At 88, artist Murtaja Baseer gave in to Covid-19. His legacy as a painter is here to stay
In 1955, maestro painter Zainul Abedin paid a visit to Murtaja Baseer to see his paintings. Baseer, then a twenty something "arrogant" artist, was surprised to see his teacher Zainul's reaction.
Zainul hugged Baseer tight, and said, "You have to learn something very few artists could. When people will praise you or try to demean you, your reaction must be the same: just put on a smile!"
Murtaja Baseer thought his younger self was a bit arrogant, a little too proud of his art. Zainul, however, believed in his student.
Many years have passed since that "hug" between the two stalwarts.
Baseer once said in an interview that he was not sure whether his work would stand the test of time.
As the multifaceted artist passed away on Saturday, we take a look back into his life to see how he secured seat in the pantheon of Bangladeshi painters.
Born on August 17, 1932, Murtaja Baseer's parents were Dr Muhammad Shahidullah and Marguba Khatun.
In 1949, Baseer enrolled into Dacca Art College (now the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka). He graduated in 1954.
During 1956-58, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence and then he studied mosaic and etching at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
After returning to Bangladesh, Baseer joined the University of Chittagong as an assistant professor.
His three-decade role as a fine arts faculty ended in 1998.
Anecdotes about Baseer and his father Dr Shahidullah give a glimpse into the life of the artist.
One time, a very young Murtaja Baseer stole money from his mother and ran away to Lucknow, India. The money could only pay his bills for a few days.
Ashamed and afraid, Baseer came back to his home.
"Where have you been all these days?" his father asked.
"Lucknow," Baseer replied, with his head held down.
"You could have visited the Taj Mahal had you travelled a little far," his father said, sitting in his rocking chair.
Since the 1950s, Murtaja Baseer's art has been exhibited in USA, Europe, and the then Soviet Union- among many others.
A water colour painting by Baseer has been on display at the prestigious Louvre Museum in Paris as well. A critical commentary on society is a recurring theme of his work.
The identity of womanhood and women's angst is frequently portrayed in his works.
Director of Galleri Kaya Goutam Chakraborty, and Director of Shilpangan Gallery and Journalist Rumi Noman reminisced about the artist.
Murtaja Baseer was a dear friend of Goutam Chakraborty's father Devdas Chakraborty. They were friends for a long time and he grew up seeing him.
Goutam Chakraborty said, "I always loved his work and he inspired me a lot. He always supported me from the time I started Galleri Kaya in 2004. As he was very close to me, I have unlimited memories with him. I remember he always wanted to live long, and he did. Every time he got sick, he recovered. So we actually thought he was going to win this battle too, it is very unfortunate that he could not."
When Murtaja Baseer was admitted in the hospital, his daughter called up Goutam.
She said if he could talk to his friends and family members and see them, he would surely get better.
But during this pandemic, the hospital did not let allow anyone to see him.
Goutam said, "One of his greatest works is 'Bloody 21' and he was present during the grenade attack on August 21. How many artists will we see doing something like this? He did not just paint, he lived through his paintings. Even though we will not understand now how much they have given to this nation, hopefully in future we will have a platform to research on them. That day we will know what we have lost."
Rumi Noman said, "Bangladesh's history is related to this man. He was a part of the 1952 Language Movement and our independence."
He once interviewed Murtaja Baseer where he said something which Rumi Noman never forgot. Those words still inspire him.
Murtaja Baseer said that he did not want to be a fish who lives in an aquarium, he wanted to be a fish who lives in the sea.
"He never sought public recognition, he wanted to live like a fighter in the larger perspective of the world and contribute to the society. An artist saying such things was one of the most inspiring things for me," added Rumi Noman.