“There is no end to learning. Whenever I start a painting, I love it. When I finish it, I feel like I can do much better. This drives me to do better, and that’s how I continue.”
Going into detail on his process of work, Karmakar explains how he is unable to create a layout of the composition in small first, and then expand onto a bigger canvas, like many artists to.
“I can't paint like that. Chintamani Kar, who was one of my teachers in Kolkata, suggested that whatever I thought, I should take directly to the canvas.”
“It’s amazing how we humans can create images in our minds. It's like an exercise, a meditation. When I think about a subject that I want to draw, it can sometimes takes days, months, even a year, but when the image is finally complete, I can put it on the canvas very fast. My major subject of art is the human being; because every human is unique. It’s fascinating. You may look at a person and think you understand him or her, but you in reality you might know nothing. My works are mainly symbolic expressions of these mediations.”
When asked to reflect on the past, Karmakar exclaims, “I never thought I’d become an artist. I used to paint a bit, but I wanted to be a botanist, because I love nature.”
“However, I didn’t pay much attention to academics, and when I started college, I realised if I continued my journey as a science student, I may finish, but I won’t excel in the field I'm in because my foundation was weak. That was unacceptable to me because I’m quite competitive. I decided to put my mind to studying art.”
He added that when he first started studying at the Institute of Fine Arts in Dhaka, he was taught by artists like Hashem Khan and Mustafa Monwar.
“I still remember, on the first day, we went to sketch at Ramna Park. I made pencil sketches for hours, but I felt very happy, and not at all tired. That struck me. I realized that if I continued in this field, I may end up doing something good, because it gave me pleasure.”
“After two years of studying art, Shilpacharya Jainul Abedin gave a letter of recommendation for my admission in the Government College of Fine Arts and Crafts in Kolkata.”
'We need a national museum of modern art'
Once you get the maestro started on the topic of the art scene in Bangladesh, you realise that his real passion is in the establishment of a proper platform to promote the work of Bangladeshi artists.
“The government needs to push for even greater promotion, nationally and internationally. It’s sad that even after 47 years of liberation, we don’t have a proper dedicated national art gallery or national museum of modern art yet. Absence of platforms like these acts as an obstacle to the flourishing of art.”
“In New York, they have Museum of Modern Art, London has Tate Modern, Paris has Louvre. Just like a child needs the warmth of its mother’s bosom to be nurtured, artists need platforms like these to grow and flourish. If there is a platform like this in Bangladesh, within five years Bangladeshi art will be regarded on par with anywhere in the world.”
He went on to discuss how Bangladeshi senior artists and government officials came together to establish the Asian Art Biennale in 1981, at a time when even the most developed countries in Asia did not think of it.
“The development of young artists in Bangladesh is greatly influenced by exhibitions like this - different works from all over the world can have an impact on them, such as the Dhaka Art Summit which started eight years ago and focuses on contemporary art. From my experience, I can say that our contemporary art by the young generation is on par with that of any artist in world, in terms of quality, aesthetics and arrangement. But when there is no Asian Art Biennale or no Dhaka Art Summit happening, where do we go to find the works of Bangladeshi artists?”