How does one record their travel memories? Some are satisfied with mental pictures, while some like to carry their digital cameras or selfie-sticks. And what about someone who is well known for his innate ability to draw cartoons? Something exciting and inviting one would hope!
That is exactly what Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy’s exhibition “Travelogue: Exploring America with Pen & Paper” provided. Many know Tanmoy as a political cartoonist, who currently draws for national English daily Dhaka Tribune. Straying from his usual style of work, this exhibition is a fresh, vivid take on the concept of an art exhibition, where Tanmoy chronicled his memoirs of travelling across ten different cities across the United States as a part of the World Press Institute Fellowship Program 2015.
The exhibition took place at Longitude Latitude 6 from 27 - 29 October, 2015. It featured a series of pages from a notebook that Tanmoy kept as a visual journal of sorts, which he used to record doodles throughout the entire trip. The doodles begin from Dhaka airport, where he is packed and ready to fly. Through these doodles, the artist takes you on a visual journey from the inside the White House to the sandy shores of Miami Beach, portraying the cultural, architectural and sociological aspects of the places he visited.
Photo: Visitors at the exhibition
There is something about cartoon art that speaks to everyone in a welcoming tone. It is neither too over the top, nor too plain. It is just the right balance to communicate with everyone with visual arts. Tanmoy’s exhibition was a rejuvenating take on a typical travelogue.
With visual aids to portray the context of everyplace he has been to, the curator also added little sticky notes and write-ups from thesketchbook that Tanmoy had kept. The very first entry starts with the State Fair at Minnesota where Tanmoy has added comments “fat people and fried food” with double-triple exclamations and illustrations of people of Minnesota at the fair. At each and every stop, Tanmoy has taken pictures and drawn cartoons to keep them in his memory.
Photo: Pages from the Travelouge
Travelling with a sketchbook and drawing during his travels is something Tanmoy does frequently, however he decided to showcase this one mainly for two reasons. Firstly, Tanmoy’s followers on social media were already following his posts about this particular trip and secondly, this was a professional trip, so he did not mind sharing. “A sketchbook is an artist’s very personal belonging. It is like a personal journal. So while sharing everything from a sketchbook is not always possible, but this has been because people were already following this on social media”, said Tanmoy. “While travelling through the US, and sketching I realized it was becominga series of stories about the US. Then I thought why not do something like this. I landed on the 24th (October 24) and this started on 27th (October 27), so the process of preparation was quite rushed.....Another reason I wanted to do it like this is because, there is a practice to present polished art work in an exhibition and my argument is why should art show always be like that? The fact that rough sketches are also worth display displaying, I wanted to show that and as you can see, to uphold that method, we did not use any framing. The drawings are taken from the pages of my diary and so there is no need to frame them up.” Tanmoy held this exhibition soon after landing because he wanted to share his travel stories with everyone, just like most people do when they return from a trip.
Photo: Tanmoy (in the middle) took the participants of the workshop to the streets to teach them tricks of 'sketch-booking'
In between his exhibition, Tanmoy also held a workshop on sketch-booking. He explains sketch-booking as a practice of constantly drawing, with inspiration from everything around you. He says, “the thing about sketch-booking is that you don’t have a lot of time to ponder on a subject, you have to pen it out immediately or the moment will pass. For this, the drawing that you do is very original. Sketch-booking is also good practice for artists as it gives you an idea about the development of your drawing/sketching skills.” The workshop, which was held almost in the spur of the moment, without any pre-planning or pre-posting received about 30 participants, who after a brief session indoors went out to the streets to apply their learning instantly.
Tanmoy’s journey to being a cartoon artist is one that you see in movies. He may not be termed as a child prodigy, but he was born talented and heavily inspired by Bangladesh’s only satirical cartoon magazine Unmad. From the age of eight, he was an avid follower and dreamed of drawing for Unmad one day. He strived towards his goal and continued to make doodles until they looked like proper representations of human figures. Tanmoy says, “for three years, I went to Ekushey Boi Mela to show my sketches to Ahsan Habib sir, and possibly find a way to fulfill my dream. However, all my efforts were in vain as he was always accompanied by Bappi Bhai and Junnun Bhai, who seemed like big, buff and scary men and I was somehow scared of being beaten up by them. Then, after my intermediate exam, one day I mustered up the courage and went straight to the Unmad office. One of the reasons I decided to go to the office directly was that I had secretly hoped that Ahsan Habib Sir would not be accompanied by Bappi Bhai and Junnun Bhai there!”
Since working at Unmad, Tanmoy grew both as an artist and a cartoonist, “I believe that cartoonists play a very important role in our society. They have the ability to express strong messages in seemingly harmless way, like portraying what is wrong with the political system through simple cartoons. This is what a cartoonist strives to achieve. Being a cartoonist does not mean drawing a situation as it is. That is merely an illustration. Being a cartoonist means to be creative enough to be able to portray social problems in a clever way.”
Tanmoy describes his transition from being an artist for Unmad to an independent political cartoonist as a learning experience. Working at Unmad equipped him with the technical expertise that he needed in order to express his personal standpoint- his knack for political satire.
“From a very early age, I had developed an opinion about the norms of the society. Everybody in Bangladesh, from a bus driver to a rickshaw puller... everybody knows exactly how to run the country, apart from our main two political leaders and I am one of them; the only difference is I have the means to express my opinion”, joked Tanmoy.
Photo: Closing illustrations from the travelouge and the exhibition
During the course of his fellowship program, Tanmoy observed that political cartoons in the US are never printed on the front page of the newspapers, and are printed in the inner pages instead. Unlike the US, such cartoons bring life to the front pages of newspapers, “and I have always thought how great it would be if I could do draw those cartoons!”
Despite the short span of Tanmoy’s travelogue exhibition, judging by the visitors’ response and appreciation, it would be safe to say that one can expect to see more pages from this talented young artist’s sketch book in the days to come.