Langston Hughes is a brilliant poet and prose writer, an innovator, and a revolutionary in literature. A leading force in the Harlem Renaissance, a scholar, activist, and black man who spoke shamelessly and proudly about his experience of racism in a still heavily segregated America. His “colleague,” Zainul Abedin, is an extraordinary person and a talented individual, a political activist, innovator of contemporary art in Bangladesh. At first glance, two talents and two destinies are such different people, but they have unique and inimitable features. One is a writer, and the other is an artist; Hughes portrayed his thoughts and feelings with pencil and paper and Abedin, with paints on canvas.
However, their goal is to bring a “piece of the soul” into the world through self-expression and dedication. Recreating their impressions of the surrounding reality, they cause the same feelings in the viewer or reader. Each author makes a different world and a new reality, filled with life, exciting stories, and memorable characters. Therefore, this essay attempts to find and define the main link that unites the life, creativity, views, and interests of two gifted people – Langston Hughes and Zainul Abedin.
It is noteworthy that Langston and Zainul were born in a small, provincial town. They grew up in a small and low-income family, but parents provided the future creators with love and care despite all these aspects. Education was versatile, and adults instilled in children from an early age such qualities as morality, virtue, courtesy, obedience to parents and elders – the fundamental elements of education that have not lost their relevance today.
Two creators showed their artistic potential, creativity, and giftedness, studied with pleasure, and absorbed new information even as schoolchildren. Hughes liked to write poetry, and Abedin wanted to depict the Brahmaputra River, near which he spent almost all of his childhood. Teachers of educational institutions predicted a successful, great future for them. So, the real literary debut of Hughes took place at the age of 19, when the magazine “The Crisis” appreciated the author’s unique and inimitable style of writing and published the poem. On the contrary, Abedin’s “casual, romantic style” also stood out in his youth. As a 24-year-old young artist, he received the Governor’s Gold Medal in the All-India Exhibition for paintings of the river made in watercolor technique.
Life presented many significant events and moments that left an imprint on the views and interests of two talented personalities. Moreover, they outlined their role not only as creators but also as political figures, leaders of activist movements, fighters for justice and human rights. In fact, Abedin witnessed the events during which more than one million people died from malnutrition and diseases. The artist showed the public on his canvases a picture of the natural world and genuine horrors-hunger, malaria, and any lack of medical care (Siegel, 2018). He also was the leader of the movement to recreate the cultural identity of Bengal, previously isolated by the government of Pakistan.
Hughes, by the will of fate, was involved in numerous internal conflicts of the post-war period. On the other hand, the poet continuously fought for social justice and racial equality through his literature. Even then, everything that surrounded the writer and the artist during their difficult life is marked by triumphs, tragedies, contradictions, riddles, and intrigues. Thus, the process of forming the socio-political and aesthetic views of Hughes and Abedin is determined by the biography, concrete historical facts, the development of public thought and culture.
Creativity is not just a thought process but a manifestation of human freedom, the belief that the actions of one thinking subject can have a global impact. In youth, Abedin was fond of writing “simple stories” that excite his soul and consciousness most of all. He captured picturesque views of his native land on his canvas, improving his drawing skills by studying academic style at school and college. Hughes also started “small” and “gradually honed his pen” to fulfill his real intentions in the future. Inspired by a trip on the Mississippi River, the 17-year-old teenager describes his impressions in the poem “The Negro Talks about Rivers (Miller, 2020).” From his first poems, one can see how he used his experience related to racism as inspiration. This negative experience, however, was not the only influence on his texts.
Throughout the whole life, the works of the writer and the visual artist are constantly being reformed into something more impressive and original. Consequently, creativity for these two geniuses is a way of self-realization, a kind of response to the current reality. The artist does not stand still, reflects, analyzes events and ideas; his point of view and presentation change. But this does not happen once, and new features are gradually acquired. Abedin’s style was transformed from “naive” traditions to realism but in the concept of modernity. The paintings are based on the ideas of the limitations of folk art caused by the lack of regularity, dynamics, and complex relationships between light and shadow.
Abedin’s creativity unites working men and women who struggle with all difficulties and adversities, realize their abilities. Thanks to the sketches of the Bengali famine, Zainul drew attention to a socially acute problem, thereby calling on all concerned people to start acting (Sunderason, 2017). By comparison, Langston’s texts reflect the strong influence of the ordinary black experience and the outstanding jazz culture of his era (Fauset, 2020). He emphasized the everyday problems experienced by most of Hughes’ readers.
Summing the above, the vast ideological and artistic richness and diversity of Hughes and Abelin’s work, vitality, and extraordinary realistic depth sharply distinguish him from other creative figures of those years. Hughes draws on the traditions of Negro folk culture, the realistic traditions of American literature, and democratic poetry. The formation of his creative individuality takes place in the struggle with the concepts of bourgeois aestheticism. Abelin’s famous paintings express human pain and suffering, struggle and protest. These are particular types of realism combined with urgent social research and objection with a higher aesthetic.
Their creativity is based on the search for answers to complex questions but described in a more straightforward and more accessible form, understandable for everyone, regardless of the level of education. Thus, the formation of great personalities, whom humanity remembers, values, and thanks, was due to the influence of external political moments on the internal structure of the country and regions. Thus, the main characteristics that unite the writer and the artist are similar feelings and emotions experienced due to specific events, the style and manner of ideas and plots addressed to the nationality.
Fauset, J. R. (2020). There is confusion. Dover Publications.
Miller, W. J. (2020). Langston Hughes. Reaktion Books.
Siegel, B. R. (2018). Hungry nation: Food, famine, and the making of modern India. Cambridge University Press.
Sunderason, S. (2017). Shadow-lines: Zainul Abedin and the afterlives of the Bengal famine of 1943. Third Text, 31(2-3), pp. 239-259. Web.