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Aesthetics of Resistance: Revisiting 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War through Various Art Forms


Cover Art: Untitled, Quamrul Hassan/

The existing scholarship on the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh seems to have harped on the contesting histories that rise out of private narratives, both oral and written as well as state-governed narratives. However, examining this strikingly traumatic event of contemporary South Asian history through the lens of various aesthetics, such as music, photography, films, sports, paintings and other fine arts might result in a more comprehensive understanding of the Liberation War as being primarily a people’s movement, at least on the Bangladesh front.

This resource focuses on patriotic songs, ephemera (posters, pamphlets, stickers, political speeches at public meetings, wall writings, audio broadcasts), photography and paintings to explore the ways in which these art forms were weaponised by the East Pakistani artists and intellectuals against the oppressive West Pakistan Army that was bent on annihilating Bengali folk cultures and traditions for the sake of a uniform Urdu language-based cultural identity. During the war, a troupe of travelling musicians named ‘Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha’ used to travel to various training sectors and refugee camps and sing patriotic songs to inspire the liberation army and the uprooted migrants respectively. Later, in 1995 a film named Mukti’r Gaan was made by Bangladeshi filmmakers Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud on this troupe, where they used real footage shot by American filmmaker Lear Levin during 1971. In the field of fine arts, ‘Bangla’r Patua Samaj’ was established in March 1971 under the supervision of ‘patua’ Quamrul Hassan, where the fine artists utilised various art forms to protest against the genocide. Similarly, in the realm of sports ‘Swadhin Bangla Football Team’ was formed in March 1971. East Pakistani footballers who had previously been unjustly undermined by West Pakistani players and sport authorities fought against the colonial oppression perpetrated by West Pakistan on East Pakistan by doing what they did best. They toured through India playing friendly matches to raise funding for the Liberation War. During a stringent military curfew, the photojournalists’ brave feats of risking their lives to visit different camps and sectors and travelling back to the metropolis and the surrounding areas to tell stories of war in images were no less significant than fighting with firearms. These are some of the instances among the plethora of artistic expressions and public endeavours through which an entire land and its peoples found resistance and voice of dissent against a force that was supposedly invincible in terms of military prowess.

-Sushrita Acharjee

Access the four parts of this resource by clicking below:

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