Zainul Abedin Museum – Tribute to a Modern Art Pioneer

Viewed as a pioneer of the Bangladeshi modern art movement, Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala (1914-1976) used art to express his views on a range of subjects, focusing primarily on scenes of rural Bengal, as well as the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 and the Bengali famine of 1943, encouraging people to fight against oppression. A collection of his artworks and mementos of his life are displayed in the Zainul Abedin Museum, established in 1975 and situated on the banks of the Old Bramaputra River in the city of his birth, Mymensingh, Bangladesh.

The collection at the museum includes fifty-three oil paintings, sixteen replicas, and seventy-five photographs detailing the life and works of this talented Bangladeshi artist, who is known by the honorary title of Shilpacharya, meaning “Great Teacher”. A further collection of more than 800 of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala’s works are housed at the Bangladesh National Museum in Shahbag, Dhaka.

Zainul Abedin was born in Mymensingh in 1914, with some of his very first pictures being of the nearby Brahmaputra River. While attending the local school, he was awarded first prize in an art competition sponsored by the newspaper, Bombay Chronicle, and the headmaster sent some more examples of Abedin’s work to India. Upon his work being accepted favorably, Abedin was encouraged by his teachers to pursue his art at the Culcutta Government Art School and he moved to Kolkata, India, in 1933.

During the 1950s, Zainul Abedin started collecting Bangladeshi artwork in the rural areas of his home country. Many of these pieces of art were neglected and not recognized for their worth. Abedin continued throughout his life to put much effort into promoting the rich artistic heritage of his home country – a fact which was emphasized by the Bangladesh Minister of Information and Cultural Affairs at an event held in Mymensingh earlier this year, in which the artist was honored. As part of the commemorative celebration, 143 children from local schools entered the art competition. In addition to the prizes being awarded, the competition encouraged children to express their creativity through art.

In addition to the museum displaying the works of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala, there is an art school on the grounds of the museum, with facilities for artists to stay there while developing their artistic talent. The art school was founded according to the wishes of Abedin and provides artists with the opportunity to add to the artistic heritage of Bangladesh for present and future generations.