Mustaque Ahmed is one of the earnest painters who has been quite active in the Dhaka art circuit since the 1980s. During that period, the nation crossed many social and political obstacles and traversed a number of turmoils; our creative faculties progressed with novel dreams, ideas and premises. We have gone on to face secular democracy, which quickly got confused with post-war traumas, corruption, and ideological differences that often go with war-ravaged countries. Intellectuals and promoters of creativities were expecting a free, liberal, non-communal and progressive atmosphere for their innovative ventures. During that period, the country went through many ups and downs in all aspects. As an intense onlooker, Mustaque intimately scrutinises the country’s transforming socio-political and economic conditions. His manipulation of forms and cognisant brush strokes create a simultaneously natural and contrived language. His palette swings between mellow and bold, strokes between rugged and controlled conjuring up a visual playground for joy and ecstasy. His paintings are of inner and outer space. They intuit a complex reality that cannot be put into words. This makes Mustaque one of the most dynamic artists in Bangladesh’s art milieu.
With time, Mustaque continued to refine himself and harness a medley of skills; consequently, new lines, techniques, forms and different types of objects were incorporated into his paintings. Besides being a romantic and nature-focused artist, he is also a socially and politically conscious painter. He is a genuinely patriotic painter and has been making great attempts to highlight our Liberation War and its various aspects. The Liberation War and massacre of 1975 are some of the subjects of Mustaque’s Paintings, which reflect his psychological temperament, anger, pain and anxiety, as well as the perilous days of 1971 and 1975. His in-depth understanding of that period comes to his paintings realistically and symbolically. Mustaque’s paintings look more mature due to his deep contemplation of the very roots of his subjects. In the series, he has lost himself in a sorrowful journey. The blending of light and shade creates a sense of silence and desolation in his works. Since the commencement of his career as a sensitive artist, Mustaque has been trying to convey his signature thinking process and language.
Mustaque hails from an illustrious political family. His father is Abdur Rob alias Boga Mia — a Freedom Fighter, Liberation War organiser, businessman and president of the Pabna district Awami League during the pre-Liberation War period. Boga Mia was an MP and a very close associate of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Boga Mia was the first to hoist the flag of independent Bangladesh in the Pabna district in 1971. He suddenly died in 1973 in a car accident during an election campaign. His wife Begum Jahanara Rob was an MP from Pabna and Bogura during 1973-1975, until Bangabandhu and most of his family were killed.
During the massacre of 1975, Mustaque was only 18 and a student of the Department of Economics, University of Dhaka. Afterwards, he studied economics at the University of Texas at Arlington in the US. He lived in Gulshan and, during the crisis, enthusiastically went out of the house on his bike to get a glimpse of the facts. His mother forbade him to go anywhere. But Mustaque requested to go to his elder sister’s house at Dhanmondi 17. On his way, he didn’t face any protests. He felt the whole city was engrossed with panic. But when Mustaque crossed the Sobhanbagh area, he saw a bunch of people celebrating with sweets. The incident had puzzled him. On reaching his sister’s house, he met veteran politicians Abul Hasnat Muhammad Qamaruzzaman, KM Obaidur Rahman and Major Rahmatullah. All of them were very anxious. Mustaque felt deeply hurt by the killings.
On the incident, Mustaque has done two theme-based paintings (acrylic on canvas), and their mode of expression is pure narrative. One of the paintings covers the massacre of Aug 15, 1975. He has portrayed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s giant bloodstained figure spread across the whole map of the country on the canvas. The painting denotes the vast significance of this iconic figure. The background of the painting appears smooth and sometimes uneven, mingling the hues superbly. He has revealed his unequalled creativity in producing expressions of grief from a unique perspective. Besides these, the painter has also depicted an emerald-green hue with a flow of red blood in the mode of impressionism. The killing was done on a moonlit night, and to highlight this, a melting moon is shown peeping over the canvas. Earlier, Mustaque did a number of paintings on Bangabandhu and his life and works.
The other painting portrays some aliens (forms) flying in the air after sucking blood. The legs of the aliens are bloodstained. And the lower part of the canvas has been engrossed with a mingling of soft green and red hues. The canvas signifies a newly-born country about to feel a touch of development and economic emancipation, only to be gravely thwarted by a group of people who then depart. The killers of 1975 stopped the development of a country and, for its people, helped set up a new trajectory filled with injustice, unfairness, discrimination and religious bigotry. The painting was done in 2004 and first exhibited in 2006 in a local gallery in the city. Now, he is again concentrating on a series on Bangabandhu.
Mustaque is very thorough in his use of ambiguous forms and the overall fundamental compositions of a painting. He meticulously uses brush for his trademark technique, and the artist has experimented with layers of colours. Subdued and vivid hues have been properly applied to his canvas. His use of flat colours has created an aura where one can realise his diligence and devotion towards art. In the paintings, the spaces seem open and large, clearly emphasising each moment. The message in his colours can be easily interpreted by our souls and minds.
Mustaque was the founder of the Dhaka Art Centre. He is also an avid art collector. His art collections include contemporary Bangladeshi master painters, Indian master painters, Western contemporary artists and a number of promising Bangladeshi painters. He is also a filmmaker. His documentary ‘Die Million ‘71’ received the International Bangla Film Critic Award in Kolkata. The documentary addresses the subject of genocide during the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
[Takir Hossain is an art critic and cultural curator.]