Renowned sculptor Hamiduzzaman Khan has achieved acclaim both locally and internationally for his metal-based sculptures, with his main focus lying on forms and geometrical shapes. He is also a prolific artist, excelling in water colour and painting. He has taught sculpture in Fine Arts Institute, Dhaka and at multiple architecture schools for more than 35 years. Many of his works are located in United Kingdom, United States, South Korea, India and in few other countries. In 2006, he was one of the recipients of Ekushey Padak, the second highest civilian award in Bangladesh.
How did you find interest in fine arts initially?
My father, being a doctor, wished that I follow his footsteps and pursue a profession in medicine. But soon enough, I realized that was not what I wanted to do in life. I used to draw from an early age, ever since I was in school. It was at that time I inquired about the Fine Arts Institute in Dhaka. Afterwards, at home, I expressed my wishes of studying fine arts at Charukola. It took a lot to convince my father, but finally, he agreed.
My next step was meeting with Zainul Abedin in Dhaka in 1962. When I went up to him and disclosed the fact that I am from his hometown Kishoreganj, he pulled me forward in a hug. He asked me to show him some of my works. He spoke with me for a while and then said I can go and get admitted to the Fine Arts Institute on the next day. So thanks to him, I got enrolled in Charukola.
I was already late in attending the semester. I could see all the students had gotten far ahead than me. In the first year, all I did was work with pencils. But I had a lot of passion for art and I knew I was in the right place to learn. So I kept on trying. Artist Mustafa Monowar was one of my teachers. He noticed my hard work and he used to inspire me a lot. That encouraged me to perform very well for all other students during my second year. By this time, I had developed a sense of individuality, one that could be identified as my own personal style. I had my own way of drawing. I never did exact imitations. This was highly appreciated by my teachers.
How did you shift your focus from fine arts to sculpting?
I kept on painting for a while as I had little knowledge about the other departments in Charukola. During the final year, I was involved in a serious accident, where I hit my head very badly. I was in the hospital for a long time and Abedin Sir stood by me during the whole time. It took me a while to recover, after which I sat for my final year examinations. After I passed, my doctor said I needed to get another operation done in the UK. In order to arrange finances for my treatment, I held an exhibition in Chittagong in 1969, where all my paintings were sold. Then a gentleman arranged a ticket for me to go to the UK by a cargo ship. It took me 1.5 months to reach Dundee. From there I moved to Edinborough, where I received my treatment. When I went to pay my medical bills, the hospital authorities decided not take it as one of the doctors there was my neurosurgeon’s student. I decided to stay in London for 4 months. It was a big learning opportunity for me as I spent a lot of time visiting all the museums. Places like the British Museum and Tate Gallery had all the works that I had previously only seen in books. After those 4 months, I decided to stay in Paris for 3 weeks.
In Paris, I had a chance to visit the National Museum of Modern Art and The Louvre. Before visiting The Louvre, I attended an exhibition for Impressionist sculpture, which made me realize how powerful this medium can be. Afterwards, I visited St Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel in Italy, both of which drew me very much to sculpture and architecture. When I went back to Dhaka, I felt very much enlightened. I felt like that 6 months’ long visit taught me more about art than my 5 years’ long education did.
In 1970, Abedin Sir asked me to apply for a faculty position to teach sculpture at Charukola. He believed I could do it since he felt that my drawings were impressive. In 1973, he encouraged me to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in the Faculty of Fine Arts at University of Baroda, with the help of the newly launched scholarship program by the Indian Government. That was an enlightening experience for me as I learned how to make relations between art, sculpture and architecture.
How did you first start collaborating with architects?
When I shifted my focus to sculpting, it was still a very new field. In 1982, I was commissioned a work by the government at Bongabhaban complex. It was then that I had a chance to work with structural engineers and architects. Afterwards, I met Nahas Khalil. At that time, he was offered to design a house by a client, in exchange of some paintings. When he received the paintings, he realized they were all mine and that was when he decided to meet me. Later on, we collaborated on many projects together. I have also worked with Mustapha Khalid Palash, Rafiq Azam and Iqbal Habib.
When my work of a 13 feet long bronze figure in Jalalabad Cantonment, Sylhet was finished and acclaimed appreciation, I was commissioned for the work at Bangabhaban, where I worked with chief architect Zahir Uddin. Bangabhaban is a designed complex. I had little experience, but I had the knowledge about art embedded in me. Thanks to my Europe trip. Even though Zahir Uddin is a renowned architect, he and the rest of the team had little idea about sculpture as not much work had been done here by then. I was asked to make something that was about 15 feet high, but I said we needed a sculpture of around 25 feet high for a space like that.
How do you initiate your working process?
I am always in sync with the environment. For instance, I was asked to work on a piece in 150 feet long and 35 feet wide space near a green lawn at Krishibid Institution of Bangladesh. There I used a new material for the sculpture, keeping in mind the colour of the building itself. I have been working with stainless steel since the last 12 to 13 years. But in this case, I used iron as I felt it was a more natural element. I believe art should be simple and this material also made the light appear to be more natural. The colour of the sculpture very much complements the louvers that are visible on the facade of the building. It was difficult for me to convince the rest of the team about working with iron, as it was a new concept for them. I was very certain that I was making the right decision regarding material selection, because I had previously worked on iron sculptures.
You have been teaching sculpture at multiple architecture schools for a few decades now. What is your experience like when it comes to teaching architecture students?
I have been teaching in BUET since the last 30 years. One of the benefits is that this gives me a great opportunity to hang out with architects. I can engage in conversations with them. This gives me a good opportunity to exchange ideas with both with junior as well as senior architects. I also believe that if I have an architect working beside me, then he/she can help me position and situate my work with better understanding.
What made you develop such attachment with architects?
Architects think similarly like I do. I am familiar with many architects, both struggling as well as established ones. I am in good terms with Mobasshar Ali and Shamsul Wares. I have even interacted with the late Muzharul Islam. I have worked with Iqbal Habib, Mustapha Khalid and Rafiq Azam. Each architect has his own working philosophy and I find it interesting to work symbiotically.
Architectural elements like form, line, geometry are quite evident in your work.
This is achieved due to the fact that I work with a variety of different materials. Sometimes I even use a combination of two materials, for instance, stone and metal.
I have been working since the past 45 years. From that experience, I can say that I have had interactions with more architects than artists or sculptors. Interacting with architects perhaps played a huge role in my inclination towards adopting architectural elements in work.
You started working with bronze. How did you further experiment with other materials?
I made sculptures using bronze for about 11 years. Next, I moved onto sheet metal. Afterwards, I worked using pipes for 12 years. Then I worked with wood for a while. Currently, I am working with stone. I believe it is the most ultimate material.
I feel like artistic taste has evolved here. Many local artists are doing excellent works. They are able to take the concept of a building to an artistic level. Additionally, there are more clients interested to get such work done. The best part is that clients and artists can now reach a mutual understanding of what they both find to be tasteful.
Thanks a lot, Sir. We are looking forward to meeting you again and have a more elaborate discussion on a couple of matters we touched today.
Narrated by: Farhat Afzal, Architect and Contributor, CONTEXT
Editor: Azizul Mohith, Architect and Academic