The dirty, poster-smeared walls in most areas of Dhaka is what our eyes are used to seeing. But what if one day, all the city's walls suddenly turned into canvases filled with works of art? This may be a far-fetched dream for many, but for some, this can be materialised into reality.
Murals are paintings applied directly to a wall, usually in a public place. The earliest known murals existed in the Paleolithic era and were discovered in the caves of southern France, circa 30,000 BC. Since the beginning, murals have had strong ties to historical phenomenons such as the Egyptian hieroglyphic tomb paintings, the Minoan palaces, and the Ajanta caves. There are also a handful of murals in the city-state of Pompeii.
The idea behind murals was supported by paintings themed around Christianity, as they were often commissioned by the Catholic Church itself. Greek Orthodox Christianity was one of the most influential elements of 14th-century mural art. A century later, the renewed interest in Greek ideas and the burgeoning artistic and intellectual movement caused the establishment of humanism, which caused the artform to move away from the Church, religion and politics, and become more streamlined towards other factors of humanity.
Approximately seven centuries and 20 years later, many walls in Dhaka are being plastered with murals, from restaurants to cafés to apartments. One of such murals is the wall painting at Cheez – a beloved Dhakaite pizza place. The cheesy wings painted on the walls of every Cheez restaurant in the city has now become a brand image for the restaurant. The artist behind this iconic mural is Tahseen Nur, better known as Mr Pencilist.
Tahseen started his artistic journey in 2017 and over the years, he has established himself as a versatile, reliable and talented muralist who can transform a mundane place into something that is soulfully aesthetic - be it walls or a torn piece of paper, or even the ceiling of a bus.
Since 2017, Tahseen has beautified the walls of multiple well-known restaurants, cafés and apartments – each one resonating with exactly what the establishment is about.
Although he studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Brac University, Tahseen's true calling is that of an artist.
Immersed in academic education Tahseen at one point had lost all interest in the arts, but regained it after watching the sci-fi box office hit movie Intersteller.
"Interstellar had just been released back when I started, and space and galaxies always fascinated me. So I started off by doing paintings of stars and galaxies, and people started paying interest to my paintings because it was something different. I even ended up selling a few!" Tahseen told The Business Standard while reminiscing about his past.
The young artist landed his first big mural gig from a senior at his university, who happened to be the owner of Madchef and Cheez. Ironically, Tahseen's first-ever mural ended up becoming a well-recognised icon, which he did not anticipate.
"The walls at Cheez was my first canvas for a mural. When I first saw the wall I was supposed to paint on, I got scared. It was a huge wall and I was in charge of covering every inch of it - this thought made me even nervous," he candidly admitted.
Apart from Cheez, Tahseen has also beautified the premises of seven more restaurants - The Munch Station, The Monarchy Coffee, Kahve, Tour de Cyclist, The Food Company, Kacchigiri and Shawarma Street.
Each of these restaurants boasts unique walls catered to their themes specifically. While The Monarchy Coffee has paintings of mythological goddesses with wings in shades of pastels, Tour de Cyclist has walls housing pop art-style drawings of cyclists around the busy city streets.
Apart from paintings the walls at restaurants, Tahseen has also painted apartment walls and even his own rooftop. And while one home basks in floral glory, another bathes in the childhood-defining warmth of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Whatever the wall art may be, a wall filled with splatters of colours and eye-catching themes is better than a plain surface.
With time, practice and a whole lot of perseverance, Tahseen has skillfully mastered the art of murals and continues to spread his artistry throughout the country to spread love and positive energy from one wall to the other.