Watercolour paintings are now available as a work of Safiuddin Ahmed’s student life (1938-42). Besides, in that period he painted through wood-engraving, but we find only one example of it. The Calcutta Art School at that time taught woodcutting and wood-engraving. But Safiuddin Ahmed became interested in the practice of wood-engraving instead of woodcutting. It is worth noting that the difference between woodcut and wood-engraving is not limited to woodcuts, but also a lot of stylistics. The wood used for woodcutting is slit in the shape of a plank, and the wood used for wood-engraving is cut horizontally. The image is viewed in a relatively wide white and black format, not with the help of very intricate lines in the woodcut. Wood-engraving lines, on the other hand, become much more subtle, complex and dynamic. In the image of this medium, there is also an attempt to create a tonal effect in the interest of material representation. However, in both cases, the black part of the print is left high or flat and the white part is carved out. The procedure is known as Relief. Of all the mediums through which Safiuddin Ahmed has worked, the bricks are only of the relief method, the rest are of the intaglio (internal) method. The reason for his non-inclination towards woodcut is that the medium is sharply different in black and white, the type of Stockato. And the reason for the attraction to wood-engraving is that it has a much more subtle craftsmanship, a game of finesse and, above all, a variety of light-shadow fun.
The image we find as an early example of wood-engraving is based on a scene from ‘Bihar Drisshya’ (1940) when he was a fourth-year student; Rows of trees on either side of the image, mountains and sky in the background. Looking at the picture, it is understood that the medium has not come under his control yet. The two paintings of the artist that we find was edited in 1942 are painted after the end of six years of student life. Its first painting is ‘Bankura Drisshya’. Many people left Calcutta during the Second World War when there was panic over Japanese bombs. Thus, at the end of 1941, Safiuddin Ahmed also went to an aunt’s house in Bankura and stayed there about three month with his mother. In early 1942, on hearing of the final examination of the Art School, he returned to Calcutta. Sitting on the second floor of the aunt’s house, he sketched the view through the window and the nature of a house. Based on this, he edited this wood-engraving painting in Calcutta in the last half of 1942. There was no detailing or detail in the sketch. While carving wood, he resorted to meticulousness in the need to give the image its fullness. The figure of a woman with a child can be seen from behind. In the background of the picture, the tall betel tree is very clear among the various plants. Due to the view from above, the range of the sky in the picture is narrow, but not completely covered. This is a picture of mid noon. Sunlight on the roof, on the trees, in the sky and on the streets. Especially the streets have been lit. In this picture the artist is much more realistic. Yet he has also taken the opportunity to format according to his own plan. A variety of carvings with the help of burin are observed here. In the case of the sky, in the case of walking, in the case of trees or in the case of roads, the form of the line is different.
He went to Dumka for the first time in September-October 1942. At that time he was a student of teaching course in Calcutta Art School. From there he returned to Calcutta and in November / December he painted a picture titled ‘Santal Women and Children’ through wood-engraving. As the work of the first stage, there is a lack of perseverance in the image as well as inertia. In this picture of the plains seen from a high place, the sky is very much covered; Two children with four women heading home. In the background at the end of the open desert in the foreground of the photo is a village house in the background, middle heighted light type plants. View of the winding path in the desert. The main feature of the image is: speed. Just as it is evident in the movements of women and children, it is also evident in the visibility of the path. The artist has developed the dynamics of life in this painting.
The painting titled ‘Banopathe Dui Santal Nari’ (1943) is also the result of the artist’s journey. The painting titled ‘Two Santal Women in the Forest’ (1943) is also the result of the artist’s journey. This is the scene of returning home after working all day; Walking path through the tall willow trees. The short stature of the two women walking in the background of the height of the tree seems to highlight their helplessness. The vertical nature of the image makes the height of the tree more detailed. Light is coming through the gap of the tree and clearing the path. The taxonomy of the trees seems to be dividing even the light. The feeling of firmness is evident through this division of light with the vertical type. In the background, in the distance, there are hints of more dense trees. The sky above him is covered with thick foliage. This depiction of two women in the deep forest in the background of nature has become noticeable in the attempt to transcend time and space. There is no end to this path. As if it is a sign of the endless journey of the entire human race.
Due to the famine crisis of 1943, Safiuddin Ahmed dropped out of teaching course and worked as a treachery for about a year and a half under a draftsman. His place of work was in Howrah he captured the scene of the adjoining tin two-story house seen from the second floor of his office one afternoon through a live wood-engraving. In addition to the house, there are other trees including banana and coconut trees in the picture. The range of the sky in the picture is very narrow. The image is of a vertical nature. The foreground and the left side of the picture are dark, so there is a spread of frozen black.
The name of Safiuddin Ahmed’s first most notable painting through wood-engraving is ‘Ghare Fera’ or ‘Barir Pathe’ (1944). The picture shows a combination of buffalo, palm tree and sky. This is Dumkar’s landscape. The sky is predominant in this painting painted against the light; As a result, the color of buffalo and palm tree has become dark black; Because at dusk, the light on the earth erodes a lot, but it remains in the sky to some extent. In this scene of the herdsman returning home with the buffaloes, the fact that the buffaloes are moving close to the ground has expressed the enormity of nature. In the background of the universe, we, the human world, including human beings, realize how many small spaces there are. The artist has also created this painting with this feeling. This figure is also a successful example of the stylistic examination of wood-engraving. This success is due to the varied use of good burin under hard wood. Lines are sometimes narrow, thick, sometimes horizontal, sometimes vertical, sometimes curved, and wavy to represent the form of a cloudy sky. The artist has used black lines on the one hand and fine lines on the other to create the form of hard soil. In the case of subject selection, composition, use of light and shadow, etc., in the context of this image, the artist’s skill is recognized. On the other hand, the picture has been successful because of the overall industrialization with the best use of media possibilities.
Not only Bankura, Dumka or Howrah, but also the inner pond of the Calcutta Art School (1945) has been the subject of the artist’s wood-engraving medium. The art school under the Indian Museum in Calcutta had a beautiful garden and a pond. The school grounds were arranged for the students to study outside, to draw the cosmos. In the present picture, that well-arranged form has emerged. There are flower-fruit trees, flower tubs, laurel lofts, and even some large trees on the banks of the pond. The scene where the students are drawing under the umbrella was not left out either. The water of the pond is rotating and its form is captured in the picture. In fact, the painting of the students under the canopy and the rotating water of the pond have been given prominence in this painting. The artist has also consciously portrayed the play of light and shadow in nature and water.
The name of Safiuddin Ahmed’s most famous painting through wood-engraving is: ‘Santal Meye’ (1946).This is also part of Dumka-Chitramala. The image depicts a scene of two Santal women filling a jug with water. The main attraction of the picture is the pose of a special working moment of those two women and the ease of shedding light on the surface of the picture. The light has been thrown on the water, on the legs of the figure, on the sari and on the back. The scene is water-filled, so our eyes are on the feet, so it was essential to put light there. It was also important to put a light on the back of the girl who was filling the water in the bowing pitcher; otherwise the standing character of the girl would be disturbed. The sun has shone brightly here. The light was not shed on the head, because the hair of the head would lose its natural properties like black colour and become soft. The way the two girls are placed in the background of the whole picture also gives the impression of the artist’s creative planning. The significance of the formation can be understood even in the two types of postures of the two girls. One girl is concentrating on filling the jug with water, the other is standing with the jug in her head and arms, and her side-by-side focus is on the activity of the water-collecting girl. In contrast to the feeling of reassurance in the water-collecting girl, there is a noticeable kind of startled, eager for quick departure, hasty attitude. In this painting, the artist also makes the sense of perspective clear by drawing the figures of two men and women in the distant background. Even if those two figures were not drawn, the quality of the image would not be diminished. But the presence of that figure has given the whole picture. The artist’s subtle insights are also evident in the use of thin thick burin. Thick burin has been used to paint tree or soil forms, but the artist has resorted to thin burin to depict the bodies of two daughters. The edges and folds of the sari, the ornaments of the ears, neck and hands, the flowers in the hut did not escape his sight. The image has been successful in both thematic splendour and aesthetic excellence.
Along with this picture of vertical nature, there is a significant horizontally drawn painting titled ‘Melar Pathe’ (1947). In this figure, soft sunlight is used instead of rough sunlight. Two types of burin are used here. The artist had a keen eye on how delicate, deep and meaningful the painting could be. All the possibilities of wood-engraving have been used here. People are going to the fair along the road with bullock carts. After some distance, the road turns left. This journey has been visible through the gap of two trees. Merchant-passenger is on small horse. Various types of thin burin have also been used to draw horses. Various textures and tones have been used. As a result, it has come alive. The body of the horse has also been illuminated. The rider’s shirt is torn. It has also captured. The inside of the umbrella on the trader’s head has been blackened so that the body part of the passenger can gain clarity. If that part of the umbrella was not black, the concern of torn genji would not be so clear. On the other hand, the edge of the round umbrella has been illuminated. The use of perspective is also a special qualitative aspect of this film. The scene of two bullock carts going far in the distance has been painted with the intention of creating this sense of perspective. The artist’s sense of humour is evident in the inclusion of naked children and notable dog movements among the fair-goers. How many different types of people and animals go to the fair has been revealed in this way. This image has become more successful due to its tonal variations. Unlike the ‘Santal Ramany’ image, a lot of wood was cut here and that part was not fully illuminated. The artist has tried to embody it at various levels by cutting some parts everywhere and leaving some parts intact without widening the difference between light and darkness. The stems, leaves and soil of the trees have been diversified everywhere in this way.
Even after coming to Dhaka in 1947, the practice of wood-engraving continued for some time. But after moving to London in 1956, he did not work through it. From 1950 to 1955, seven of his works can be traced through this medium. There are four prints of the work. The other three works have only photographs; Two of them are ‘Chatim Gach’ and ‘Bamboo Bridge’ painted in 1950, the other is ‘Krishak’ (1952). The four prints are: Bahan (1951/52), Nadi O Nauka (1954), Guntana (1955) and Bonya (1958). In all the pictures, the East Bengal lifestyle is vibrant.
The picture titled ‘Bahan’ probably depicts the scene of Munshiganj. The farmer is carrying jute on his head and going towards the shore from the boat. It can be grass instead of jute. The boats are small in size. The river and its banks are made clear in this figure. High arrow. One of the features of the image is the black border around it. The sky does not exist in the picture. The river and its steep banks occupy most of the picture. This is because the laborious life of the farmer is the main theme of the picture. This horizontally drawn image reflects the peasant life of river-washed East Bengal.
The image titled ‘Rivers and Boats’ depicts rivers and boats seen through the gaps of two trees along the river. Probably the bank of Buriganga near Pagla in Dhaka. Humans exist in each of the five boats tied to the shore. The scene is about sitting or standing with an umbrella over your head, fishing with a fishing rod or other means. There is motion between the shapes. The surface decoration of the boats has a neat look. Some parts of the boat have decks, most are deckless. The artist’s objectivity is evident in the depiction of the whole scene. This picture also has a border of black. The ground, the trunk and leaves of the tree are a combination of black, while the flowers are white. The scattering of light has been made clear in the picture. The compositional skills are also significant in the figure. Part of the boat has disappeared due to the trees; the boat has gone out through the trees. Another feature of this image is that the whole scene is viewed using a central perspective. The sight was taken from between two trees. The artist’s eyes are fixed in a certain place; As a result, the viewer also has to see the scene from that place.
The main theme of the ‘Guntana’ image is speed. The form of energy has been made clear in the posture of the figure. An intense dynamic has also been transmitted in print. The boat and its sails are full of symbolic significance. There are so many things going on that life is also a symbol of this symbolic glow. In fact, it is a movie of a struggling life. There is no end to the struggles of life, it is endless; this is the feeling that is constantly flowing without any obstacles in the face of adversity. Birds are flying in the sky, cards are lying on the ground, and the bright footsteps of people are being trampled. There is a speed that pulls everything. Besides, there is the influence of folk art in this picture.
The last painting of the artist painted through wood-engraving is ‘Banna’. It depicts the flood scene of Swamibagh in Dhaka. Two people are carrying other pots and pans. Two more are walking in waist-deep water. Straw on the head of one, dala on the head of the other. Something else is in armpit. In the picture there are houses with trees and thatched roofs. Light scattered from the sky is falling on the roof of the house.
Art historian and Art critic Professor Syed Azizul Huq, Chairman, Bangla Department, University of Dhaka
Translated by: Noshin Shamma and Priyanka Chowdhury
Edited by: Priyanka Chowdhury