Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 8 Issue 95 | November 20, 2009 |

  Cover Story
  Human Rights
  Writing the Wrong
  Star Diary
  Write to Mita
  Post Script

   SWM Home


Under Water Colours

Nader Rahman

Climate change has captured public attention much like the cold war, we all know there is a common enemy and there is a real threat of disaster, but at the back of our minds we think, if all else fails at least we have a bomb shelter. The only difference is that while a bomb shelter may protect one from a Soviet onslaught, it won't be of much use underwater, because that's what climate change can, will and is doing to millions of homes across the world. For those who think it's a myth, all they need to do is travel to the south of Bangladesh so see the first hand effects of climate change and how it destroys more than just homes, but dreams and aspirations.

Jamie Hewlett the British artist and co-creator of the comic strip Tank Girl and the band Gorillaz recently travelled to Bangladesh with Oxfam to see what climate change meant to those on the front lines. From his travels and experiences in Bangladesh he pieced together a small exhibition titled Under Water Colours, which was recently exhibited at the Dray Walk Gallery in London. The collection of watercolours are as distinct as his other graphic work. Yet the series from Bangladesh is interesting as he uses his comic book/ guerrilla graphic style to deal with life in the spectre of disaster. Known for his offbeat style in the hugely popular comic Tank Girl, he later explored his artistic boundaries with Blur's Damon Albarn to create the characters for immensely successful "virtual band" Gorillaz. His futuristic take on a virtual band included an extensive back-story, with intricate details as he fleshed out his characters with an urban grunge flair.

The basic elements of his artistic temperament remain unchanged in his exhibition on Bangladesh, the only major departure being the light in which he treats his subjects. In his piece "Chums" he painted two young girls he was following around the village. The view of their backs as they walk with an arm around each other is playful and feels almost as if it's out of a children's book. When talking about the painting Hewlett says, "We followed these two girls in the village looking happy and smiling. The children always looked so innocent. I wanted to portray the next generation and their future in an optimistic but realistic way - and show what a beautiful place Char Atra is. I think many people have sadly become numb (or immune) to footage of dying children. If people can relate to a picture, then it can sometimes have more of an impact. Showing two children being playful, walking down a path with their arms around each other is a connection that people here might understand from their own or their children's experiences."


While none of the paintings really jump up and hit you, there are a few which are quite surprising when one pays enough attention to them. In "Tree Kids" Hewlett portrays two children up a tree, but what could be a playful scene is actually about as frightening as one can get. On closer inspection the children are not up in the trees playing, they are up there to get away from the floods. One is griping the tree as hard as he can while the other is in a more comfortable position looking down on what surely is a flood, clutching a container of water. Interestingly Hewlett did not paint the flood, nor anything other the trees and the kids. One would assume that was to highlight the danger of what we cant see, in the larger sense of the exhibition and for that matter Bangladesh that would be climate change.

Another painting of the riverbank showcases the raw power of climate change. In it people stand on a riverbank inspecting the latest land erosion which threatens both their lives and their livelihoods. In a dairy he wrote of his time in Bangladesh he said, "we got to see the river erosion, where the river just gets slowly eaten away by the tides. We saw a concrete bridge with no land either side of it because the land's dropped back so far." While such a sight may be new to him, in Bangladesh river erosion is treated as a simple part of life, the only problem is that climate change exacerbates the damage.

Possibly the best painting to come out of the exhibition is "A boy called Zahid". In the painting he puts a little boy named Zahid who he met on his trip on a chair and tries to encapsulate his innocence and emotions as he looks up to the sky that brings his family and village so much hurt. The expression of pain on the boy's face is as beautifully nuanced as the delicate shading on his body and the creasing of his shorts. It is the piece which really brings the exhibition together and in a way serves as both the starting and ending point of journey.

Tree kids

In his diary on the trip to Bangladesh Hewlett wrote, "My first impression of Char Atra was that it's quite idyllic. It's very beautiful and green and there's a community living together, with the children just running around, having fun and swimming in the river. There's a sense of community, which you don't really have in England at all. It's hard to imagine this place being completely washed away, that the river rises so high that it can actually destroy all this." Nothing could be truer than this. His words just like his paintings have a way of cutting right to the point in a minimalist yet fulfilling manner. Hewlett's trip to Bangladesh may have been an eye opener to him on the reality of climate change, one only hopes those who saw his exhibition understood the human toll of the global phenomenon called climate change.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009