Art Belongs to All in Bangladesh

Art is very much like Bengal, or should that be the other way around? Either way, art is one of the cultural elements that bind the people of Bangladesh with those of West Bengal and Tripura, both of which are in India. The entire land was one before the British divided it when leaving the sub-continent; the separation is of course irrelevant when it comes to art!

The most celebrated and enduring symbol of the unifying power of art in undivided Bengal is the legendary figure of Rabindranath Tagore. This genius of art won the Nobel Prize for literature, also produced over two thousand sketches and paintings.

Tagore’s University of Shantiniketan, or Abode of Peace, is in what is now West Bengal, but he lived for most of his life in what is now Bangladesh. We must be thankful that this doyen of Bengali art died well before the British cruelly divided his homeland, for it would have broken his generous and kindly heart.

The world knows Rabindranath more for his writing than for his genius with colors and lines. The Nobel Prize and the facility of translation must be responsible for this, for Tagore’s mastery over art entirely matched his way with words and with rhyme.

Rabindranath Tagore startled the art world with an exhibition of his paintings in Paris in 1930. Though he had no formal training in drawing and painting, Tagore’s work caught even the eye of another Nobel Laureate, Romain Rolland. Tagore’s art is unconventional for he used and preferred colors in an entirely novel way. He was above and yet embracive of criticism, making the laconic comment when asked about his style “I am as silent as my work!” He had the foresight to let the graphics speak for themselves, and to accept all opinions for their merits.

Tagore was born in a wealthy family, and the Communists who have ruled West Bengal for decades, seem to hold the matter against this genius of art. Though Rabindranath held exhibitions all over Europe and North America in British times, independent India has never showcased the collection of more than a thousand paintings and sketches which are stored in Shantiniketan today. Fortunately, Shantiniketan is now within a day’s return journey from Kolkata, thanks to a new expressway. All efforts to set aside time for a visit to Tagore’s University, to see the vast collection of Bengali art will gladden the cockles of your heart!