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Christian art in Asia with a European face

Bangladeshi sculptors withstand adversity and low pay to carve beautiful works of art

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Christian art in Asia with a European face

A Pentecost scene at a Catholic church in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka created by Milton Kumar, a Hindu artist and sculptor. (Photo supplied)

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Casting statues has been a passion for Lincoln D’Rozario since he was 10 years old.

“My maternal uncles were carpenters, and I grew up watching how they made statues from wood,” the Catholic father of four told UCA News.

A member of Our Lady of Guidance Church in Padrishibpur of Barishal district in southern Bangladesh, he attained the skills to carve out statues from clay, fiber, cement and wood using his hands and chisels.

His statues, ranging from small to life-size, mostly have white European features to meet local demand.

“I don’t bother whether the statues have European or Asian faces. I only think about how to make them look real and devotional,” D’Rozario, 45, explained.

He has designed and created dozens of statues and artworks for about 50 churches across Bangladesh over past decades. He also has a few individual clients.

“I most like making statues of Jesus. I have also cast statues of Mother Mary, angels and the stations of the Way of the Cross as well as church altars with the Last Supper of Jesus. I have made a few Hindu and Buddhist statues because Christian artworks trigger my spirituality and devotion,” he said.

D’Rozario, now based in capital Dhaka, regards art as a spiritual exercise and never considered it as a business.

“Each time I get a design for a statue, I sit for a meditation and draw a mental image through contemplation before starting work,” he said.

He has also refrained from charging high prices for his services thanks to his religious devotion.

“For three months of work, I get about 80,000 taka (US$941) whereas a sculptor from outside would not do it for less than 150,000 taka. I might not have a professional degree but I always maintain quality,” he said.  

D’Rozario gratefully remembers the contributions and patronage of Italian missionary priest Ezio Mascaretti from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).

Now back in Italy, Father Mascaretti, 76, was a missionary in Bangladesh from 1984 to 2011, mostly based at Padrishibpur Church. A prominent architect, the Italian priest designed and constructed dozens of Catholic churches and church buildings in the country, Father Michele Brambilla, PIME regional superior, told UCA News.

For statues and artwork in churches, the priest relied on a handful of artists including D’Rozario.

“My professional life started with the support of Father Ezio. He was a great patron and inspiration,” he said.

Since the missionary departed, there has been a lack of patronage and support for sculptors, he said.

“Our church authorities including priests and nuns are negligent. They prefer imported expensive statues from other countries including India, but do not want to employ us. Also, people want to get nice and small statues at cheap prices, which is not possible, because this is my livelihood and I cannot incur losses from my works,” D’Rozario said.

Sometimes, when there is no work, he designs artwork for wooden furniture and boards, which is often poorly paid.

Due to a lack of savings, D’Rozario does not have modern equipment, forcing him to use only his hands and chisels. And now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, his family has been suffering badly.

“For three months I have failed to pay my house rent and I have borrowed money to buy food for the family. There is no work and no income, and nobody is concerned about us,” he lamented.

Christian sculptor Lincoln D’Rozario casts a wooden artwork of the Last Supper. (Photo supplied)

The Hindu sculptor of Christian arts

Milton Kumar, 45, a Hindu from Sirajganj district in northern Bangladesh, has cast Christian statues with terracotta, fiber and cement, using his hands and chisels, for decades.

“I started working professionally thanks to PIME Father Carlo Buzzi, who asked me to take part in a church cemetery renovation. Since then I have made dozens of statues of Jesus, Mother Mary and saints. At first it was a hobby but now it is a passion,” Kumar told UCA News.

His best works include the chapel of Holy Spirit National Major Seminary in capital Dhaka, the Rosary Garden of the popular Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in Diang of Chittagong district and a life-size statue of St. Francis Xavier at Golla Catholic Church of Dhaka Archdiocese.

Like D’Rozario, he is indebted to Father Ezio for inspiration and support.

“He was an architect and helped broaden my thinking about Christian art. Once I was working on the stations of the Way of the Cross and asked him to explain. He told me: ‘Try to feel about Jesus’ expression when he was beaten and nailed on the cross.’ I followed his instructions and it turned out to be a good piece of artwork,” he recalled.

Kumar has a diploma in arts but no professional degree, so he cannot negotiate much when getting work orders.

“This is my passion, so I have been content with what I get as payments. It varies from work to work. In one place I have worked for 250 taka ($3) per day and in another place I got 30,000 taka for six months of work. Usually, I take much less than what other professional artists and sculptors could demand,” he said.

He also noted that his Christian sculptures have European faces as required by clients.

“I would love to cast statues with local or Asian features but have not done any yet. My clients order and influence based on what they have experienced and liked over the years,” he added.

Kumar dreams of setting up an art school in future. “I wish to organize an art display that would feature Christian arts.”    

Holy Cross Father James Shyamol Gomes, parish priest of Holy Cross Catholic Church, has worked with both D’Rozario and Kumar and recommends that the Church should recognize, reward and support them.

“Their works are beautiful and high standard, and they have kept this passion alive for serving the Christian community. The Church needs to patronize, recognize and use them more so that they can continue this tradition in the coming days,” Father Gomes told UCA News.

“They have helped enrich our spirituality and devotion through their works, so we need to help them survive for good.”

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