Today marks the 95th birth anniversary of internationally statured Bangladeshi artist SM Sultan. Sheikh Mohammed Sultan aka SM Sultan was born on August 10, 1923 in a poor family of Machimdia village, Narail District, Bengal Presidency, British India.
In his early childhood he was admitted to the Victoria Collegiate School in Narail but due to financial crisis he had to mark an end to his academic life just five years later. He left his school and started supporting his mason father. At that time, his father`s work influenced a young Sultan. He seized every opportunity to draw with charcoal, and developed his talent depicting the buildings his father worked on.
Sultan wanted to study art in Calcutta (present Kolkata), but his family did not have financial capability to send him. Eventually, he secured financial support from the local zamindar and went to Calcutta in 1938. He was introduced to famous poet and art critic Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy there. With Suhrawardy`s recommendation Sultan got the chance to get the admission at the Calcutta Art School in 1941 despite not having academic qualifications.
In 1944 he left the art school and began to roam as a stroller. At this time, he started living with the tribal people in Kashmir Valley and started portraying their livelihood. His first solo exhibition was in 1945-46 in Shimla, India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah`s sister Fatima Jinnah inaugurated Sultan`s exhibition in Lahore in 1948. He went to the US in 1950 to join the International Conference of painters representing the Government of Pakistan. After that he participated in solo and joint exhibitions in several European countries. Sultan is the only artist in Asia to have a chance to appear in exhibitions, next to the famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Paul Klee.
In 1953, Sultan returned to Narail. In order to promote the fine arts among the children and adolescents alongside the formal education, he found the Institute of Fine Arts in Narail on 10 July, 1969. In 1987, he established Shishu Swarga.
Sultan found the main rhythm of his life in rural Bengal, farmers and in farming. The history of Bengal, the history of the survival of its people, repression, revolution and the history of survival through struggles have influenced most of his artworks. In his creations, the fullness and abundance of rural life as well as the class contradiction and the rural economy has also appeared a lot. In his paintings, the greatness of the village has emerged as the center of world civilization and the farmer has been portrayed as the architect of this center.
This ageless artist received the Ekushey Padak in the field of arts, in 1982; the Bangladesh Charu Shilpi Sangsad Award in 1986; and the Independence Day Award, the highest state award given by the government of Bangladesh, in 1993 for his great contribution to fine arts.
SM Sultan died on October 10, 1994 in Jessore Combined Military Hospital.