Sensing Bangladesh through art and poetry
In their latest offering, Sensing Bangladesh – A Children's Guidebook to Art from Bangladesh, UK-based book publisher Bok Bok Books attempts to represent the cultural, linguistic, and literary heritage of Bangladesh through children's books.
The idea for this book emerged during the pandemic, when founder Rumana Yasmin was reminded of the therapeutic powers of art. "Self-isolating while juggling work with no childcare, and with a newborn thrown into the mix, we really needed to make space in our lives to slow down and reconnect. The act of creating art together became moments we started to cherish—the connection we felt with each other, with the materials we used, and with the finished piece of work, was exactly what we needed to pull us through", Yasmin told The Daily Star.
The concept started to develop as she looked through art books with her daughter, who was fascinated by the stories behind the art and the processes of art-making. "However, as with most children's books, these art books lacked representation from Bangladesh. There is so much diversity in the Bangladeshi art scene that it would be a shame not to be able to show that to children around the world", she said.
Yasmin collaborated with artist Ayesha Sultana and established a common vision for the project. Being intimately involved in the Bangladeshi art scene, Sultana would be curating the artworks to be showcased in the book, and a team of poets would come together to write poetry responses to each piece. "We wanted to also move away from cut-and-dried explanations of the artworks and allow children to engage with them through interactive prompts, interesting facts, and poetry responses", Yasmin explained.
Many of the artworks offer commentaries on issues like colonial history, migration, and the experiences of indigenous minorities. Yasmin feels that art and poetry make the perfect combination to make these topics accessible for children. "I think cultural values are instilled through everyday living, but books can offer up a space where we can have conversations about them with our children, be it to understand what these values mean, see them from another perspective, or even to question them", she added.
They are currently recruiting six poets to be a part of a virtual residency with Bok Bok Books. They have partnered with British Bangladeshi Poetry Collective, a creative social enterprise based in London, who have been helping them develop the vision for the poetry element of the project, a medium that "holds the power to communicate complex ideas in simple, yet interesting, ways".
Development agency Arts Council England provided funding for this project, along with a lineup of other publications, to celebrate Bangladesh's 50 years of independence. Additionally, BEXIMCO has sponsored this new Bok Bok Books initiative.
The book is set to be published in December 2021. Galleries in the UK have already shown interest in having Sensing Bangladesh available in their shops, and it will also be available in independent bookshops across the UK and Bangladesh.
Maisha Islam Monamee is a freelance journalist who likes reading, planning, and scribbling. Email: email@example.com.