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‘Art puts things into perspective and allows us to rethink where we stand in society with our standards and viewpoints’

  • Published at 12:47 pm March 13th, 2021

Poonam Saha was dabbling in doodles when she realized she had become an Internet sensation. This is the story of her meteoric rise

Social media can be a chaotic space. Putting yourself out there for strangers to access can be a very daunting experience, not without its risks. But every so often it can open up doors you never thought existed for you, and transform your reality.

Dhaka today has a thriving underground scene of stunningly talented pop artists. From Cartoon People to the Milkshake Collective, there are groups, events – a veritable ecosystem exists for artists at various skill levels. However, this is a very recent development, barely a decade old.What the visual artist Poonam Saha, creator of Doodlebug, managed to achieve before the structural support system came into place, is then, a truly inspiring story.

A tale etched in monochrome

“From 4th grade to 6th grade I was heavily drawn towards anime, character designing, etc. and then I went on and started to dabble around with watercolors. It wasn’t until the end of 2014 when I started to scribble around with a pen and one thing led to another and I ended up finding a blend between fun, upbeat doodling and a stricter and detailed zentangle based approach” Saha tells us.She went on to post some of these on her social media platforms.

A look at her Instagram profile shows a remarkable versatility of techniques and media and a commendable technical mastery of those styles. Even though she has showcased her ability to work with various media and styles, Saha’s signature remains her intricately detailed monochrome paintings rendered in ink. When asked what draws her to this style, she replied, “I think I just enjoy the simplicity of it. I had initially started this for its easy to access and serve purpose, where all I needed was a pen and a paper. However, as time passed by, I realized how I can execute the most complex ideations through minimal compositions. It's the ability to say a lot while saying so little that really speaks to me.”

Birth of a platform

At that time, Poonam Saha was halfway through her undergrads, enjoying her forays into the Zentangle community, and posting sporadically as and when she found time to complete her projects. The first glimpse of recognition would soon come to her.

“I am not sure I remember what the post was about, but I do remember having a few close friends encouraging me to post it on social media. This was around 2014, unlike now where we have different communities and groups supporting artists, back then, the reactions and support were rather close knitted and limited. Once I saw the positive feedback, I remember posting them regularly, eventually leading me to open up my own art page and posting from there.” And thus, her page Doodlebug was born.

Zentangle is an easy to learn method of creating beautiful black and white abstract images from repetitive patterns. It is a fascinating new art form intended to relax and improve focus.

With a page to her name, Saha began to tackle self-challenges such as rendering famous artwork in her own style. As her portfolio grew, so did her following, and her confidence. Even then, she wasn’t aware of the impact of her work. And then in 2017, Japanese news outlet Tabi-Labo got in touch with her, to let her know that her art was trending in Japan. “Up until that point, I didn't think my work had much of an impact, as it was just something I did when I had time in hand. I think this particular event in my life changed  my perspective on my own work and the potential it carries” Saha says.  

That was just the beginning, as more coverage from media outlets at home and abroad, including the likes of Buzzfeed and Bored Panda, brought in commissions and collaboration requests. The design contracts came pouring in, and after projects and collaborations with brands like Bata and Hakka Dhaka to name a few, she knew she had found her calling.

Recent work

The lockdown imposed for a large part of 2020 was a trying time for everyone. Women in particular, had it hard, with an alarming uptick in cases of domestic violence. BYLC organized an activism event to bring attention to this phenomenon. Poonam Saha was one of the artists asked to participate in the program. “My work surrounded the healing and rebirth aspect of the struggles, where a female individual starts her day as bright as the sun, where she is the glimmer of hope, growth and beauty as opposed to at night, where she hides away like the moon, trying to heal from all that the day has put her through,” she says, adding “Art, let it be in any format, has a way to interpret deep-rooted issues on a much emotionally relevant level. Think of it like a spotlight, where we know the problem, we know where it is, however the lack of awareness causes us to brush by it rather take it into serious accounts. Art puts things into perspective and allows us to rethink where we stand in society with our standards and viewpoints.”

"I have been actively keeping an eye on the works of Sara Herranz and Kikkujo for a very long time now. However, whenever I am in a rut or facing an artistic block, I usually resort to films, as it mainly helps enhance my visual library"

New horizons to pursue

With restrictions cautiously lifting, Saha is eyeing projects both new and in progress. She expresses a particular keenness to resume her illustration workshops, which have been fairly successful in the past. We asked her to share a message to aspiring artists who are nervous about sharing their work. To this, she says “There's really not a lot at stake here. A lot of the time we hold ourselves back thinking what people might say or think. They should do it for themselves on their own terms. Art is a freedom of expression and there's really no single perfect way for every individual to express themselves.”

Check out Poonam Saha’s amazing artwork on Instagram: @doodlebugproject

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