Portrait by Arafat Karim

ZAINUL ABEDIN an organic personality
(29th December 1914 – 28th May 1976)

‘A decent, cultured, honest and aesthetic life should be as desirable as affluence. I reiterate this over and over again that our present state of destitution is more about our lack of refinement than physical starvation and we must overcome that.’ – Zainul Abedin

Born in 1914 in Kishoreganj, in the erstwhile East Pakistan, Zainul Abedin played a pioneering role in the development of the modern art movement in Bangladesh.

Throughout his career he turned repeatedly to nature depicting vignettes of the timeless, expansive, unspoiled rural landscapes of his childhood spent along the Brahmaputra River. He studied painting at the Government School of Art in Calcutta from 1933 to 1938. In no time, Zainul Abedin proved himself to be the best student of the Art School and won gold and silver medals as well as medals from the Governor and the Governor General. In 1943, when Abedin was 29 years of age, the Bangladesh he knew transformed and mutated before his eyes, scarring him with scenes of harrowing human exploitation and degradation – a famine had broken out in his homeland. Abedin wasted no time transferring these nightmarish scenes into compositions, using the affordable medium of black ink and wrapping paper. Abedin’s Famine Sketches demonstrated his passionate and unwavering commitment to helping the people of Bangladesh.

In 1948, he founded the Government Institute of Arts and Crafts (now Institute of Fine Arts) in Dhaka and was its first Principal. Always a peoples’ artist and a peoples’ man’, ‘the role of Zainul Abedin in the development of fine arts in Bangladesh is best expressed by the title Shilpacharya – Great Master of the Arts.’

During his lifetime, his work was exhibited at Alhambra, Lahore; Damaru Galleries, Tokyo; Islamiah College, Calcutta; Burlington House, London; as well as a world tour sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation to USA, Canada, Mexico and Europe, culminating in 52 of his works being exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. in April 1957. He attended the Slade School of Arts in London and presented his works in the Berkeley Galleries.

Text Courtesy: Bangladesh Art Week


December 29, 1914 in Kendua, Kishoreganj, Bangladesh.


Graduation in Fine Arts from the Government School of Arts, Kolkata, 1938.Higher Studies in Slade School, London, 1951.

Type of Art

Preferred Medium
Water Color, Oil, Ink and Brush.

Artist’s Philosophy
‘My belief never endorses that fine arts is solely for the sake of fine arts; rather I believe that it is for shaping and beautifying life of a human being. Creation of the most beautiful would only be possible when nature, people and life would be uniform. Every human being and the entire society of the world as well as all of us have to reach that state of uniformity.’


  • Governor’s Gold Medal, Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, All India Art Exhibition, 1938
  • Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, 1956-57
  • Pride of Performance, Pakistan, 1959
  • Honorary President of Bangla Academy, 1972
  • Honorary D.Lit awarded by the University of Delhi, India, 1973
  • National Professor of Bangladesh, 1975
    Independence Day Award (highest national award of the Govt. of Bangladesh), 1977 (Posthumous).



  • Exhibition at the Imperial Institute, London, 1951
  • Berkeley Galleries, London, 1952
  • Lahore, 1953 Exhibition at Karachi arranged by the Pakistan Arts Council, 1955
  • Damaru Gallery, Japan, 1955
  • Museum of Art, San francisco, 1956
  • New York, 1957 Germany, 1957
  • Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., U.S.A., 1957
  • Moscow, 1961 Retrospective Exhibition organized by the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, 1977
  • The Art of ZainulAbedin, Retrospective Exhibition organized by the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Bangladesh National Museum and the Bengal Foundation, 2004.

Group (selected)

Participated in many National and International exhibitions in the U.S.A., Canada, U.K., Mexico, India, Pakistan, Japan, Bangladesh and many other countries.


  • National Museum, Brussels, Belgium
  • San Francisco Museum of Arts, USA
  • Labor Museum, Pakistan
  • National Museum, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • ZainulSangrahasala, Mymensingh, Bangladesh
  • Many private and institutional collections at home and abroad.

May 28, 1976 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Image Courtesy: Chobighar