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29 May, 2020 11:57:05 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 29 May, 2020 12:01:47 PM


The art and artists in the time of catastrophe

Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace
Niaz Majumdar
The art and artists in the time of catastrophe

"It's not a time of great happiness, it's not a time of great joy."
— poet Shakti Chatterjee

The whole world is beleaguered by epidemics today, and Bangladesh is no exception. We are going through a very difficult time.

Every day the number of deaths is increasing alarmingly, much to our sorrow. 
The deadly virus, commonly known as corona / COVID-19, has begun to reconstruct and correct the recognized behaviours of our culture in an attempt to artificially redefine the everyday rules of our social life. In fourteenth-century Europe, perhaps for the first time since the advent of the Black Death, a whole civilization is trying to understand this situation and incorporate a new rule. This time, scientific and medical experts as well as government agencies will provide the rules rather than the religious authorities.
In these difficult times, a temple/mosque/church does not define terms; rather now science is in the forefront for the salvation of man. Scientists, physicians, health workers are now working day and night to cure the people infected with this deadly virus. They are now the protectors of mankind.
Throughout the ages the human race has faced many difficult to deadly crises: wars, famines (natural and man-made), earthquakes, floods, fires, droughts, epidemics, the release of radioactive gases into the atmosphere, and so on.
For example, no artist picks up a weapon during a war, but they fight with a more penetrating tools, stimulate and give people courage behind their eyes through their creative and persuasive activities. There is a saying; "Pen is mightier than sword".

Art and the world wars

During the World War II, the relations between art and war can be articulated around two main issues. First, art (and, more generally, culture) found itself at the center of an ideological war. Second, during World War II, many artists found themselves in the most difficult conditions (in an occupied country, in internment camps, in death camps) and their works are a testimony to a powerful "urge to create." Such creative impulse can be interpreted as the expression of self-preservation, a survival instinct in critical times.

Throughout history, most representations of war depict military achievements and often show significant battle scenes. However, in the 19th century a “turn” in the visual representation of war became noticeable. Artists started to show the disastrous aspects of war, instead of its glorified events and protagonists. Such a perspective is best exemplified by Francisco Goya’s series, The Disasters of War (1810-1820, first published in 1863), and Otto Dix’s portfolio, Der Krieg (published in 1924).

During the rise of Nazism, some artists had expressed their antagonism. Following the establishment of the Third Reich, modern artists and those of Jewish ancestry were classed as degenerate. Any Jewish artists, or artists who were known opponents to the regime, were liable to imprisonment unless they conformed to the authorities’ view of what was "acceptable" in art. These artists were all in danger. Among those who chose to stay in Germany, some retreated into an “inner exile”, or “inner emigration".

Probably Pablo Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica is certainly his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War. 

Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. On completion Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world’s attention.
Similarly, we have seen the powerful drawings of famine and cyclone of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin. We have also seen in artist Somnath Hore's  sculptures  “Wounds”. We have also seen the poster of Quamrul Hasan’s “Annihilate these Demons” during the liberation war etc. etc. These are all very powerful language and depictions of an artist’s inner emotions of expressions.

Literature during crisis

Literature is the highest form of the human mental world. Literature can take people's life and mind from full to old. Man's mental power is expressed through language. The language of all the thoughts or ideas that come to the mind of a person is closed. Human power is revealed through language. The mind of a man bound by language is immortal and eternally unstable. Only literature, directly or indirectly, maintains human stability and expands and improves.

I remember ‘Bishwakavi’ (the world poet) Rabindranath Tagore in this difficult time. In Rabindranath’s literature, there is an indication of a lot of crisis relief. It is needless to say that Rabindranath worked for the people. He was an employee of the whole of human society. He spoke of worshiping man, the working God, instead of the goddess planet. He considered art and music as an essential part of education.
During the War of Liberation, many of Rabindranath's songs broadcast on Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra inspired the armed freedom fighters to dedicate themselves to the armed struggle. The song 'Amar Sonar Bangla' adopted as the national anthem of Bangladesh has also been sung comparing the country with its mother.
Like Rabindranath and Dwijendralal Roy, poet Kazi Nazrul Islam's innumerable songs and poems have inspired the freedom fighters. It has made the youth free to sacrifice themselves for the freedom of the motherland. Nazrul Islam has also composed many songs imagining various forms of patriotism.

The music was composed during the war of liberation in 1971 with the intention of expressing the direct emotions of the war and strengthening the morale for the war. These songs have also inspired the freedom fighters to concentrate on the war of independence and sacrifice themselves if necessary.
Fight on the cultural front

While Bengali valiant soldiers and freedom fighters fought the war on the battlefield, Bengali fine artists, educationists, film makers, singers, actors, cultural activists, confronted the challenges in their respective areas. Their paintings, posters, sculptures, stories, articles, dramas, films, poems and songs inspired the people to fight courageously. There are nevertheless thousands of other silent contributors whose valiant efforts are yet to be recognized and recorded.

As I told you earlier that; no artist picks up a weapon during a war, but they fight with more penetrating tools, stimulate and give people courage behind their eyes through their creative and persuasive activities.
Take for example March 7, 1971.  The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, calling for the emancipation of the Bengalis, delivered a historic speech at the Race Course Ground (now Suhrawardy Udyan). The direction of that speech of the Father of the Nation in the heroic struggle of the Bengalis and in the armed liberation war was the keynote of thunderous voice solid national unity at that time. This historic speech was the source of the immense energy of the freedom struggle of Bangladesh acquired in exchange for infinite sacrifice.

Bangabandhu did not fight with any armaments, that historic speech in his thunderous voice was a sharp weapon. Inspired by this hypnotic speech of the Father of the Nation, preparations for the armed liberation struggle began across the country, and whose contribution is still intact today.

Artistic depictions of the Bangladesh Liberation War, has been numerous works of art that depicted the Bangladesh Liberation War during and since the War both at Bangladesh and abroad. The concert for Bangladesh organized by members of the Beatles was a major happening in 1971 for protest music.
Contribution of musicians in the Liberation War of Bangladesh

Pandit Ravi Shankar had close relationship to Bangladesh and he informed George Harrison of renowned Beatles group of England, about the Liberation War of Bangladesh and suggested that they try to do something for the Bangladeshi people.
Ravi Shankar requested that they should try to raise $ 25,000 for the UNICEF fund to help the Bengali refuges who took shelter in India. After hearing the details about the loss of life and the liberation war of the common people then George Harrison started that they must try to do something bigger than that. Thus the first concert for world humanity took place on 1st. August 1971, at Madison Square Garden. Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and Bob Dylan – these great superstars took part in this concert, and I must say that we can’t find any concert before ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’ that included so many great talents in one stage.

George Harrison’s song; “Bangladesh”, the message of the lyric is simple but it bears a strong appeal for saving millions of desperate people. A closer look at the language of the lyrics shows that George Harrison only talked of the plight of the common people. 
We would like to pay tribute to another special artist, Joan Beaz, who sang, wrote and awakened the people of the world in her sweet voice by composing the song "The Song of Bangladesh”, during liberation war of Bangladesh.

Liberation song

 “Liberation Song” or “Muktir Gaan” is a Bengali documentary based on the liberation war of Bangladesh, directed by Tareq Masood and Katherine Masood. The film was released in 1995.
American filmmaker Lear Levine joined a group of cultural activists in 1971 with the intention of making a documentary on the war during the Bangladesh Liberation War. These members of the group called 'Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha' used to inspire the freedom fighters and refugees by singing patriotic and fighting songs.

Films on Bangladesh Liberation War 1971
During or pre-liberation:
• Jibon Theke Neya (1970), Stop Genocide (1971), and A State is
                    born (1971) by Zahir Raihan
• Joy Bangla by Uma Proshad Moitro
• Joy Bangladesh by I.S.Johor
• Nine Months to Freedom by S. Shukdev
• Dateline Bangladesh by Gita Mehta London         
• Liberation Fighter by Alamgir Kabir
• Innocent Millions by Babul Chowdhury
• Khaled Musharraf War by Granada TV
Role of media and journalists during the Liberation War of Bangladesh
The journalists of this country faced great challenge during the non-cooperation movement when they gave prominent coverage to the movement in dailies. It was a clear demonstration of their patriotism and their constant faith in Bengali nationalism.
After the start of the martial crackdown by the Pakistanis on the night of 25 March 1971, the overseas correspondents stationed in Dhaka were gathered at Hotel Intercontinental and then ousted from the country. It was only when they reached their respective countries that the whole world came to know what was happening in Bangladesh.
Before the Pakistan military started the brutal massacre, they sent a letter to the foreign journalists to leave Dhaka immediately. But a British journalist and critic, Simon John, hid at the atrium and kitchen of Hotel Intercontinental and went out to collect the news of genocide at high peril. He is the first person who let the world know of what had happened on 25 March Night at Dhaka. Mass media played a greater role in the liberation war of Bangladesh during 1971. A number of newspapers, bulletins and journals were printed highlighting Bangladesh War of Independence. But it was not an easy job. The whole country was under control by the Pakistan military but they did it at high risk.
M. R. Akhtar Mukul (1929–2004) was a Bengali writer and journalist from Bangladesh; earned fame for Chorompotro and as Chakku mia, a radio programme from Shwadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. And it highly inspired the ‘Muktibahini’ and the people during the liberation war.
The media, both national and international, were highly sympathetic of journalists who embraced martyrdom. In addition, different types of artists from all over the world created many works of art by their aesthetic talents, during the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh government, on the occasion of the fortieth Victory Day anniversary, conferred the "Liberation War Award" on about 500 foreigners, including 226 Indians, for their significant support of the 'Liberation War' of 1971. The Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina not only honored the late Indira Gandhi for her unique contributions and other defense personalities, but also many artists; painters, sculptors, filmmaker, playwright, musician, poet, writer, photographers, journalists and much more.
Artist composes history, with their artistic works, and by their works they are always at the forefront of human welfare.  Artists never die; they live in the middle of their creative art work.
In the meantime, the teachers of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Dhaka University have not stopped creating art works about this situation of COVID-19, but they have also done a splendid job. Under the supervision of Prof. Nisar Hossain, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, they are making (with approval from D.G. Health of the government of Bangladesh) a new kind of “face shields” and “coverall-gown” physician’s safety equipment’s, not only for doctors but also for nurses and other helping hands in hospitals, and supplying all over Bangladesh at free of cost.
Rabindranath's poems come to mind again and again during this coronavirus crisis, in this difficult time.
I would like to end with a positive song by Rabindranath Tagore: “The bewilderment of shyness is an insult to oneself, I can't even imagine the crisis, free yourself from fear, hold strength in yourself, conquer yourself………”
The writer is Senior Faculty, Department of Media and Mass Communication, American International University-Bangladesh (AIUB),


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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