Sculpture, one of the most ancient forms of art, has a rich and vibrant history in Bengal. It has received the patronage of the courts and religious institutions in the different epochs of the history of Bengal. Sculpture has the unique qualities of three-dimensionality and tactility, the ability to stand outdoors, to exist in real time and space, and to be a part of architecture or the living environment. These valuable qualities have made it an important medium in the individual and collective life of humanity. There can be no doubt about the fact that Shailpacharya Zainul Abedin was very well aware of the importance of sculpture as a medium and the need for it to be included in the curriculum of an art institution.
However, none of the artist-teachers who had moved to East Bengal after the Partition of 1947 had been trained in sculpture. This was a major obstacle for establishing a sculpture department. Sculpture is a subject, which involves technical knowledge as well as aesthetic understanding. Thus, specialized knowledge and understanding is a key factor in the teaching of sculpture. Another obstacle was the fear of religious dictates. Until today, sculpture is confused with icons and controversies often arise due to the misunderstanding of the objective of sculpture as a secular art form. It must be mentioned here that the pioneer of modern sculpture in Bangladesh, Novera Ahmed had already created a sensation in the art world from 1956 to 1960 by producing numerous sculptures both outdoors and indoors. She had also had a major exhibition in Dhaka in 1960. Zainul Abedin himself wrote very highly of her. Therefore, it may be presumed that the fear of misunderstanding has perhaps been overstated.
The opportunity to expand the institution and establish new departments was created when the Institute received College status. Abedin seized the opportunity, and the Department of Sculpture was founded in 1963. He chose Abdur Razzaque to head the new department, who was already teaching at the Institute. Abdur Razzaque had completed his MFA from Iowa State University, USA in 1958. Though specializing in Printmaking, during his studies he had taken sculpture for two semesters and a summer course. He also had advanced training in drawing. The institutional education of sculpture in Bangladesh was pioneered under the guidance of Professor Razzaque. He also focused on the practice of sculpture and laid the foundation of modern sculpture through his early works. He was the first teacher of all major sculptors of Bangladesh. He was awarded the Ekushey Padak in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the art.
In 1963 the Department began its journey in a temporary room constructed by walling in the balcony on the eastern side of the Zainul Gallery. This is where classes were held for the first five years. It next moved to two rooms on the southern wing of the main building. The ground floor of the present building was built in 1981 and the first and second floors in 1999. A metal workshop with metal casting facilities was built in 2010.
The Department is called the Department of Modeling and Sculpture in the prospectus published in 1965. In the early years, the Department gave lessons to the Pre-Degree classes and the BFA students of the different departments who took sculpture as an optional course. The BFA course was introduced in 1971 and MFA was introduced in 1984. In 1992 when the BFA Honours course was introduced, the department would be called the Department of Sculpture henceforth.
The BFA Degree program was introduced to the Department of Sculpture in 1971. The duration of the course was five years with the first two years called the Preliminary Degree of the Bachelor of Fine Art. After the next three years of departmental specialization, the degree awarded was the Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA). The two-year MFA program was introduced in 1984. In the 1992-93 session, the BFA Honours program was introduced to the Department of Sculpture. The Honours program was of four-year duration divided into four sessions of one year each. The integrated course system was discontinued, and the grading system was introduced at the BFA Honors program from the 2006-2007 session and at the MFA program in the 2010-2011 session.