Art has no language and boundaries – Rokeya Sultana

by Ekatmata Sharma
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‘4 min read’

In conversation with prominent Bangladeshi artist Rokeya Sultana as she showcases her retrospective exhibition in the capital city.

Renowned Bangladeshi artist Rokeya Sultana’s exhibition finally sees the light of the day in India as she exhibits her 40 years of work at Lalit Kala Akademi and further the exhibition will travel to Kolkata and Dhaka this year.

The exhibition comprises of 111 artworks, 35 to 40 photographs, 3 animation videos, 1 film and 15 pieces of sculptures.  Sultana’s artistic oeuvre that spans over forty years is showcased through a selection of her art that includes significant works from her best-known figural series ‘Madonna’ and ‘Relations’; her abstract interpretations of the Bangladeshi landscape and natural world in the ‘Earth Water Air’ sequence; and the print series ‘Fata Morgana’.

Sultana was born in Chittagong in 1958 at a time when the country was still considered East Pakistan. It gained independence in 1971. She was majorly influenced by the tumultuous 1971 revolution that created Bangladesh. “In 1971, I saw in my surroundings how women were tortured and created these women artworks in 1980,” shared Sultana depicting the artworks with women figures.

Sultana, 63, is best known for her subject of womanhood, sensuality and feminism. Talking about her animation artworks that showcase feminine relationships, she said, “Mother and daughter relationship is very universal subject. It’s a human connection. It has come to me through my maternal lineage. It’s passed on to me from my mother and the lineage of 400 years through her ancestors.”

Elaborating on the 3 animation videos ‘Madonna series’ with animation of female figures walking through forests, she explained, “My mother told me about her lost village that she left behind her. She told me stories that her mother told her. It’s from generation to generation that we carry our knowledge. I carry all these things within me.”

The exhibition traces the artist’s fascinating trajectory when she worked in Santiniketan as a student under the guidance of Somenath Hore, to her artistic career subsequently in Bangladesh with Safiuddin Ahmed and Mohammad Kibria as mentors, where she straddled diverse mediums and experimented with different narratives that were a unique expression of her own moods, emotions and intuitions.

The artist is known to working on different mediums. In the exhibition, her biographical works consist of her photographs, excerpts of texts from the book, book display, sculpture display and film screening. Most of the artworks – prints, paintings and drawings – are culled from the artist’s own collection. About a third of the works are from the Bengal Foundation and Abul Khair Collections. 

The poetic qualities of Sultana’s artistic compositions reside in the mythical figures embedded in nature amidst harmony, equally perhaps, in their transience in life or in her depiction of the eternity of womanhood. “How people feel after seeing an artwork depends on their mental state,” she said. 

It’s a historical exhibition for award-winning Bangladeshi printmaker and painter as this year Bangladesh celebrates its 50th year of liberation. Hence, this exposition becomes even more valuable to people across the border.

Sultana, then a young painter, had been witness to that turbulent time when the Liberation War was being fought; it is indeed serendipitous that her major showing should now be presented in a country that stood by her own at that critical juncture when history was rewritten

To commemorate this landmark exhibition, Bengal Foundation released their recently published monograph, which has been produced in close collaboration with the artist.

The show ‘Rokeya Sultana’ and launch of the monograph, has been organised by the ICCR in collaboration with Bengal Foundation, to mark 50 years of the friendship of the two neighbouring countries of India and Bangladesh. “I believe art has no language and boundaries. Art can spread peace, harmony and joy,” signed off Sultana.

‘Rokeya Sultana Retrospective’ exhibition continues till June 26th, 2022 at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.

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