Translated by M A Hye Milton and Andrew Eagle
Through his more-than-six-year journey as a professional artist, Zahangir Alom has ever-refined his innate capacity to translate heartfelt observations of the natural world into artistic compositions infused with insight. The result, a rare unity of physical geographies, thought, emotion and interaction, can be witnessed in the mainly watercolour wash collection of “The Uncaged,” his latest solo exhibition, at La Galerie in Dhanmondi's Alliance Française de Dhaka.
An artist who habitually draws from the wellspring of his experience of Nature's sights, sounds, textures, tastes and smells, Zahangir routinely connects with the innermost recesses of the Soul of the earth, water and forest. He delights in embodying its music and patterns in his works.
When a human being is imbued with intellect and exuberance, delights in the fullness of life and revels in Nature's diversity, their creative output indeed becomes as one with the creative self of the Universe. This truth lies at the heart of the inability to detach Zahangir's artworks from his life philosophies and vision, which are not less creative than the paintings.
The nature-lover and avid traveller employs his boundless curiosity and memory of familiar and foreign landscapes too, although with intuition as chief guide Zahangir can as easily find himself illuminating the buoyancy of a folksong as a Himalayan twilight.
A further source of muse, if any were needed, arises from his work as a critic. In the course of penning reviews of music, dance, drama and of course the visual arts, Zahangir interacts with other artists. Therein arise moments of exhilaration and clarity of just the sort he might later transform with a brush into shapes, figures and colours.
At the same time in the artist is a preoccupation with themes, forms and techniques. The company of fellow painters as well as art admirers, not least during previous exhibitions at home and abroad, has left him with no meagre understanding of such matters. Although his painting is primarily a creature of impulse, the addition of solid methodology has led to his developing a distinctive language within watercolour wash technique.
In several of his paintings, the cloud-like shapes of feminine figures are expressed through colour interplay. No effort is made to award them definitive shape; rather the focus is on the essence of flesh and blood within the physical world. Through long practice Zahangir has mastered his ability to produce such an effect, aided by close study of the Oriental heavyweights. Importantly, while not deviating from institutional principle and discipline, it is here that he has developed his novel combination of Oriental wash and Occidental tertiary colour splotch.
Recurrently his works rely on the primary colours of the Bengali landscape: blue and green. The rainy season, the smell of earth drenched by rain, the gentle breeze and music's tune: all intermingle in his paintings.
In a nod to the artists of the New Bengal School, mythological heroines including Radha, Lalita, Bishakha and Behula frequently appear, in Shongkirton style. The presence of the Eternal Soul can be felt in particular in a series representing Raasleela on a moonlit Dolpurnima night. Here, the impressive unity between the natural world and artistic expression that Zahangir skilfully preserves is developed further into a new world where Nature's beauties are observed with great passion, virtues extolled beyond inhibition.
In my experience working alongside Zahangir in the same studio, I not only learnt a new life philosophy but discovered his artistic maturity in his confidence in creatively mixing colours to a degree that impressed time and again. Some of his works are semi-abstract, which also reflects this mature understanding.
Another characteristic to impress is the selflessness of Zahangir's devotion to art. Even should he return to the studio late at night with an idea he will commence a new painting at once to be completed and uploaded on Facebook by dawn.
Among his themes it is unsurprising that a visual artist enamoured of music will incorporate melody, poetic rhythm and the playful gestures of damsels dancing. Such references include Gaudiya dance as well as Desh, Bageshree, Khamaj or Malkauns Raga, with a highlight being the depiction of the late-autumn twilight where, according to mythological narrative, Bengali women gather and dally.
Another early series from this artist, “Celestial View of the Earth from Space” is represented, which offers a distinctive style of thick dots to depict a bird's eye view, in recognition of the overarching beauty of river, field and forest. This series demonstrates the breadth of the artist's imagination.
In the series “Mystique Romance of the Woods,” Zahangir documents Nature's soulful silence. Paintings here include surreal floral and arboreal imagery, clouds and water, almost as a range of characters from a novel, with colour enlisted to convey beauty's allure. A theme that harks back to the artist's wanderlust and strong communion with nature, these paintings are so moving as to offer the viewer the chance to communicate independently with each character.
The series “Sorachitra of Bengal” alludes to folk art in a new language, while a further series “Post-mortem of Post-modren Painting” delves into an imaginative chemistry of flowers, trees and female physique. An outstanding painting, “Song of Silence” meanwhile offers an expanse of trees with sparks of light filling apertures from some distance, a light-and-shade combination formed of nostalgia for childhood.
The task of selecting works for “The Uncaged” from the hundreds of images that comprise Zahangir's catalogue was arduous; but the result is an exhibition that tantalises in its representation of the artist's breadth of skill and purposeful progression.
The exhibition at La Galerie, at Alliance Française in Dhanmondi, is open from Monday to Thursday, 3 pm to 9 pm and on Friday and Saturday from 9 am to12 noon and 5 pm to 8 pm until December 15. On the final evening there will be a closing ceremony featuring music and dance.
Dr Malay Bala teaches at the University of Dhaka as Associate Professor at the Department of Oriental Art in the Faculty of Fine Art.
M A Hye Milton serves the Government of Bangladesh as Senior Assistant Secretary at the Security Services Division, Ministry of Home Affairs. Andrew Eagle works at The Daily Star and is an art connoisseur.