The history of cartoon or political satire traces back to the beginning of the history of newspapers. And over time it has evolved into an integral part of the culture of journalism.
Cartoons in newspapers add colour to the stories, gives a creative touch to the presentation and lends a visual depiction of the message that the story carries. The most important aspect of a cartoon is that it gives the reader a space to take a pause and go deep into the story by means of the visual representation.
As one of the leading newspapers of the country, Prothom Alo has always upheld the use of cartoons or political satires. Actually, in the context of our country, the practice of telling stories through art reached its peak with Prothom Alo.
Graced by some legendary artists of the country, it has grown into a legacy here over the past two decades. Arafat Karim is a young talented artist and cartoonist, who is one of the worthy peers carrying on the legacy with Prothom Alo now.
As part of this legacy, Prothom Alo this year welcomed the New Year in an innovative and colourful way by organising an in-house exhibition showcasing the artwork and cartoons created by highly promising Arafat Karim for Prothom Alo in the year of 2022, including his unpublished pieces.
The exhibition was held on the 13th floor of the Prothom Alo office from the first day of the year to 10 January. Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman inaugurated the exhibition in an informal programme on 1 January.
He said, “We always appreciate such creative initiatives. Now it’s time to carry on the legacy further ahead.”
Prothom Alo employees, including cartoonist Arafat Karim himself, graced the inaugural ceremony of the in-house exhibition with wonderful musical performances. Such a colourful arrangement on the first day of the year changed the work environment at the office completely.
The chance to view at the works of highly skilful artist Arafat gave the Prothom Alo employees some relief in between their daily work for the 10 days of the exhibition.
The in-house exhibition included cartoons, illustrations, sketches, portraits, the personal sketchbook of the artist and several non-commissioned pieces, which the artist created only for his own pleasure. Arafat also included illustrations of the famous comic character “Bashar Bhai” created by him.
With the colourful artworks of Arafat Karim created throughout the year, the exhibition looked like a journey back through the last year.
Asked about how the idea of holding an in-house exhibition came to his mind, Arafat Karim said, “I always do my work with utmost care. However, I always would wonder whether my colleagues actually saw my work or not. So I always had a plan to do something to show my works with Prothom Alo to my colleagues.”
“And then the idea popped up during the celebrations of Prothom Alo 24th founding anniversary. During that time, I was thinking why not hold an exhibition in the house on my works for Prothom Alo last year. I thought it would give me a chance to get in touch with all the people in the office. And it will also give me a chance to let them get acquainted with my works.”
The comment book of the exhibition is proof that this objective has been served successfully. Employees of Prothom Alo at the exhibition said it was a completely different experience for them to enjoy an exhibition at the office in between their daily work.
Shumana Sharmin, associate editor of Prothom Alo, wrote in the comment book that, “We had the chance to work in a colourful environment for the last 10 days due to the initiative taken by Arafat. Such a wonderful exhibition it was! People from outside of the office came and praised his works. As a colleague, this made me proud.”
Ayesha Kabir, head of Prothom Alo English web section, wrote, “I am a big fan of your work. Your sketch of Ambar Shah Mosque took me back to my childhood when life was so simple and uncomplicated. And that describes you too- simple and uncomplicated, yet with unbound talent.”
The appreciation from Prothom Alo employees was immense. Some of Arafat’s colleagues even wanted to adopt him.
Apart from the Prothom Alo employees, the exhibition also saw people from outside the office coming to see Arafat’s works. Several legendary cartoonists, some of whom had previously worked with Prothom Alo, also visited the in-house exhibition.
Renowned cartoonist Ahsan Habib said, “I am a big admirer of Arafat’s works. I am quite impressed with such an innovative exhibition. I hope to see many more like this.”
Legendary cartoonist and associate professor of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Dhaka University, Shishir Bhattacharjee said, “I want such displays from Arafat every year. I also want to congratulate Arafat for such an innovative and successful exhibition.”
From Messi to Jibanananda Das
The unique part of the exhibition was its versatility in the context. It exhibited works done by Arafat Karim throughout the year. The artworks reflected various incidents that happened throughout the year. Therefore, the context of the exhibition was versatile.
Speaking regarding this, artist Arafat Karim said, “Usually art exhibitions are held on a specific theme. Here I compiled all my works in the year 2022. Therefore, the context of the exhibition is multifaceted.”
From portraits and cartoons to sketches and illustrations, the exhibition included several forms of arts. At one end, it had a portrait of Argentine superstar Lionel Messi celebrating winning the World Cup; it contained a striking artwork depicting the tragic accident that ended the life of poet Jibananda Das on the other.
There were also paintings of the artists which were not published along with the published cartoons and portraits. However, those paintings are well distinctive from the cartoons. Usually the paintings of a cartoonist look like cartoons. Here, Arafat is totally different from other cartoonists.
Still Arafat took the advantage of being a cartoonist and having the knowledge of drawing news and communicating people through arts by applying it in his paintings. Although being totally different from cartoons and political satires, his paintings create an immediate impression on its viewer and take them to the world that the painting is telling about, just like a cartoon does. This combination of two forms of art without hampering each other was absolutely brilliant and rare.
Besides, his fascination with graffiti and experience with this form of arts also has great impacts on his works. The influence of the world famous graffiti artist Banksy is clearly visible in his works too. It helps him make his work visually striking and create a resonance in the viewer’s mind immediately.
The presentation of the exhibition was also unique within the limitations of simple arrangements. There were arrangements for chocolates even for the people who did not like the exhibition. However, all these simplicity together made the arrangement simply gorgeous.
Speaking regarding the response from the audiences and his colleagues, Arafat Karim said, “It was massive. I did not expect that much. Almost everybody who viewed my pieces asked different questions regarding my works. I really appreciate that. They praised and loved my work. It means a lot to me.”
“Besides, there were many people from outside the office, who came to my exhibition. Some of my mentors and teachers also came and appreciated my works. It was a huge achievement for me,” he added.
Asked about his future planning, Arafat said, “Although I took part in many group exhibitions, this was the first time when only my works were showcased. This gave me some courage to go for a solo exhibition in future. That’s the plan for now.”
Arafat Karim completed his BFA in Drawing and Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka in 2014. The same year he received the prestigious 'Prime Minister Gold Medal Award' for his extraordinary results in BFA. Arafat completed his MFA from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka in 2016.
Despite his young age, Arafat has taken part in a number of group exhibitions and art competitions. Notable among those are – '18th Asian Biennial Art Exhibition Bangladesh - 2018' held at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka, each edition of ‘Anti-corruption Cartoon Exhibition’ held in between 2010 to 2016 organised by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), the '[email protected]' art exhibition organised by the High Commission of India in Bangladesh in 2016, the 19th, 20th and 22nd 'Young Artist Fine Arts Exhibition' and so on.
He also took part in the 'Annual Student Exhibitions' of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
In his journey into the way of developing himself as an artist, Arafat has been accoladed with numerous awards including the 'Best figure painting award' at the '5th Tone International Miniature Art Biennale - 2015' and first prize at the art competition titled '[email protected]' organised by the Indira Gandhi cultural Centre under the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh.
The young prodigy also won the first prize in six of the eight editions of the Anti-corruption Cartoon Competitions he participated.