Rickshaw painting: art on wheels
Rickshaw is an indispensable part of Bangladeshi life. It is a necessity in our country, not solely because of the great utility it provides to short distance travellers at low fares, but also as a source of earning for thousands in the country. However, as always, necessities are never treated with much flamboyance in our society. Then how come rickshaws have made such a special place as an artefact and emblem of our tradition? Each and every rickshaw that plies the roads of Bangladesh showcases the most beloved and cherished elements of our culture, and the ornamentation is a documentation of the vibrant soul that dwells here.
We could reason that in decorating the rickshaws with vibrant colours and accessories the rickshaw makers try to express appreciation and salutation towards something that is so much a part of our everyday lives. It is our culture, like we embellish a bride with great care for her special day, every rickshaw owner makes sure that a rickshaw is nicely decorated before it sets sail on the roads. Similar types of vehicles exist in a lot of countries, but what is so special about the ones we have that is so eye catching to everyone around the globe? Itâ€™s the detailed ornamentation that the rickshaw owners and rickshaw pullers do to make it attractive to the customers and make them proud of their three-wheeled vehicle.
You can hardly find anyone in Bangladesh who hasnâ€™t had a ride in a rickshaw in their lifetime and so it is not difficult for anyone to recall that every rickshaw that you see on the road is decorated in some way. The decorations can vary from colourful hoods with plastic tassels, flowers, sometimes with trinkets, ribbons and certain props attached to the handles. Some rickshaws have brightly hued seats with a fancy touch of colours given to the frame of the rickshaws. The rear side of the rickshaw is like a big canvas for the rickshaw artists. The tin sheet at the lower rear part is where the rickshaw painting starts and sometimes flows on to the seats and hoods. The tin sheets feature a form of painting that, over the years, has gained much recognition and appreciation as a form of folk art.
Yes, it is the famous rickshaw painting that I am talking about. This tin sheet is like a peep hole into the rural artistsâ€™ imagination. The paintings are not bound by any specific form or technique. Neither do any of these painters ever take lessons on art. Itâ€™s all about what the painters observe around them; the most common themes being Bangla film actors and actresses, rural sceneries, birds, animals, flowers and popular landmarks. The art is not done to scale or perfection, neither are the actual colour schemes maintained in their works. What then is the appeal of such a painting? It is most probably the naivety itself. Bright colours like pink, orange, yellow and raw green that are used are very basic colours; these colours are raw and pure just like the hearts of those craftsmen who put their heart onto the tin sheets.
A rickshaw puller who has a very elaborately ornamented rickshaw said, â€˜I love the way people admire the adornments on my rickshaw. I take very good care of my rickshaw every day because I donâ€™t want to lose the appreciation. The picture of the Taj Mahal at the back of my rickshaw is my favourite. Before this I used to pull a rickshaw that had the picture of my favourite heroine Shabnoor. Rickshaws donâ€™t look good at all without these paintings and even passengers like rickshaws with paintings.â€™
In the past, most rickshaw painting workshops used to be located near Old Dhaka. But today each locality has a few of them in and around the rickshaw garages. One of the painters expressed his pride in holding onto this form of art for generations in his family.
He said that they still cling on to this old form of art because people still love and want their works; rickshaw pullers and rickshaw owners have a strong demand for such painted pieces for their rickshaws, and of course rickshaw riders too want to see more colourful and painted rickshaws. That is why rickshaw owners are keen to have them. The variety of themes they use depends on the preference of the buyers. Buyers usually like the use of bright paints. One reason is that it is more eye-catching and for more practical reasons, bright colours like red and green fade away slower than lighter ones.
Today rickshaw paintings have made their way from the rear end of the rickshaws to expensive frames hung in lavish drawing rooms as showpieces, designer clothes, on walls of reputed art galleries and so on. The appreciation has crossed borders and reached distant lands. Just like rickshaws are often synonymously used for Bangladeshi life, these days, rickshaw paintings are being accepted as a memoir or souvenir of Bangladeshi culture and art. A lot of initiatives are being taken by fashion houses and individuals to take this form of folk art to much greater heights. Well known names like Jatra and Deshal have come forward with collections inspired by rickshaw painting, to make this local art more widespread.
To a great extent rickshaw art speaks the mind of rural people; the paintings go around the cities telling stories of aspirations of the painters who created them, of what they treasure, as a kaleidoscopic view of their imagination. They spread colours all around and add a notch of vibrancy to the otherwise mundane roads. This popular art is part of everyday life yet the ones behind this often go unnoticed. The brilliance of this art lies in its innocence, its perfection in imperfections and reflection of imaginative power.
Source: new age