Neighbourhood Watch

The ‘Banksy of Bangladesh’ is asking someone called Subodh to run away, but why?

Is the artist reflecting on the social, economic and political crisis in the country?

The graffiti started to appear a few month ago in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. Suddenly people found examples of strange street art in the Agargaon borough depicting a man running with a cage and a sun trapped inside it. Accompanying the images was an ominous warning: “Subodh, run; your luck’s run out.”

Similar graffiti emerged in a number of other areas of Dhaka in the months that followed. People started to share the images on Facebook and so they soon seemed to be everywhere. But nobody has said who might be painting the images and why. The artwork is signed off with another enigmatic message: Hobe ki? (Will it happen?).

Many on social media are comparing the creator of the graffiti with Banksy, the famous (but anonymous) UK-based graffiti artist and political activist.

The images were created using stencil graffiti and spray paint, a method well-known to Banksy. The “Subodh series” also features political messages.

Rubayed Mehedy Anik wrote on Facebook:

“Subodh, please run away.”
I don’t know who created this graffiti, maybe (we) will never know.
Those who have grown up seeing Banksy’s graffiti would surely appreciate the Subodh series.
My love to the creator, whoever that may be.  

“Subodh, please run away. Time is not on your side”. Image of art from the Subodh series.
“Subodh, please run away. Time is not on your side”. Image of art from the Subodh series.

Is Subodh economically marginalised?

Why does the creator of the graffiti want Subodh to run away? Many have contemplated that the artist may be trying to reflect on the social, economic and political crisis in the country.

Journalist Tushar Abdullah wrote in an op-ed for the Daily Bangla Tribune:

Why does Subodh need to run? He may indeed want to run. He is an ordinary day-laborer. He has to work hard. As he lands in the street he finds public transport is not working because of the strikes carried out by the powerful Transport Owner/Staff/Driver syndicate. They raise fares at will. If you resist, they will push you out of the bus. Protesting will cause them to strike again. How can Subodh live in this anarchy? He goes to the hospital for treatment. He sees that the Doctor/Nurse/Ward-boy syndicate is dominant there. If you could at least get the treatment you desire, you would ignore them. But there are issues such as fake doctors, fake and out-of-date medicines and discrepancies in pathological testing [...] 

“Subodh is now in jail. A sense of guilt is residing inside people's hearts.” Image of art from the Subodh series.
“Subodh is now in jail. A sense of guilt is residing inside people's hearts.” Image of art from the Subodh series.

Is Subodh a victim of inter-communal strife?

Subodh is a typically Hindu name. Hindus make up around 12% of the total population in Bangladesh. So naturally, some have been associating the artwork with discrimination against and harassment of minority Hindus in Bangladesh.

Arifur Sabuj wrote on Facebook:

Subodh, This is a country with (almost) 90% Muslims. Here religious right wingers like Shafi Hujur prevail with Fatwas (religious rulings) [Author’s note: Bangladesh does not have Sharia law. But religious right wing parties try to impose Fatwas regarding many issues]. Rule of law, Lady Justice – why should you mourn all this? Please run away Subodh, your welfare depends on it.  

Renowned poet Shamshur Rahman once wrote a poem titled Sudhanshu will not go which touched on the issues of Hindu minorities migrating to neighbouring India because of abuse by majority Muslims.

Many think that the Subodh series was influenced by that particular poem:

Please don’t be mad Sudhanshu, my friend
Time is running out
Now it’s your time to run away
Please don’t think otherwise, now you go. [..]
Where are Rami, Shepu, Kakoli and our other dear friends?
They have all left, now it’s your turn.  

“Subodh, please run away, your luck's run out”. Image of art from the Subodh series. Via Hobe ki's Facebook Page.
“Subodh, please run away, your luck's run out”. Image of art from the Subodh series. Via Hobe ki's Facebook Page.

On Facebook, Kazi Rukshana Ruma claimed Subodh as “representative of Bangladesh”:

“Subodh, please run away. Time is not on your side”. This Subodh is representative of Bangladesh at the present time. He is the representative of the unemployed and the marginalized people. He is the representative of good sense. He is the representative of other races and religions other than Muslim. He runs with a cage with a glowing sun trapped inside. I watch this and feel an overwhelming emotion, a fear for his future. I say to myself “Run, baby run, Subodh please run away.” But where???????  

Hobeki? (Will it happen?) – From the Subodh series graffiti. Used with permission.
Hobeki? (Will it happen?) – From the Subodh series graffiti. Used with permission.

This is not the first time Dhaka has witnessed a spate of graffiti bearing a troubling but unexplained message.

In the 1990s, graffiti consisting of a single sentence was regularly seen in the Dhaka University campus area. The graffiti read: “Aijuddin is in pain.”

This article first appeared on Global Voices.

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