Art Gallery was there in some form or other even before the British period. But it was then confined to royalties only. The formal culture of art and art organisation began in Kolkata in the second half of the 19th century through the establishment of art schools. In dhaka many paintings were done under the patronage of the Naib-Nazims of NIMTAI PALACE.
In Kolkata the artwork of painters of Kalighat temple and of the illustrators of bat-tala books are well known. In many cities of India artists used to display their work in annual fairs held at crowded temples. But in Dhaka no such paintings existed at the historic dhakeshwari temple or on the pages of books printed by the publishers of old Dhaka's book market. Before partition of India, no painter or any group of painters or any art gallery worth its names appeared in Dhaka. But the city was not entirely without some art heritage. In the first half of the 19th century an artist by the name of Alam Musabbir painted 39 pictures of Eid and Muharram processions.
These are now preserved at the National Museum in Dhaka. However, it was through the establishment of the Art College in Dhaka in 1948 that formal art culture began in this country. The first art gallery of the subcontinent was established in Calcutta in 1876.
On 16 January 1951, an organisation named Dhaka Art Group organised its first exhibition. Till then no permanent art gallery was there in Dhaka. In that exhibition 247 works of 19 painters were displayed. But only zainul abedin and Shafiuddin Ahmed displayed their oil paintings. An art gallery was added when the East Pakistan Arts Council (now the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy) was established in 1963. It is now known as the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Art Gallery. In the 1960s, two art galleries, Art Ensemble (at dhanmondi) and Desh Gallery (at Indira Road) were set up in Dhaka. The Art Ensemble was active till 1973.
In the 1970s, Aftabuddin Ahmed opened Jiras Art Gallery at Shahbagh in Dhaka providing opportunities for young and mature artists to sell their works. Two other art galleries of the kind were Saju Art Gallery and Yeart Gallery in Gulshan area of the city.
The decade of 1980s saw the growth of a number of art galleries in Dhaka. Some of these are entirely commercial ventures. Several cultural centres of foreign diplomatic missions also provide space for art galleries. The only photographic art gallery of the country is the one set up in Dhaka by the Bangladesh Photographic Society. There are several galleries in the government sector such as Osmany Memorial Hall Gallery, the National Museum Gallery, the gallery at Shilpakala Academy and the Shishu Academy gallery. International fine arts and photo exhibitions sponsored by the government are usually held in these galleries. Among the galleries of diplomatic missions' cultural centres, Alliance Frances gallery, Goethe Institute gallery, Indian Centre gallery and the Russian Centre gallery meet international standards. The other well-known galleries are the Divine Art Gallery at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, the historic Zainul Gallery at the Institute of Fine Arts and art gallery at asiatic society of bangladesh.
Thus there are now many art galleries in Dhaka. Some well-known galleries were set up in the private sector in the 1990s. Newer galleries have since come up in the city. In 2000, the first Festival of Photography in Asia was held at 15 art galleries in the city. For several years, now exhibitions of world press photos taken by celebrated press photographers are being held in Dhaka. The biennial Asian Fine Arts exhibitions are held in the top galleries of the city. Some well-known art galleries established in Dhaka at private initiative are Drik Gallery, Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, Shilparag, Chitrak and Aerial. [Bayazid Aktar]