Subodh, run-away;time not on your side…


Since this summer, a set of graffiti on the street side walls of Dhaka introduced an artistic figure, character, Subodh that took the social media by storm. Some found the young man nihilist; others thought his words aptly captured the crisis of our time. Shovon Das reviews the art work, also respond to the political questions revolving around the figure of Subodh

Subodh does not require much introduction for a majority of young facebook users of Dhaka. Tentatively speaking, it is a character of a graffiti series that began to appear on the walls of Dhaka city since May. A young man wearing a desolate look with a ragged pant, bare chest, and hobo hair on is standing in a way as if he is about to leave. The text along these image of a young man reads – সুবোধ তুই পালিয়ে যা, তোর ভাগ্যে কিছু নেই  (Subodh run, your lucks run out); সুবোধ তুই পালিয়ে যা, এখন সময় পক্ষে না  (Subodh run, time is not on your side); সুবোধ এখন জেলে, পাপবোধ নিশ্চিন্তে বাস করছে মনে (Subodh is now incarcerated, evil thoughts are engraved in people’s mind); and, সুবোধ তুই পালিয়ে যা, মানুষ ভালবাসতে ভুলে গেছে (Subodh run, we forgot to love).

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People started to share photographs of the Subodh series on Facebook, so they soon seemed to be everywhere. As I started to collect all the images from facebook and note down the messages these graffitis carried, the first thought came to me was how precisely the anonymous artist without using much word described the time in which young people today are living. I could start talking about the problem young majority face — unemployment, broken commercialized education system, and corrupt student politics. The list is much longer. However, that was not what I was thinking. I thought in this time of state surveillance, the artist creatively curved out a space to speak up, to raise their voice. When students, journalist, teachers are legally harassed for silliest of facebook status, very cleverly and courageously he described the political time of Bangladesh on street walls.

The slogans inscribed with the graffiti described the structural inequality, the apathy and moral failure of the society at large. However, it does not say anything directly. When we see Subodh behind the bar, it reminds us of the many who are unduly imprisoned. Or is the artist hinting society as in itself a prison. When one walks by the graffiti that says, Subohd, run, your lucks ran out. This image probably speaks to every unemployed graduate who is running door to door for a job. All together the series speaks to the intense apathy of Dhaka. In this city, to survive people slowly loses their empathy. Thus, it says, Subodh is now incarcerated, evil thoughts are engraved in people’s mind.

At times, Subodh reminded me of Twaki, Chanchal, Tanu and Romel. Young lives lost because of explicit or implicit state sponsored violence. Drawing from his name, some thought, he is the embodiment of minorities in Bangladesh. For them message read, as though, ‘Subodh you better leave your motherland fast, because you have zero scope of doing anything with your life. There is no security and you can expect nothing from this state.’ Many who are talking about Subodh series find it often nihilistic. Subodh run-away — is read here as the absence of will to resist. However, I somehow feel otherwise. To me, the series reads like an implicit call for awakening. I will make my point looking at the images minutely.

Encaged Sun

To me the most powerful thing about Subodh graffiti series is the encaged sun. He is leaving with a bright yellow sun in a bird cage. The colour of the sun is at times dark red. If we go by the conventional meaning attached to the symbol of sun that is a symbol of rebirth, strength and power. Then, it makes sense. He is carrying the possibility of rebirth, strength and power to resurrect from the rubble of destructive system that is suffocating us today. However, I tend to think, there is more. There must be more. Perhaps, Subodh is leaving to return, and resurrect. Now, one may ask, resurrect what? The visual and scriptural text of this graffiti is rather playful, poetic. It is not asking for literal interpretation and this is where those who are trolling fell short. They are literally reading it, responding to the fact that Subodh is enroute to’escape.’ For example, a common troll is — palabi kothay (escape, but where)? Even the attempt to commercially benefit from the idea is ironically referring to the physical act of leaving. They are erasing the hints of greater inequality, the uncertainty of life in Bangladesh.

The play with yellow-red sun in a bird cage is an uncertain metaphor. If red is the colour of revolution and yellow is the colour of change, is he walking away with the possibility of change or is it a call for awakening? Is he rhetorically directing our attention to the fact that even the future possibility of change is encaged? HOBEKI, the hashtag with each graffiti, in some way asks that question?

#Hobe ki?

There is one graffiti of Subodh or #HOBEKI series that has two crows sitting on a pedestal, their beaks held high, pointing to the slogan, ‘hobe ki (will it happen)?’ While single crow is considered an omen of bad luck, finding two crows means good luck. This hashtag resonates with Italian revolutionary philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s evocative statement, ‘Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.’ With the question, the anonymous artist here addressing the times of despair and the hashtag has under current optimism.  হবে কি?

Shovon Das is an ex-student of Daffodil University.



Not Banksy, Handala 

When the Subodh graffiti series began to gain attention in media, many compared the art work with a British anonymous artist Banksy. Their satirical street art combine dark humour with graffiti executed in similar technique of stenciling and featured political and social commentary on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy’s work grew out of the Bristol underground scene, which involved collaborations between artists and musicians. However, I find the work of Nazi-al-Ali more relevant to understand Subodh.

Handala- text box

Palestinian political cartoonist Naji al-Ali was born in 1937 in al-Shajara, a small Palestinian village in the Galilee. In May 1948, the village was completely destroyed by Jewish forces, and its 893 residents were exiled. al-Ali’s family escaped to Ayn al-Helwa, a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. He was only ten years old then. While in Lebanon, he acquired a passion for drawing, and began expressing his political thoughts and feelings, as well as his pain, through art.  In 1969, when al-Ali was working in Kuwait, he created his most famous character: Meet Handala, a ten year old boy, a Palestinian refugee. Shown only from the back, his clothes are ragged, and his feet are bare. His hair sticks up like a hedgehog’s quills, and his hands remain clasped behind him. His face is a mystery.

Al though, Subodh of Bangladesh does not come from the same political history of occupation and decades of war as in Palestine. However, in terms of charecterisation of Handala and Subodh, there is a similary. They both embody somewhat similar melancholy, desperation and hope.




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