Despite its rich tradition of comics and cartoons—as evidenced by the widespread popularity of the 35-year-old print magazine Unmad, which means “insane” in Bangla and was inspired by Mad Magazine—2012 saw the birth of the first ever Bangladesh Cartoon Fest: An Exhibition of Cartoon, Caricature and Animation at Drik Gallery last 15 – 19 November. Nazrul Islam, who has worked for the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association since 1996, after stints at many Bangla-language newspapers, received the inaugural festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The event itself, which featured an exhibition as well as projected animations and live caricature drawings by featured artists, was extremely popular, and even at its emptiest hundreds of gallery viewers meant there was hardly enough room to move through the exhibit. Bangladesh Cartoonist Association President Mehedi Haque introduced the exhibit by assuring that “Cartoon is nothing new in Bangladesh,” and explaining that the medium serves—and has historically served, as in 1972’s Liberation War—an important role as a universal form of communication considering Bangladesh’s low literacy rate.
A page from Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy’s The Catch.
Festival stand-outs include 25-year-old Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy, an associate editor at Unmad and editorial cartoonist at the Daily Sun, whose playful style maximizes the narrative potential of illustrating, Md. Tarik Saifullah, whose cartoons lament the rapid urbanization of Dhaka, and Jahanara Nargis, one of only two women featured, whose exhibited cartoons employ everyday object as political metaphors.
The Dhaka Art Center exhibited an untitled solo show by Indian artist Samir Aich (b. 1956), from 9 – 19 November 2013. His first solo show in Bangladesh, Untitled featured the Kolkatan’s works in acrylics, oils, and pastels, often on found paper, including art opening invitations and magazine covers. His strong line work enables him to distort biological forms into compelling, often haunting portraits, which remind me of Francisco Toledo’s paintings in their brusque sexuality, but with a better sense of humor and a more consistent playfulness that seems borne out of a deeper questioning of forms and systems.
Samir Aich, Mixed media on paper, 135.7 cm x 88.5 cm, 2010.