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Shishir Bhattacharjee (1960-): The Satirical Brush of Bangladeshi Art

Shishir Bhattacharjee
Shishir Bhattacharjee

Shishir Bhattacharjee

Born: 1960, Thakurgaon, Bangladesh

Occupation: Artist, Political Cartoonist, Professor

Nationality: Bangladeshi

Education:

  • Bachelor of Fine Art, Institute of Fine Art, Dhaka University, Bangladesh (1983)
  • Master’s degree in Painting, Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (1987)

Career:

  • Political Cartoonist for Prothom Alo, a Bengali-language newspaper
  • Associate Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University, Bangladesh
  • Member of the influential artist group “Shomoy”
  • Early critic of the Ershad military junta
  • Notable influence on politically motivated Bangladeshi artists

Exhibitions:

  • Solo exhibitions in Chittagong (1994) and Dhaka (2000)
  • Participation in group exhibitions in England, Pakistan, Japan, and more
  • Participation in international group exhibitions, including “System Error: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” in Siena

Teaching Career:

  • Teaching at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka since 1989
  • Invited as a guest teacher at Slade School of Art in London

Publications: Two cartoon albums, published in 1994 and 2002

Early Life and Education

Shishir Bhattacharjee (1960-): The Satirical Brush of Bangladeshi Art
Shishir Bhattacharjee

Shishir Bhattacharjee was born in Thakurgaon, Bangladesh, in 1960. His artistic journey started at an early age when he exhibited an innate talent for visual expression. He pursued a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Institute of Fine Art at Dhaka University in 1983. This educational foundation gave him the technical and conceptual skills needed for his artistic career.

Furthering his education, Shishir obtained a master’s in Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in 1987. His academic pursuits honed his craft and exposed him to diverse artistic influences, setting the stage for his distinctive style.

Career as a Political Cartoonist

While Shishir Bhattacharjee is recognized as an influential artist, he is most widely known as a political cartoonist. His sharp and satirical cartoons have found a regular place in the pages of Prothom Alo, one of Bangladesh’s largest circulation Bengali-language newspapers. Through his cartoons, Shishir masterfully critiques the political establishment with a touch of humor, allowing him to reach a broad audience and spark conversations about critical issues.

His contribution as a political caricaturist has gone beyond just his creations; it has inspired a new generation of illustrators who admire and follow his style. Shishir has engaged people in political discourse using humor and wit, encouraging them to think critically about the issues affecting their nation.

A Trailblazer in Alternative Art

Shishir Bhattacharjee was a pivotal figure in the alternative art movement in Bangladesh during the 1980s. He was a leading member of the genre-breaking group “Shomoy,” often considered the “third wave” of Bangladeshi artists. This group challenged the conventions of the time and introduced new, innovative approaches to art.

During this period, Shishir was an outspoken critic of the Ershad military junta, which put him at odds with the authorities. His unflinching critique extended to the Jamaat e Islami and individuals accused of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. As a result, he became a controversial and polarizing figure, particularly among right-wing forces.

Shishir’s influence on politically motivated artists in Bangladesh cannot be overstated. He demonstrated the power of art to be a vehicle for social and political commentary and change.

Artistic Evolution

Several noteworthy phases mark Shishir Bhattacharjee’s artistic evolution. In his earlier works, he used vibrant colors to convey his messages. However, he has gravitated toward a more minimalist approach in recent years, focusing primarily on black and white. This shift is deliberate, as he seeks to convey his messages with clarity and simplicity. Black and white artwork allows for a direct and unambiguous message, crucial for his satirical and political commentary.

Although he predominantly uses black and white, he occasionally employs color as a background to evoke different emotions and moods. Through this balance, he can create art that resonates deeply with the viewer, eliciting a wide range of emotions and thoughts.

Influences and Inspirations

Shishir Bhattacharjee draws inspiration from both local and international artists. Among the Bangladeshi artists, he particularly admires Zainul Abedin and Quamrul Hassan, who laid the foundation for contemporary Bangladeshi art. Their use of lines and imagery continues to captivate him.

On an international level, Shishir deeply appreciates artists like K. G. Subramanyan and Jogen Chowdhury. He credits the expressionist artists who resisted Nazi oppression with influencing his work and ideology. Artists like Otto Dix and George Grosz played a significant role in shaping his approach to political satire.

Additionally, early Renaissance artist Bosch’s works have left a lasting impact on Shishir. He often turned to these artists’ satirical and mocking works as references when creating cartoons during periods of political protest.

The Ongoing Journey

In his continuous quest for artistic expression, Shishir Bhattacharjee has found infinite inspiration in nature. He remains fascinated by the ever-changing and limitless variations found in the natural world. These variations fuel his imagination and lead him to contemplate the existence of a divine creator who designs with unmatched skill.

In reflecting on the potential of his art, Shishir dreams of completely immersing himself in nature, believing that this would open up endless possibilities for his creative endeavors.

A Legacy of Teaching and Inspiration

Shishir Bhattacharjee’s impact as an educator at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, cannot be overstated. Since 1989, he has been imparting his knowledge and nurturing artistic talent. His influence is evident in the success of several students who have gained recognition both nationally and internationally, including Firoz Mahmud and others.

Tools of the Trade

An exciting facet of Bhattacharjee’s artistic journey is his choice of tools. He mentions black liners, commonly known as gel pens, when asked about his favored artistic tools. These pens offer precision and boldness, allowing him to create impactful lines and compositions. He also prefers thin watercolor brushes combined with black ink or black acrylic color, typically on a white surface. This preference for black and white emphasizes his commitment to conveying messages with simplicity and clarity. He occasionally uses color in the background to evoke specific emotions, but the lines remain steadfastly black.

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Exhibitions and Recognition

Shishir Bhattacharjee’s work has been widely exhibited and celebrated. He presented his first solo exhibition in Chittagong, Bangladesh, in 1994, followed by a second solo exhibition in Dhaka in 2000. He has also participated in various group exhibitions both in Bangladesh and abroad. Notably, he was the only Bangladeshi artist featured in the 2007 exhibition “System Error: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” at Palazzo Papesse in Siena, Italy, co-curated by Naeem Mohaiemen, a renowned Bangladeshi artist and writer.

In addition to his artistic contributions, Shishir Bhattacharjee has had a successful teaching career. Since 1989, he has been an Associate Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka. His teaching has nurtured several students who have gone on to achieve national and international recognition, further solidifying his impact on the art world.

A Glimpse into the Future

As an artist, Shishir Bhattacharjee continues to explore the endless possibilities within art. He remains open to learning and gaining inspiration from the infinite natural variations. His observations of the natural world leave him in awe of the intricate designs and vibrant colors surrounding us.

In a reflective moment, Bhattacharjee muses on the creativity of the ultimate artist – the creator of the natural world. He acknowledges that there is a profound sense of wonder in the artistry of nature, a reminder that the possibilities of artistic expression are limitless. In his quest to convey his messages, he has embraced black and white as a powerful medium for his art, allowing his audience to engage with his messages directly.

Shishir Bhattacharjee (1960-): The Satirical Brush of Bangladeshi Art

Shishir Bhattacharjee’s artistic journey is a testament to the power of art as a means of political commentary and social critique. His satirical cartoons and thought-provoking paintings have sparked discussions, challenged the status quo, and inspired a new generation of artists. Shishir’s evolution from a vibrant color palette to a minimalist black-and-white style showcases his dedication to conveying clear and direct messages.

As he continues to draw inspiration from nature and reflect on the complexities of existence, Shishir’s journey remains an ever-evolving exploration of the boundaries of artistic expression. In a world where art and politics often intersect, his work is a compelling mirror to society, inviting viewers to engage, reflect, and question the issues that shape their world.

Shishir Bhattacharjee Gallery

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Shishir Bhattacharjee

1. Who is Shishir Bhattacharjee?

Shishir Bhattacharjee is a Bangladeshi artist known for his satirical paintings and political cartoons that criticize the political establishment.

2. What is Shishir Bhattacharjee’s background and education?

Shishir Bhattacharjee received a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Institute of Fine Art, Dhaka University, Bangladesh 1983. He obtained his master’s in Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda 1987.

3. How is Shishir Bhattacharjee known to a mass audience?

He is best known as a political cartoonist for the Bengali-language newspaper Prothom Alo and as an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University, Bangladesh.

4. What is the significance of Shishir Bhattacharjee’s political caricature style?

His style as a political caricaturist has influenced a new generation of illustrators who follow his style.

5. What was the “Shomoy” group, and why was it influential?

Shomoy was an influential group of alternative artists that emerged in the 1980s, often called the “third wave” of artists in Bangladesh. Shishir Bhattacharjee was a prominent member of this group.

6. What role did Shishir Bhattacharjee play in critiquing political events in Bangladesh?

Shishir Bhattacharjee was an early and vocal critic of the Ershad military junta. He also critiqued the Jamaat e Islami and 1971 war criminals, making him controversial among right-wing forces.

7. Can you provide information about Shishir Bhattacharjee’s exhibitions?

Shishir Bhattacharjee has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in various countries, including Bangladesh, England, Japan, Italy, and the United States.

8. How does Shishir Bhattacharjee describe his preferred artistic tools and style?

Shishir Bhattacharjee prefers using black liners or gel pens, thin watercolor brushes with black ink or black acrylic color, typically on a white surface. His preference for black and white is to convey his messages more simply.

9. Who are some artists Shishir Bhattacharjee admires and draws inspiration from?

Shishir Bhattacharjee looks up to artists like Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan, K. G. Subramanyan, Jogen Chowdhury, Otto Dix, George Grosz, and early Renaissance artist Bosch.

10. What is the artist’s perspective on the endless possibilities of nature and the role of a creator?

Shishir Bhattacharjee finds inspiration in the endless variations found in nature. He contemplates the idea of a creator whose design and color sense are beyond human comprehension, and he draws inspiration from these natural wonders.

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