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The flight of sense: Emerging graffiti in Dhaka

  • Published at 06:50 pm July 10th, 2017
  • Last updated at 09:46 pm July 10th, 2017
The flight of sense: Emerging graffiti in Dhaka
For Bangladesh, the wall has always been a canvas of art, a manuscript of an epic for political activists. Since British rule and through the Pakistan regime and the military rule of Bangladesh, the writings on the wall have always been a harbinger of a change spearheaded by the scions of a generation. Sometime in the summer of 2017, a series of graffiti began popping up around Agargaon. They depicted a man with scraggy hair and beard, fleeing with a caged sun. The string of graffiti can be found on a wall across the headquarters of the National Meteorological Department, next to the Old Airport. A second graffiti was found on the wall of Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Government Boys’ High School nearby.  The third was found near Purobi Cinema Hall in Mirpur 7. The messages read: Subodh tui paliye ja ekhon shomoy pokkhe na: Flee Subodh, time is not on your side Manush bhalobashte bhule gechhe: People have forgotten how to love Tor bhagge kichu nei: Nothing is written in your fate The graffiti has been well-received by a generation weary of the gratuitous toil of Dhaka life. The young can relate the graffiti to the plights they experience on a daily basis. The more aged audience find a reason to reminisce about the campaigns from their youth. [caption id="attachment_73920" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Graffiti and messages on walls were an integral part of student politics throughout the history of Bangladesh since Pakistan rule Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune Graffiti and messages on walls were an integral part of student politics throughout the history of Bangladesh since Pakistan rule Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune[/caption]

Expert’s opinion

Aminul Hasan Litu, secretary member of the Mangal Shobhajatra and Folk Culture Research and Expansion Centre, remarked the Subodh graffiti are quite different from the graffiti his generation had known in the ’80 and the ‘90s. Litu said the early graffiti existed only within and around the Dhaka University premises, mostly done by students of Fine Arts or political activists. He considers Subodh as a symbol of the political and social reality in Bangladesh today. He believes Subodh is waiting for the opportune moment and the caged sun represents positive thinking lying in wait – a manifestation of the urban hope in 2017. Litu, who is an organiser of the first Mangal Shobhajatra and a graduate from the Department of Fine Arts at Dhaka University, said the anguish in the messages refer to the poison that has seeped into society and the oppression of minorities. He asks: “Can Subodh run away? Can I run away? Where do we run to?”

What is Hobeki?

Attempts to track down the graffiti artists have failed. The earliest photos of the graffiti surfaced on Facebook, taken by a number of citizens who were enchanted by the stencil art. Sometime later, a page was opened on Facebook under the name of Hobeki, which is the signature of all the graffiti. Queries made to the page also have not been responded to either. Aroma Dutta, a Dhaka-based social activist, believes Subodh is the embodiment of the plight of the minorities. She says: “Subodh you better leave your motherland fast, because you have zero scope of doing anything with your life. There is no security and you can expect nothing from this state.” Aroma expressed her disappointment with how minorities are continuously being marginalised in the country and steadily losing their right and will to speak up for themselves. She says she finds Subodh to be the epitome of the hopelessness. [caption id="attachment_73921" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Flee Subodh, time is not on your side, people have forgotten how to love Collected from Facebook Flee Subodh, time is not on your side, people have forgotten how to love Collected from Facebook[/caption]

Why Subodh is running away

On the afternoon of Thursday, June 15 at around 2pm, two journalists were looking at the graffiti outside the weather office. It bore signs of recent attempts to whitewash the stain off the wall. It was a hot and humid day, affirmed by the journalists profusely sweating under the sun as they tried to see “something” in the graffiti. Three teenage boys were looking at them from across the street. As one of the journalists took out his camera to take a series of photos, the teenagers approached them. “Are you with the media?” one of the boys asked. The introductions led to a rapid-fire exchange of what each party knew about the graffiti. The hands that painted the graffiti were unknown to the admiring boys and the journalists alike. One of the boys, Saiful (pseudonym), went on a passion tirade about how the Subodh graffiti appeals to him. “This is our story. This is the story of our helplessness. With all the awful things happening – the murders, rape, corruption, forced education based on memorising, and this terror of finding ourselves unemployed after passing, we are terrified throughout every single day. [caption id="attachment_73922" align="alignright" width="382"]Stencilled illustration of Subodh on a wall in Agargaon Collected from Facebook Stencilled illustration of Subodh on a wall in Agargaon Collected from Facebook[/caption] “We just sat for our HSCs, the exams, they were horrifying. The pressure built up, stress mounted on us by families, friends and teachers. It all made way for despair. Because there was so little motivation and reason for anything. We live a mechanical life, a vicious cycle of monotony and conformity. Subodh is our symbol. Subodh is our fleeing sense of decency. Subodh is the beacon that reveals the tyranny and oppression all around us.” Saiful looked on with a steely gaze that seemed unusual on his soft, adolescent face. He sighs and bites his lip, and glares at the ground at his feet. He looks up and says: “If you find anything about the people behind Subodh, please let me know, I would love to thank them.” The teenager exchanges phone numbers and mumbles a goodbye before taking off. The pleading in his eyes is so much stronger than his words. Three days later, Saiful is called again to ask a few follow-up questions. He does not respond. Further calls are made, text messages sent, yet nothing is heard from him. Fear creeps into the journalist’s stomach. Another call is made, from a different number this time. Saiful speaks into the phone: “Who is this?” “Hi, I’m from the Dhaka Tribune. We met the other day in Agargaon, admiring the Subodh graffiti.” “Oh, oh no. My mother has explicitly forbidden me from discussing these things with people. I cannot talk about these things anymore.” He hangs up, his last words on the phone laced with fear.
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