SM Sultan: A Talented Artist

SM Sultan, born Sheikh Mohammed Sultan in 1923, was destined for greatness, as doors seemed to open for him around every corner, enabling him to leave behind a legacy of greatness and eccentricity. He was born in East Bengal, which is now known as Bangladesh, and showed passion and immense talent from an early age. After attending school for five years, SM Sultan joined his father at work as a mason. While looking at the buildings his father was constructing, Sultan began to sketch them with the greatest of detail, and dreamt of attending an art school in Kolkata to study his passion for art and enhance his talents.

Sultan’s parents did not have the financial means to send him to study further, but a local landlord offered to assist the family to get Sultan to Kolkata, and he arrived there in 1938. Even though his admission into the art school seemed bleak as he did not have the qualifications specified by the school, doors opened once again through the help of Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy, who was not only an art critic and respected poet but the brother of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister and a governing member of the school, getting Sultan to attend and providing him with accommodation. SM Sultan’s free spirited nature resulted in him not completing his education, when he made the decision to go travelling through India instead after three years. He ran into many soldiers along the way, and he sketched many of them, but none of these works survived.

His first art exhibition was hosted in 1946 in Simla, but Sultan was never overly concerned about preserving his work, and none of these works survived either. Sultan moved back to Narail and then left for Karachi in 1951 where he worked as an art teacher and came into contact with many other well-known artists. His reputation for eccentricity came from his choice to remain a bachelor, filling his home with snakes and cats. He had his first Dhaka art exhibition in 1976.

Sultan later settled in an abandoned structure in the city of Narail, where his family grew up with mongooses, dogs and even monkeys. This led to him opening a small zoo close to his home. He found another dilapidated building in Sonargaon, where he made his home, and passed away in the year 1994.

SM Sultan won numerous awards for his work. His paintings, usually done in oil, featured eye catching colors and his work was very detailed, enabling the art lover to distinguish between the thin bodies of the fishermen and laborers. Sultan’s desire for contentment and happiness can be seen in his dreamlike works. His drawings can be described as powerful, and he is still viewed as one of the most prolific artists to have emerged from Bangladesh.