Shamim Sikder: Turning freedom into an art
The iconic artist passed away on Tuesday, 21 March
The Swadhinata Sangram at the Fuller Road intersection at Dhaka University is an ambitious sculptural project. At the centre of the garden stands a staggering 60-feet sculpture. At the top of the work is the flag of Bangladesh. Cascading down in a flow, stands Bangabandhu surrounded by freedom fighters. Surrounding this piece are numerous smaller sculptures of poets, musicians, and intellectuals. Walking through this park evokes heavy emotions, not just from its scale, but how it inspires pride to be a Bangladeshi.
Even if you're not in tune with Bangladesh's art scene, if you live in Dhaka, chances are you may have unknowingly come across Shamim Sikder's work, such as the Swadhinata Sangram.
Sikder was an iconic sculptor and through her art, she depicted the struggles of the Liberation War. Throughout the span of her distinguished career, Sikder created sculptures of prominent personalities, depicted the Language Movement, the mass uprising of 1969 and 1971 war, and upheld Bangalee culture through her works.
Her works were exhibited in numerous shows in Bangladesh and abroad. Sikder was honoured with many accolades and awards, including the Prime Minister's Award for Sculpture in 1974 and Ekushey Padak – National Language Martyr's Award in 2000.
She also served as a faculty member of the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, from 1980 to 2001.
Sikder commemorated the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with a sculpture at Dhaka Central Jail and was also the artist behind Shoparjito Swadhinata, located near the TSC of Dhaka University.
Shoparjito Swadhinata is a complex sculpture which depicts the horrors of the 1971 Liberation War – the violence and killing of intellectuals – as well as the bravery of the freedom fighters, and the moment of victory. The base is particularly important because it depicts the events that have happened during the war. It includes several figures including farmers, freedom fighters and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Born in 1952 at Shariatpur, she was the sister of martyred Engineer Badsha Alam Sikder and Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party leader Siraj Sikder. Sikder studied sculpting from Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts in Dhaka, Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, and Sir John Cass School of Art in London.
"Her courage was exemplary during the 1970s, especially through her works. She created numerous beautiful artworks as a student, and created iconic art as a sculptor," said sculptor Ivy Zaman.
"We both studied at the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka. We even lived in the same dormitory at the time. Even though she was my senior, she was always amicable and comfortable around us," she added.
Sikder was married to poet Zakaria Chowdhury, and together they have two children. Sikder was an enigma; she spent most of her life as a recluse artist, and found refuge in her work. Yet she went on to inspire many.
"Professor Shamim Shikder was the first graduate of Sculpture from the Faculty of Fine Art in Bangladesh. I was her direct student. She was a friend to us all, even when she was our teacher. She made unparalleled contributions to the arts, which earned her fame both domestically and internationally," said Dr Nasima Haque Mitu, Chairman, Department of Sculpture, University of Dhaka.
"I was her student. As a teacher, she was iconic. Throughout her life, I saw her overcome every obstacle that came her way, and she faced everything with a brave attitude. She was an enlightened individual, and I pray that her soul rests in peace," said Lalarukh Selim, Professor, Department of Sculpture, Dhaka University.
Sikder recently came back to Bangladesh from London after several years, with the hopes of reconstructing the sculpture of Zainul Abedin at the Faculty of Fine Art campus. But she was hospitalised for four months at a hospital in Dhaka and tragically passed away on Tuesday afternoon, 21 March, at the age of 70. The artist was suffering from multiple illnesses, including cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney complications.
"We lost a gifted artist. I am extremely saddened. I pray her soul finds peace," said artist Hamiduzzaman Khan.
"She was a department colleague of mine. Over the years, we've collaborated on a number of projects. She was younger than I, but she had made great progress through her work. She encountered numerous challenges, but overcame them all."