Art & Culture Desk :
With due festivity, the nation on August 10, has celebratedthe 87th birth anniversary of world famous legendary painter Sheikh Mohammad Sultan, widely known as ‘SMSultan’.
Sultan was such a great painter who hit the headlines in theart world much before the people of his homeland knew him as a painter.
He was just 35 when his paintings were exhibited in NewYork, Boston, London and Michigan University in 1959, long before hisexhibition at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in 1976.
Sulatn joined the international conference of painters inthe United States in 1950 as a representative of the Pakistan government.
His artworks were exhibited in Shimla of India in 1946 andin Lahore and Karachi in 1948-49. He also spent some years in Kolkata, studyingand painting.
He also took part in an international art exhibition atVictoria Embankment of Hamstead in London along with Picasso, Salvedore Dali,George Braque, Paul Klee and many other renowned artists.
The central theme of Sultan’s paintings is always therustics in their relationship with water and soil. The corn fields, marshes,the ever flowing rivers, the peasants in the fields with their carts andploughs, harvesting rice, husking, the village women in their domesticity,Fishermen in the swamps, peasant huts, villages with green foliage and allother common sights of the rural life formed the subject matter of hispaintings. The village life attracted him most because in his boyhood he was inthe midst of villagers where he had a first hand observation on the strugglingfarmers and other rural folk.
On first looking at SM Sultan's paintings, one gets theimpression of vastness and strength. His canvas is large, like a spacious stagewhere life’s dramas are played out.
The cast of the drama consists of agricultural labourers,fishermen, simple householders, and toiling men and women. The men pose anenigma, since their large muscular and sinewy bodies contrast oddly with theemaciated physique of real life farmers and fishermen wasted by hard labour andhunger. Yet, in painting after painting, mostly in oil, but some in strikingwatercolours, Sultan painted the same human figures, symbolically suggestingthe possibility of a dream rather than reality. Sultan believed in an arcadiawhere happiness and contentment would reign, yet was acutely aware of theexploitation, violence and deprivation that were the daily fare of the life ofthe villagers.
In the famous paintings of Sultan like ‘Capturing the char’or ‘While Winnownig’ we find unmistakable evidence of the above observations.
Why his farmers are gigantic? Asks everybody at the firstsight of his paintings. The farmers of our country are poverty-stricken; theweak and fragile. How could they be healthy like the aborigines? But, here liesthe philosophy of Sultan’s paintings. His works express the history ofanthropology and his optimism that the present order must be changed.
Once he confided, it is true that the farmers of our countryare fragile, weak and poverty stricken. But, what is the cause behind it? Whyare they poor? Once they were virile like the men in the primitive days. But,century after century, we were ruled by different foreign countries who tookthe profit of their labours. Not only the foreigners, but the local Yeomen and zamindaralso maltreated them. They compelled them to be in slavery. So, they have beenlosing their health since the time unknown. But, they have a kind ofpotentiality, which is equivalent to spiritual power. The potentiality,inherent vigour has been visualised in this manner. Their hard muscles darkcolour, their strong and stout-figures are the signs of potentiality. So, onething is clear about his paintings that what he paints in the reality unknown.
One might as well ask, is he an escapist? Does Sultan wantto escape the reality? The answer is no, Sultan is an optimist. He is in searchof a ‘utopia’. He believed that one day his farmers would win over theiraccursed fate. This optimism is the philosophy of his paintings.
The larger -than -life figures in his huge canvases arealmost always executed with meticulous attention to detail and a appealingcombination of energy and delicacy, which once again remind us of the greatRenaissance painters like Raphael, Loenardo da-Vinci and Michelangelo. When welook at Sultan’s landscapes, the wide flowing paddy fields rolling one afteranother, bright glorious mornings and enchanting shadowy evenings, peasant hutsand villages surrounded by rich green foliage or vast watery expanses, or whenwe look at his full-blooded sturdy farmers, large breasted vigorous women andhealthy cows we at once realise that SM Sultan is like no other artist of thissubcontinent that had appeared before him or during his life time.
Sultan’s watercolours are bright and lively, but treat thesame theme - nature and rural life. They contrast sharply with the often draband flat oils painted in deep colours. Sultan tended to work heavily all overhis canvas without living any empty space. His drawings, however, are masterfulin their economy and compactness. The lines are powerful and full blown. In hislater works though, the composition is less tight and focused, perhaps a signthat Sultan was growing a little impatient with the reality of his time.
SM Sultan established a heaven for children titled ‘ShishuShorgo’ at Masimdia village of Narail district where he was born. Heestablished that institution as he had a fascination for art from his childhoodand he had to struggle a lot to make his dream true.