The End is Where It Begins
Our voyages have always been determined by signs, symbols and imagery. Even in the stages when humans lived in caves and jungles, symbolic communication kept one another informed. Following ancestor’s footsteps every generation ensured the progressive movement through times. Soon, hand prints became a recognizable feature of the human tribes. It is through reading the lines of the handprints that one attempted to increase the knowledge on the human species. The handprint assumed an evidentiary value throughout history, be that of a king or that of a member of the laity. Gradually, the print of the finger tip became the mark of recognition. It is interesting to note that the modern age saw a vast majority of the masses giving their mandate for their chosen governments and preparing official documents make use of the fingerprint as an equivalent of the signature.
There are other means of such signature-making which facilitated multifaceted communication throughout history. The gamut of methods have been in use since the dawn of the civilization includes stone tablet, copperplate, metal seal, leather and paper leafs used in illustrated puthis or traditional manuscript, etc. The essence of civilization is imprinted in these man-made devices through which people once communicated and forwarded the signs of authority. Man’s preoccupation with making prints predates the invention of the press by Guttenberg. Both text and image have been printed on paper and other durable materials since before the times of mechanically reproducible methods came into being. Artists have never discontinued the methods of printing by using non-mechanical processes. However, in contemporary printmaking we witness a multidimensional approach to the discipline which continues to negotiate both the domains – the mechanical and non-mechanical methods. In a thriving art scene one notices artists taking recourse to woodcut, wood engraving, etching and aquatint, lithography, etc. The practice that continued for centuries can be compared to a relay race – the juncture where one artist ends another artist takes the lead taking the old language a bit further. Each guru becomes the guiding light for the apprentice(s). The end thus can easily be described as a starting point.
If the technological innovation in printing press continued, artists simply followed their own paths; the passion for printmaking gave the redundant techniques a new lease of life. Alongside oil, watercolour and acrylic, printmaking flourished and emerged as a discipline in its own right. At the early stage of modernity, posters and pamphlets saw the light of the day as popular form of communication. It lent the political culture a scope to replicate image and message, thereby ensuring that both socialists and federalists reap benefits from its production and disbursal. Printmakers thus mediated the message by becoming an integral part of the political struggle. Murtaja Baseer’s woodcut prints on the language movement in 1952, Quamrul Hassan’s particularly message-driven woodcut poster done during the liberation war of 1971, which was entitled ‘Annihilate this Demon’ and was based on the portrait of general Yahya Khan, testify to the effectiveness of this medium. Even before such intervention, Zainul Abedin’s series of drawings on the famine of 1943 were made available to the masses by way of translating them into woodblock prints.
That printmaking comes with promise of the multiples has worked against it. A collector may value oil and acrylic works more than any work done using printmaking methods. Perhaps the fact that an art piece can be editioned works as a deterrent as when one is infatuated with the idea of having in possession a single, unique piece which can be treasured like rare gem. Perhaps, it happens to an uneducated collector. Though a method of replication is employed in developing an edition of a work, original prints retain the finesse an artist stands for, which is similarly enshrined in any good painting. Does any collector of prints by Dürer, Picasso and Rembrandt, or Andy Warhol seem less satisfied?
We have failed to appreciate the value of prints/multiples. Print, by virtue of its uniqueness, is no way comparable to painting — each comes with its own characteristics. They are of different taste and temperament, and as such always seem mutually exclusive. As art connoisseurs, gallerists and art lovers are not fully aware about printmaking and its methods, we have failed to create a market that might have absorbed prints on a regular basis. It is through prints that one may peg one’s hope on an expansion of the art market by making art available to the middle-income groups. We have been progressing slowly. It is by gaining a momentum that we may infuse awareness about collecting prints to live an aestheticized life.
The history of our arts is replete with example of pioneer artists delving into printmaking. Zainul Abedin, one the pioneers in the Kolkata phase of our history, emerged in the 1930s. One of our master printmakers, Safiuddin Ahmed, made his entry into the art scene the early 1940s with his superb draftsmanship and a keen eye for naturalism. These are artists who paved the way for the next generations.
Dhaka’s art institution was established in 1948, drawing the curtain to the Kolkata phase. It is around the 1950s that the students of the then art college began to display their acumen in printmaking alongside painting. Mohammad Kibria, Aminul Islam, Murtaja Baseer, Abdur Razzak, Qayyum Chowdhury, Rashid Chowdhury, et al, those who went abroad for higher studies, came back only to renew their respective languages. As these first generation artists launched their career in Dhaka, they all delved into printmaking alongside the usual practice of painting. The second generation that emerged right after that, comprised of artists such as Rafiqun Nabi, Mahmudul Haque, Monirul Islam, Kalidas Karmakar, Shahid Kabir, Abul Bark Alvi. They were followed by a number of generations that begin to produce works of value since the early 1980s. Among them a host of talents beginning from Abdus Satter, A K M Alamgir, Rokeya Sultana, Ratan Majumder, Wakilur Rahman, Muslim Miah, Mokhlesur Rahman, Habibur Rahman, Saidul Haque Jiuce, Fareha Zeba, Ahmed Nazir and continued with artsist such as Amirul Momenin Chowdhury, Selina Chowdhury, Rafi Haq, Rasshid Amin, Prasanta Karmaker Buddha, Abdus Salam, Anisuzzaman, at el. Many more artists delved into the mediums which were available to them and, in the process, left behind fine works of print which stand testimony to their acumen. Yet, very few of them continued to work in printmaking. There are young artists today who are faithfully attached to the discipline and have produced works of an interesting variety, and these printmakers include Joya Sherin Haque, Rokonuzzaman Ujjal, Ruhul Amin Rumi, Ngarabashi barman, Shammi Reaz, Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, Ruhul Amin Tarque, etc.