Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio


A forgotten craft

The clanging sound of blacksmiths and metal workers was once a distinct part of the beautiful sounds that make up the rhythm of rural or small towns of Bangladesh. Although oblivious to many, metal craft has been an important part of Bangladesh’s artistic tradition. The art of metal craft dates back to 3000 B.C when skilled artisans indulged themselves in making some of the greatest masterpieces of time. Each sculpture included elaborate and detailed designing. The beautiful figurine of a dancing girl belonging to the Indus Valley civilization or the magnificently sculptured deities or merely the intricately designed Nakshi bowl indicate the high-level of workmanship and skill attained by ancient craftsman.

Despite the richness and exclusivity of these metal crafts, today, the legacy of this art-form is becoming extinct. It’s a pity that a large number of Bangladeshis themselves have very low level or no awareness of the existence of such art-form while a good number of foreigners seem to appreciate this rich heritage to a great degree. Every year they visit the main centre for metal casting in Bangladesh. Located 20km North of Dhaka, Dhamrai, is a glimpse of hope for reviving this lost art-form. This particular region was once the living testimony of metal craft where almost every family was involved in this art-form using unique 2000 year old techniques.

With the passage of time and introduction of inexpensive machine made aluminum and plastic products, many families involved in metal craft shifted away from this sector. Today the metal art has almost vanished but despite that, there are still chances of reviving this rich heritage of Bangladesh. It’s especially true, when you walk inside the beautiful village called Dhamrai. As you walk past every road, every nook and every corner, you know that the struggle and hope of people to keep this craft alive has yet not died away. The village in itself is a mere reflection of rich heritage- the temples, the majestic houses of older times and the distinct sound of the metal work which keep the rhythm of the beauty of village intact. A perfect example of a family who has struggled to revive this rich heritage is the Banik Family. Involved in the craft for more than 200 years, for Baniks it’s more of a bond and something with which they have seen time pass by.

‘I grew up hearing the clanging sound of metal beating and testing. My everyday life has been associated with this art,’ says Shukanto Banik. Young, energetic and undoubtedly passionate, Shukanto is the man who is determined to revive the lost art of metal casting. While studying Political Science, Shunkanto helped his uncle and father in the family business. It was during this time that metal craft industry experienced a sharp decline. After the death of his uncle, Shunkanto took over the responsibility of managing the business in 2000. By then, most people had lost hope in this sector. Many started shifting to other profitable businesses.

‘There was a time when I didn’t have money to even produce something. It was my mother who gave me 8000 taka to restart the business. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve such heights of success especially when I was one of the handful of people trying to revive the metal craft that had experienced an extremely sharp decline.’

It was then that Shukanto started from the scratch with the handful of craftsmen who knew the true skill of metal craft. He maintained the quality and the ancient process of handmade metal craft and at the same time introduced contemporary sculptures as well.

‘What makes some of the masterpieces stand out is the use of lost wax method which is not widely used. A distinct feature of this method is that it can only be used once. Therefore a particular piece cannot be copied exactly as we do not use any shapes to clone objects.’

Indeed, Lost Wax method is a very ancient method which has withstood the centuries, visually telling the tale of past cultures, their religion and social structures. Most of these casting symbolized deities and religious sculptures. Shunkanto’s work today evolves from different sculptures of Pal Empire, religious figures and also contemporary and everyday objects with elaborate designs.

Shukanto moved on working on every detail with his excellent team of workers. The result has been worth it. In the last few years, Dhamrai Metal craft Industry has captured the attention of many international buyers and others. Today, a large number of these works are being imported by Western Europe, USA, India etc.
‘I must thank Mathew S Friedman, my friend and guide,’ says Shukanto, ‘He didn’t only appreciate this rich heritage but helped me portray the skill and art of metal craft in different International clubs and organizations. He also wrote a book on the Metal Crafting titled ‘Bangladesh Metal Casting-Five Techniques’.

To help revive this art-form, the US embassy and many others who believed in this art and realised the true essence of this heritage came together and worked on keeping the Metal casting industry alive. To portray the metalcraft and revive the lost tradition an exhibition was held recently at the Bengal Art Gallery.

This exhibition portrayed some of the masterpieces of all time. Shunkanto managed to strike a good balance in highlighting the religious sculptures such as Radha and Krisna, Ganesh and at the same time the Pal Empire and other objects such as animals, bowls, candleholders and such. One of the most attractive item that captured various visitors was an immense traditional Indian Chess set- Satranj. The chess set worth more than 1 lakh once again highlighted the delicate designing and above all the true traditional art. Other exclusive items which were bought by not only foreigners but also Bangladeshis included Shiva Parvati, Nataraj, and Wedding Procession. Each of these pieces highlight the extraordinary skill and time that are put in the making of them. Its incredible how smallest of items like the deity sculptures or even ordinary objects take about three months and involve processes in exactly the traditional manner.

When you look at each of these items, you can see not only the creative ideas involved but also the kind of passion and dedication with which each of these items are produced, and how each of the sculptures and items speak of the past heritage. Shunkanto’s work today involves much of the contemporary touch and summation of different cultures yet he maintains the flair of metal craft that his older generation had passed on. It’s not only for Shukanto but also the rest of us Bangladeshis moral responsibility to revive this lost art that builds up an important part of the true Bangladeshi essence of art.

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