Kamalpur Portraits

A short discussion on issues surrounding gender, homelessness and mental health, featuring artist and urban research planner Ruhul Abdin and his new book The Portraits of Kamalapur, took place on Monday 10, September 2018 at Art Café, 60 Gulshan Avenue, Dhaka -1212. The event included a conversation with Ruhul Abdin about his ongoing project, followed by a Q & A session. 

The Portraits of Kamalapur is an on-going art project by Ruhul Abdin, and is part of a series of portrait drawings of people at the Kamalapur Railway Station. The project aims to develop innovative and flexible ways to address extreme urban poverty, with a focus on mental health and well-being for women and young people.

Drawn from life, in conte charcoal and pencil on A2 drawing paper and studies across sketchbooks, the portraits express what the artist sees, and feels at the time.
The book contains a small collection of the drawings, along with two essays, including a reflective piece by Dr Shoshannah Williams and a longer thought piece by poet and environmental activist Farhad Mazhar of UBINIG – a community led and community based policy and action research organisation.

About his artistic process, he said, “I would just sit there and draw…some people would come and ask me questions and some wouldn’t. It was an organic process. Some would notice my black and white sketches and ask me why they are coloured that way. That’s when I decided to take some colours with me. The colours resulted in a different impression on my drawings. As an artist, I was very exposed. They could critique my work, tell me it was bad or good – I had to accept that criticism.”

“At one point it became very playful as I had some younger children recognise and come up and ask me to draw a person. For female subjects, it was much more challenging as when I asked specifically if I can draw them, some would say no.”

“The drawings were done as a personal interrogation of myself, it wasn’t political. It wasn’t about highlighting the plight of the people of Kamalapur, as I don’t know their stories.”

Kutkut is a new mental health and wellbeing project that will be piloted in Kamalapur in 2019. The project aims to develop creative easy to address extreme urban poverty with a focus on health and wellbeing for women and young people. The project will be led and facilitated by Paraa – a participatory design research studio based in Dhaka – in collaboration with Shoshannah Williams – an occupational therapist and researcher who has conducted a yearlong ethnographic study with the women Of Kamalapur. Kutkut is the result of the team members learning from, spending time with, listening to, supporting and drawing the women and young people in the station.

“The Kutkut project is a more ethically sounded way to address that need. We’ve been very creative working with the women their asking them to perform. It was powerful because they chose to do that, to express in their own ways, their stories. That was more powerful than me doing the portraits alone.” The book itself is created to start that conversation.