Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Rickshaw Art

Today was a day about cycle rickshaws. The plan was to visit shops, workshops, painters and metalworkers who produce and sell the components that go in to constructing a rickshaw.
First stop was Ahmed Hossainis house - a famous rickshaw painter.
We visited Ahmeds home and saw examples of different styles of rickshaw art by a range of artists and work from different periods.

Whilst much of a rickshaw is covered in decoration the most important bit, for the artwork, is the panel at the rear, under the seat and between the two rear wheels.
Printed panel:
Old printed panel:
Rickshaws only arrived in Bangladesh as recently as the 1960's and they are a key part of the transport system both in the cities and the rural areas.
Many of the rickshaws are owned by individuals who rent them out to the rickshaw 'drivers'.
A good quality rickshaw with bright and shiny paintwork and accessories will cost more for the driver to rent than one that looks more tired.

Much of the imagery used on the rickshaws is drawn from religion, mythology, birds and animals, film and tv stars (often with guns).

In the 70's some of the imagery became too risque for the authorities and figurative imagery was banned.
The panels use enamel paint on tin-plated steel sheet. Some modern panels are screen printed which is cheaper than the hand painted, some use gairishly bright pinks and yellows - which unfortunately arent UV stable and dont last long in the bright sunlight.
The panels are now sold as artworks for around 3500tk ( £35) and few of Ahmeds pieces now reach the rear of a rickshaw. Ahmed has applied his skills to several projects including calendars for the German embassy in Dhaka.

Tourists can commission pieces too. Supply him with portrait photos and he will put an image of you onto a rickshaw panel. You can be painted with your favorite pet, a submachine gun or even both!
There is a large industry focused around the cycle rickshaw, from their production, to their repair and restoration. It would cost in the region of £1500 to buy all the components and to build a rickshaw.
The seat is made from timber then clad in metal.
Sometimes these are painted. I particularly liked the nailwork, where dome- headed nails are used to create decorative details.
Specialist workshops produce the different components;
Reinforced cycle frames.
Sheet metal for covering the wood.
The forged rear wheel system.
Suspension and rear bumper bars.

Bamboo hoops for the hood.
Upholstery and stitched plastic panels for the hood.

Which are brought through specialist shops.
The decoration of rickshaws also extended to the two stroke motorised rickshaws, these were imported as just the sub frames and the engines, so an industry developed around the production and personalisation of the body and panel work. The newer, more environmently friendly, CNG rickshaws are imported as complete units and the authorities have specified that they remain green and black, so little personalisation has happened. Small details - stickers, bolt on accessories and small paintings are starting to appear. The smokey two stroke powered rickshaws are banned from Dhaka city and now mostly operate in the outskirts and in the rural areas.