After crossing the passage at the entrance, a whiff of acrid paints from a heap of canvas gathered nearby hits one's nostrils. It was almost dusk, and the last golden rays of the sun were peeping into Farida Zaman's studio cum apartment.
The cream walls are adorned with her paintings in vibrant shades of orange, red and blue. Nearby on a wooden stool, her palettes, brushes and half-filled tubes of paint are neatly gathered.
There, at the centre of the living room, holding a brush in her hand and facing towards an ocean blue canvas, the artist talks about her works and the preparation for her eighth solo exhibition titled 'For the Love of the Country'. Forty of her artworks are going to be displayed in the exhibition at Bangladesh National Museum on December 6.
A series of subtle strokes soon fill up the canvas, but she does not look away from the picture, and continues to share a news about a book launching during the launch of the exhibition. Written by Martin Bradley, 'For the Love of the Country', the book is on her.
Farida Zaman was influenced by her uncle artist Hashem Khan's works and it was he who inspired her to become an artist.
To her, artists are symbols of strength. Farida said, "I become very nostalgic when I think about my childhood. The assimilation of my childhood fantasies and the simple life that my family lead, has always given me extra strength and mindfulness. My works are immensely influenced by my childhood."
The seasoned artist uses sunny colours in her work. The usage of earthy tones such as brown and yellow come from the soil and the earth. As she grew up beside the River Dakatia in Chandpur, many of her artworks, such as the 'Fishing Net' and 'Safia' series, articulate the life near the river.
She said, "Safia is a real woman, in fact, she represents Bangladeshi rural women in general. My house help at that time had curly hair and dusky skin and she inspired me to create this character.
Our rural women's everyday struggle in their personal lives and their working lives motivate me and I try to represent them through my canvases."
As for the formal qualities of her works, the artist have long been known for, dots and lines and watercolour wash-like effect. They are employed to echo a landscape or frame a bird's eye view, creating thereby the atmosphere of her recently done paintings.
"I am deeply influenced by different cultures and art forms in general. I appreciate all the cultures that exist in the world. Human life is influenced by their surroundings. Often we show a tendency to feel superior vis-à-vis other cultures.
This is a problematic way of looking at life. We can always learn new things from a different culture as music, literature and history continue to influence artists around the world," she said.
Farida Zaman has been teaching at the department of painting at the fine art faculty in Dhaka University, for 40 years. She was the department's first female teacher.
"One thing that is yet to change completely is the perception of parents who think that fine art is the last resort for students who would fail to pursue any other disciplines. Breaking this stereotype is a never-ending process for those who aspire to become artists," she said.
On the visible tidiness of her studio, she said that during the initial days of her career, she lived in a two-bedroom apartment, which did not afford to be messy.
In her words, "I have always been organised. Moreover, since I like open spaces, I keep my canvases stacked on the floor, instead of strewing them around. I also make sure to always clean and maintain them."