While the streets are covered with posters and banners, cloth banners are almost disappearing. At the same time, the words of the banner artists behind it have also been suppressed. What is the current state of this industry?
If you look at the pictures of almost all the movements and protests associated with the history of Bangladesh, you will see the picture of the banner-festoon. And all of them are made of cloth. On the one hand, these banners written on cloth were aesthetic, on the other hand, it was a means of livelihood for many people. But with the advent of digital technology, these colorful banner artists have taken over, bringing with them environmental pollution along with ease of use and other benefits.
The streets are covered with posters and banners, but the cloth banners are almost gone. At the same time, the words of the banner artists behind it have also been suppressed. What is the current state of this industry?
Looking for banner artists
In 1998, 20-year-old Suman Dey came to Dhaka in search of livelihood. Bakushah market in Neelkhet was crowded then. At that time people knew cloth banners as banners. So the demand of the people is sky high. He was given a place to stay by the owner of Uday Sign, and at the same time he was initiated into painting banners. Since that beginning, Suman has been painting cloth banners for the past 25 years. Seen everything from the golden age of the industry to its present near extinction.
“When I started working, there were more than 40 banner shops between Neelkhet and Kantaban area. It was not possible to get by. People were hired from other places to do the work,” recalls Sonali’s past Suman.
But that day is over too fast. Digital technology gradually emerged in the early 2000s. One or two digital print shops started opening in the market. But it wasn’t immediately that the digital print business started booming. Of course, there was a reason.
According to Suman, around 2003-04, the cost of making a cloth banner of a normal size (12 feet by 4 feet or 48 square feet) was Rs. 300 to 3500. In contrast, the cost of digital print was Rs 70 to 80 per square foot. That is, a banner of the same size would cost about 10 to 12 times to make through digital printing. As a result, everyone was stuck with cloth banners for general use.
But as the wheel of time has rolled, the cost of fabric banners and digital prints have flowed both ways. As machinery for digital printing has improved, the cost of raw materials for banner printing has also become cheaper and more readily available. That is why it is now possible to make PVC banners very quickly with only 16 to 18 rupees per square feet.
Nurul Islam has been working in that lane of Neelkhet’s Bakushah Market for more than 25 years. The shop called Ad Sahara has yet to touch the PVC banner, which most of the other shops have. Unable to survive the competition, many have been forced to move towards PVC. But the cloth banner is still hanging in Ad Sahara shop.
Nurul Islam said that 50 banners can be made with one drop of color. Around 2000, the price of one bucket of plastic paint was Tk 150, now the price of that bucket has increased to Tk 350. The price of clothes has also increased by 8-10 times. “Earlier, even if you spend less, you would get a lot of profit. Now, even if you spend more money, the profit is very small. There are no orders. Every 2-3 days, maybe one or two banner orders come.”
The main reason behind this low order is the demand of the buyer. Buyers usually order what is convenient for them. Along with cost, time and design flexibility are also available with digital print banners, which are not available with fabric banners.
Suman said, “There are basically two types of banners. For rally-processions or meeting-seminars. Rally-procession banners have less writing, and it takes about an hour. But meeting-seminar banners have more writing, and you have to be careful in terms of design. Time. It takes two and a half to three hours. The cost also increases, one and a half to two thousand rupees. But in the case of PVC banners, there is no problem. Whether the writing is less or more, the time taken is almost the same.”
A large number of banner making orders are political or election oriented. And here comes the issue of design. It is very common to use images of leaders in banner-festoons made for political campaigns. And it is not possible to paint a face on a cloth banner. And this is where the digital printed PVC banners beat the cloth banners. Daudul Islam, owner of DM Enterprises shop, which has been making cloth banners for more than three decades, said, “Almost every political banner uses at least 3-4 pictures of people. Because of this picture, a large part of the demand for banners has shifted towards PVC banners.”
Who are the buyers of fabric banners?
Although PVC banners bring many benefits to buyers, who still continues to use cloth banners? Talking to Nurul Islam, it is known that mainly various environmental organizations and leftist student organizations are regular customers of their shop.
Environmental organizations use cloth banners because of the harmful effects of PVC on the environment. PVC is essentially a plastic that does not mix easily with the environment. Moreover, they are thrown away after being used once. In this context, Sakir Ibrahim Mati, consultant of the environmental organization Green Life Society, said, “We always try to make banners with eco-friendly cloth or jute mats instead of plastic, PVC to protect the future generation and our lives, nature.”
Meanwhile, apart from protecting the environment, the general secretary of the left-wing student organization Chhatra Union, Main Ahmed, mentioned the benefits of individuality and design. “Most of the cloth banners are hand made by us. There is a touch of individuality in the lettering. Also different characters are used for different types of events, like protest rallies or new arrivals. Bangla typeface is very limited and cannot express the appropriate expression in print. So we use colors. And rely on the hands.”
In addition to these two types of organizations, several coaching schools use cloth banners for permanent display on the road. However, it is known that the order of such banners has decreased due to the rules of the city corporation.
And this decline in overall demand has hit banner painters, forcing many to change their profession. Suman said, “The number of banner artists is decreasing, now only these 3-4 shops are left. Some have moved to villages, some have gone abroad. Many of the famous artists have opened everything from rickshaw pullers to grocery stores. If you remember the old banners, the rainbow art or sign. Art’s name stands out. All of them have either closed down, or like me have been forced to switch businesses to digital print.”
Nurul Islam also said the same. He also said that it will not be possible to sustain the paper banner with the benefits of digital print. Saw many shops in the neighborhood closed. In the current situation, he will have to find another alternative very soon.
Daudul Islam, who has been working with cloth banners since 1992, expressed his apprehension about the future of cloth banners. No one is interested in learning it because there is no income. Professional banner artists may disappear if we leave.”