Is this beautification? (video)
What comes to mind when we think of Paris is the Eiffel Tower. With London, it is the Big Ben while Delhi conjures the image of the India Gate in our minds. But what of Dhaka?
No one thinks of the statue of the tiger at the Karwan Bazar intersection or the elephant statues near Science Laboratory or even the horse-cart near Ruposhi Bangla Hotel.
Constructed in the name of beautification, these statues are neither beautiful nor represent the rich heritage of this country.
“In planning, we talk about something called the ‘image of a city.’ If we think about Dhaka, we think of the parliament building, the Lalbagh Fort. We never think of these structures - they are not part of our image,” says Dr Ishrat Islam, Professor and Head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).
Let’s take the sculpture of the tiger for example. The tiger, our national animal, a symbol of our national cricket team, is of course a good subject for such art. But the project, costing the government large amount of money, is devoid of any aesthetic or artistic merit. It simply makes a mockery of the city.
Then there’s the sculptures of the fishes or dolphins in front of the naval office, the ambiguous horse-cart near Sonargoan Hotel, the elephants near Science Lab – all of these are either not artistically pleasant or do not have any significance as being part of our city.
Shishir Bhattacharya, Professor of Drawing and Painting Deparment of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, when asked about such beautification projects, says, “What is happening in Dhaka in the name of development and beatification is not something that can be accepted. The sculptures that we see on the road instead of giving us pleasure, makes us more irritated.”
Shishir finds in baffling why in a country with so many great artists, writers, politicians who shaped the nation, we should be at a loss of subject matter. He draws the example of Kolkata where beautification projects pay homage to the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
He believes that these projects had been undertaken without any consideration. “We have Charukala, great artists and sculptors. If there was a committee to discuss what these projects should be, where they should be, what their significance is – then we would not have been faced with such a problem.”
Dr Ishrat Islam echoes his thoughts, saying, “We don’t seem to put a lot of thought into the theme of what we are building.”
When asked about the beautification projects, Dhaka South City Corporate Mayor, Syed Khokon, said after taking care of the primary needs of the city such as repairing roads and street lamps, there is a plan of beautification works on the Mirpur Road on a trial basis.
“We will accept proposals and the best one will be implemented on this road. If this is successful, other streets will be beautified on that theme.”
But no thought seems to be given to the art installments and structures in the name of beautification. Except the few sculptures at the Dhaka University campus in memory of our Liberation War, examples of beautiful works of art in the city are scarce. Unless proper thought and planning is given to what we build, what they stand for, these beautification projects will continue to serve a completely opposite purpose.