Rickshaw art or auto art is a form of neo-romanticism emerging in the Indian subcontinent.
The art in question consists of oil paintings on the rear of the canvas roof of rickshaws, done by local street artists, who also paint the various landscape, portraits and personal statements of the driver.
In Bangladesh, rickshaw art dates back to the 1950s and every conceivable part of the rickshaw is painted. In addition to geometric designs, there are depictions of flowers, birds and even popular actresses. The rickshaw can be decorated to show the driver’s religious beliefs and sometimes even a commentary on current social issues. In Bangladesh, rickshaw art is looked down upon by the elite population.
The three-wheeled pedicab, more commonly known as the rickshaw, has been around since the 1940s. Initially, they were undecorated, but starting in the late 1940s, the faces of movie stars began appearing as decorative motifs on shields at the back of the rickshaws along with a variety of floral paintings. The unique trend of rickshaw art started from Rajshahi and Dhaka in Bangladesh and took its own style in each district. For instance, Chittagong being a more pious city then Dhaka mostly had floral or scenery art whereas Comilla has plain rickshaws with beautiful dark blue or green hoods, on which are sewn an appliqué of a minaret or floral design enshrining the word “Allah”.
Artwork on the wheels of the rickshaws are done using very bold, bright and raw colours, like fluorescent green, dark red and so on. The blaze of colours also help to make them long lasting.
Author Joanna Kirkpatrick states her definition of rickshaw art:
I consider it “peoples’ art”. It is not necessary to force it into a unitary category as it combines folkloric, movie, political and commercial imagery and techniques. It serves the expression of heart’s desires of the man in the street for women, power, wealth, as well as for religious devotion. Rickshaw art also serves prestige and economic functions for the people who make, use and enjoy it.
Rickshaw art also reflects the economic globalization process, which is occurring all over the world today, for instance those rickshaws with Osama Bin Laden’s pictures. Rickshaws are not only painted but also decorated with tassels, tinsel and colourful plastic.
Rickshaw art covers the whole rickshaw decoration, from painted backboards and rear side panels to cut-outs appliquéd on to hoods, as well as brass vases replete with plastic or paper flowers. The painted rectangular metal board at the backside, between the two wheels, leaves a trail of passion that the Rickshaw artist puts in his creations.
This living pop art in Bangladesh is primarily created by illiterate rickshaw artists. They learn their techniques by living with Ustat (masters) from boyhood. They do not have copyrights, and in most cases are not attributed by name on their art. In the back of rickshaws however, there is generally a mark of the maker indicated by a bold steel pin, for example – “Fazlu Mistri”. Today, rickshaw art and artists are in a ‘struggle of existence’. Third and fourth generations are increasingly less interested in learning the art due to low incomes of two to three dollars a day as well as the lack of recognition.
The main objective of rickshaw art is to make rickshaw decorative and attractive. Generally, artists make pictures of moneylenders and buyers.
The arrival of rickshaw in Dhaka as a Bahari and fancy transport came after the Partition of 1947 and from then on, the rickshaw dating from the fifties and sixties, which became popular in this region. Looking back to the 1950s rickshaws, it was found that there was a circulation of geometrical design as well as drawing pictures of flowers, birds and even popular heroes. Although upper-class people are not too knowledgeable about the status of rickshaws and are seen in a bit of humor.
The portrait of film stars in the sixties, liberation war at independence and the decades after the seventeenth century, the fictional scene in Dhaka was the main form of rickshaw. Besides, rural people’s life, landscapes, myths or religious legends, memorials, parliament building, Shaheed Minar, Tajmahal, scenes of cinema, pictures of roads and animals have diversified rickshaws.
As the genre of hand painted objects are dying down due to screen printing and other such technologies, a Bangladeshi artist called Biskut Abir, started his own art firm called Biskut Factory where he brought back rickshaw art and promoted it by hand painting on modern, innovative products. He uses patterns and colors from Rickshaw art and paints these vibrant images on sunglasses, clothes, shoes, phone cases and almost anything with a surface. His establishment is built on an artsy spirit and his love for rebelling against the system. Biskut lacks an academic background on designing or art, but has quite successfully proven that they can be redundant when talent persists.
By selling and advertising his eye catching art through social media, Biskut has been extremely successful in amusing the youth and bringing back rickshaw art with a twist of modern art.
Source from Wikipedia