• Thursday, October 02, 2014

90th birth anniversary of SM Sultan

Daniel Sugit Bose, Narail

Today is the 90th birth anniversary of world-renowned artist SM Sultan. On this day (10 August) in 1923, Sultan was born at Masimdia village of Narail.

Sultan Foundation and district administration will chalk out daylong programmes to mark the occasion today.

The celebrations include placing of wreaths at the artist's mausoleum, prayers and art competition at Shishu Swarga. Due to unavoidable circumstances, District Administration and Sultan Foundation have postponed the boat race in River Chitra and cultural functions, for next week.

SM Sultan was born to Sheikh Messer, a mason by profession. Sultan's formal schooling started at the Narail Victoria Collegiate School in 1928 where he studied for only five years. Then he joined his father in masonry. Being greatly influenced by his father's works in building gigantic houses, he started drawing and painting during his leisure time.

Sultan wanted to go to Kolkata to study art, but his family could not afford it. Finally, Dhirendra Nath Roy, an art-loving zamindar, became the patron of Sultan's works and brought him to Calcutta in 1938. Roy came to his help and Sultan stayed at his Calcutta residence for three years.

Sultan left the art college in 1943 after completing half of his six-year course. However, his results in college examinations were very good as he stood second in the first year and first in the second and third year. By his third year, Sultan realised he had little material needs and travelling attracted him more than formal education. He wanted to see the whole of India and embarked on his journey.

Sultan began his career as a freelance painter of portraits and landscapes in Calcutta. He also joined the Khaksar Movement in Calcutta in 1943, as he was highly influenced by the movement and developed his life-long sympathy and affection for all living beings.

During his travel, he made a living by drawing the portraits of allied soldiers who had camped at the place he was visiting. During this period, his first exhibition was held in Simla, though none of these works have survived, mainly due to Sultan's own indifference towards preserving his work.

After living and working in Kashmir for a while, Sultan returned to Narail(now part of Bangladesh) in the wake of the Partition of India. In 1950, Sultan went to USA - exhibiting his work in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Boston, and later in London. The great artist joined the international conference of painters in America in 1950 as the representative of erstwhile Pakistan.

In 1953, he returned to Narail and built a school for children, and a menagerie. Except for occasional visits to Dhaka (where he had his first exhibition in 1976) he lived in the quiet isolation of his house. A confirmed bachelor, Sultan settled down in an abandoned building in Narail overlooking the river Chitra, where he lived ever since with an adopted family and pets of his own including dogs, mongoose and monkeys. Sultan would later build a mini-zoo near his home. There he built a school for children and a menagerie.

SM Sultan was conferred with the 'Ekushey Padak' and the Cambridge University declared him as the 'man of Asia' in the same year in 1984. The Bangladesh government accepted him as the resident artist. He was honoured with 'Charushilpi Sangshad Sanmanana' in 1986 and 'Swadhinata Padak' in 1993.

SM Sultan died on October 10, 1994, at Jessore Combined Military Hospital (CMH) after suffering from prolonged breathing illness.

Published: 12:00 am Sunday, August 10, 2014

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