My beloved Dhaka -- a city of busy people, busier streets, and a whole lotta noise. Love it or hate it, there’s beauty to be found in even the smallest of corners, should you pause to look. And that’s exactly what DhakaYeah aims to do with their art.
With a group of anonymous illustrators who prefer that their art speak for itself, DhakaYeah is on a mission to showcase this boisterous city how they see it. Playing on elements of nostalgia, their illustrations portray the colourful nature of the city, adding a little bit of magic to the little moments. With weeks, sometimes months, of research put into each illustration, DhakaYeah plays on the city-dwellers’ sense of nostalgia, highlighting the deep-rooted traditions and cultural values that we hold so dearly. We at Dhaka Tribune got the opportunity to talk to the team about the craft, the critiques, and the future of DhakaYeah.
● Let's begin with an update. What's new with DhakaYeah? How has the ongoing pandemic impacted/inspired your recent works?
The last couple of months have been extremely busy, especially from the logistical end of things. Recently, we launched DhakaYeah’s very own e-commerce store www.dhakayeah.com, which sells art prints of different sizes and ships all across the globe. Interestingly, the reality is that at one point, after drawing for years, you realize you have turned into a company. It’s not only about creating artworks but having them printed and shipped to the consumers, and trying to expand at the same time by learning a lot of tools and secrets of the trade takes a good amount of time, and you constantly learn from your mistakes.
Throughout the last couple of months DhakaYeah has created a lot of originals along with commissions; more so than any other time period ever. However, not having exhibitions or not being able to physically display work has had some negative impacts, but DhakaYeah was always very much online focused from the get go, so we suppose that helped.
● Could you explain how the illustration industry works here in Bangladesh?
It’s almost non-existent. To better understand the scenario, we can take a look at how it works for an illustrator in the countries where there is a vibrant illustration industry.
Art directors working for magazines, advertising agencies, book publishing companies, or graphic design companies commission illustrators to bring an idea to life in the respective styles of the illustrators. It could be anything from a book cover to a soap packaging.
The question is why do they give the job to an illustrator? It’s a combination of delivering a message and creating a visual impact. How many times have you ended up buying one product simply because you found the packaging of a very mundane everyday item beautiful?
Unfortunately, a lot of companies in Bangladesh still don’t think this matters; decisions based on how good the “art” or “design” is are still taken by the marketing managers or the upper management, but not an experienced art director. You wouldn’t expect your dentist to do your accounts, now, would you?
That leaves a lot of illustrators with only a few options, like creating prints or originals to sell to a consumer or take private commissions.
● How does one become an illustrator? What are the relevant steps they can take to be a good one?
Always show up and do the work -- there is no way around it. Hard work is the only thing that pays off. If you think you’re good, don’t stop there; try to improve your skills in the early years. “Success” in this field usually comes in layers, and is not defined like it is in many other industries. You have to keep on creating work, forgetting every kind of inhibition without being too self critical. And throughout your formative years, try to seek your creative voice, because once you find that, everything falls into place. This is something a lot of illustrators struggle with, and many can’t find a sense of direction. If you’re not able to find one, do not panic; keep on searching, and keep on drawing.
Illustrators are problem solvers more than anything else. Giving life to a concept is what illustrators do, and this requires a ton of research. Research what the best illustrators from around the world are upto on online platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. How are their styles different? Why is their work good? This is the part that one cultivates, and this is how one illustrator becomes different from the other.
No matter how much “talent” one has, if you don't cover the base with enough knowledge and relevant work, you won’t be able to go that far.
However, the future is not all bleak and frustrating for an illustrator. Don’t forget, you live in the age of the internet, there is nothing stopping you from emailing your portfolio to an art director in Berlin and land a project. People already understand the concept of working from a remote location, and this pandemic has taken it to the next level. All you have to care about is being good at what you do, and reaching out to relevant people.
● You've mentioned, in the past, the use of magic realism in your art. How much of DhakaYeah's style is inspired by it? What other styles are you, as a brand, influenced by?
Magic realism has influenced the content, for sure. Magic realism and other forms of escapist philosophies have heavily influenced the artworks, along with melancholia, nostalgia, and romanticism.
● There have been some comments about some of DhakaYeah's work having a Western feel to it, and how it may not represent the majority's perception of/experiences in the city. While art in all forms is open to interpretation and can/should start relevant conversations, do you have anything to say in response to this particular critique? How do you ensure a balance in the representation of all classes of people?
The answer to this question in some way lies in the previous answer. Where concepts like magic realism dominate the space, realism automatically takes the back seat. It probably does not represent the majority’s perceptions, and perhaps that’s what’s working for DhakaYeah. The majority probably does not think about art as much, or probably don’t know what to expect from it. But one thing is for certain -- if you are making something for the masses, it has to be crafted in a way that is meant to please everyone, just like pop music or commercial cinema. There is not enough room for experiments; and why does everyone have to do the same thing to begin with? Moreover, is it necessary for everyone to be comfortable with art all the time?
DhakaYeah is not trying to ensure any balance in the representation. It’s almost impossible to go on making something and constantly think about representation or pleasing everyone.
● If you had to imagine a post-pandemic Dhaka, DhakaYeah style, what would it look like?
If the pandemic is over, it should pretty much be the same as before. Everyone will forget how it was and try to move on, and perhaps DhakaYeah will do the same.
● We've seen artists like Farooque Bhai featured in your work, such as in the recent piece called "Haat". How was the experience of including a very specific face, as opposed to the usual, more generic, imagined faces?
Farooque bhai has been trying to create a world that is close to what DhakaYeah is trying to create. Both the entities are part of this new age movement that is here to disrupt the mainstream. There probably isn’t a word for what we are trying to do here, but we believe there should be one. Is it too early to call it a movement? Maybe. But a lot of people are trying to experiment with the crafts they love with the skills they have, and trying to bring about a real change in the scene.
● What's in store for DhakaYeah in the future? Is there ever a concern of running out of stories to tell?
DhakaYeah is working a lot -- there are two books in the making, an online art platform, and a lot of original illustrations.
The concern is not running out of ideas, but the interest to create might just run out one day.
Bringing a fresh perspective of the city to the table, DhakaYeah successfully makes its audience fall back in love with Dhaka. Whether all their artwork is relatable to everyone or not, there’s surely a delightful new story to look out for in each of the illustrations.