Raqib Hasan Apu is a young cartoonist and animation filmmaker. He founded Apu’s Cartoon to showcase his artwork and provide political commentary on socio-political issues of current Bangladesh. In an interview with New Age Youth, he tells Nasir Uz Zaman about his journey and shares his views on cartoon as a form of storytelling and political satire
New Age Youth: Would you like to share your journey as a cartoonist? Why do you choose cartoon as your medium of storytelling?
Raqib Hasan Apu: I was looking for a suitable medium for my voice that would be loud enough to create some noise. I have studied fine arts majoring in sculpture and did my master’s degree in animation film making. Though these two art languages are quite strong but they are not time-consuming at all. I am not quite good at writing so I keep trying to do it by drawing cartoons. I think, cartoon can be a strong form of art and influential for society and culture. So, as a former student of fine arts and animation film making, it was convenient for me to adopt cartoon as a medium of my voice. I was also influenced by local cartoonist Shishir Bhattacharjee, Rafiqun Nabi who were my respected teachers in the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of Dhaka. My mentor Park Jaedong, professor of Korea National University of Arts, who is a renowned cartoonist in Korea, made a great impact on me as well. I have deep admirations for my fellow cartoonists Mehedi Haque, Tanmoy and others.
New Age Youth: One apparent characteristics of your cartoon is that they are political satire. Tell us, why so?
Raqib Hasan Apu: Probably all our fellow primates like monkeys, orangutans, bonobos and chimpanzees understood the fun and mockery like we do. Most probably, being satirical is a basic human instinct. Moreover, we have the ability to transform it into an art which is paradoxically civilised. In 1754 the earliest cartoon has been published in a gazette attributed to Benjamin Franklin. It was an image of a snake sliced into many pieces. The title was ‘Join, or Die’. In the context of a colonial world, it helped the cartoonist to make a point about the importance of colonial unity. I believe good art must have a quality to challenge any ideology, culture, believes, norms and traditions no matter how secret it is. Therefore, I have found that cartoon is one of the best tools to practice good art.
New Age Youth: Most of your art works’ subjects are anti-establishment and challenges use of religion for political gain. Why and how have you prioritised these areas as sites of your artistic intervention?
Raqib Hasan Apu: I think a state or a country should be governed by rationality and science, not on individual faith and belief. Religions are based on faith so it should be someone’s very personal business. When it comes to the arena of countries’ policymaking, it creates chaos. It is seen that if a county is functioned by religious laws or any cult, human rights’ conditions become really poor over there. On the other hand, the countries those have separated state from religion, are prospering. I have been living in South Korea for the last six and a half years which is quite democratic and secular country. Its economy, society, and culture are pretty well developed and people are relatively safer. Also, human rights are way better here. Korea has embraced science, technology and modern art and we know how far they have come in a few decades. In 2017, I have seen a peaceful non-violent protest against Park Geun-hye’s government which is an example of how democracy should be practiced. European renaissance has brought art out of the Church and made it more public and universal. I want Bangladesh to become more secular and global. Therefore, I prefer to speak against lawmakers, if and when they contradict secular values.
New Age Youth: How do you see the situation of freedom of expression in Bangladesh? As a cartoonist, do you think the newly enacted Digital Security Act 2018 is a threat to freedom of expression?
Raqib Hasan Apu: Press freedom of a country can be analysed by looking at editorial cartoons published in various news media and outlets. The worst case scenario is that cartoonists too are practicing self-censorship. I believe in absolute freedom of speech. For cultural diversity, it can be compromised a bit, however, that compromise should never take a form of oppression such as racism, anti-semitism and direct threat to life. I am quite against this new act which is apparently an extension of act 57 — a blasphemy law without capital punishment.
New Age Youth: Your each cartoon has a story behind it. Would you like to share a memorable story from one of your cartoons?
Raqib Hasan Apu: Well, in a cartoon, I drew a drug dealer is asking blessings for his new political career from a great leader who is looking quite embarrassed by the situation. Most of my satirical cartoons are actually expression of my frustration.
New Age Youth: What is advice for budding cartoonist in today’s Bangladesh?
Raqib Hasan Apu: Nothing is beyond criticism — neither religion nor culture. So I would like to suggest try not to fall in the trap of self-censorship as much as you can. Cartoon is one of the most powerful art forms and it has no boundary.
New Age Youth: What are your future plans as a cartoonist?
Raqib Hasan Apu: I do not have any concrete future plan actually. In general, I am a pretty fun loving person. In most of my holidays, I spent hanging out with friends and just do ‘Addabaji’. Animation is my profession and film making is a hobby. I have a few plans for making short movies. Also, I have a plan to publish a weekly editorial cartoon journal in future and keep making noises.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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