Myself and Hridita's final pieces on display at Tara Theatre 

Left to right: Tia Ali, Rupinder Kaur, Thahmima Begum, Ruby Kitching, Abbie Lois, Kamilah Ahmed

In 2022 I was commissioned by Tara Theatre and Britto Arts Trust as part of the project ‘Artists Make Space’ - an international collaboration pairing seven artists in the UK, with seven artists in Bangladesh. I was partnered up with Hridita Anisha - a fellow illustrator who’s based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We spent several months discussing back and forth on video calls and emails, researching and creating, learning from each other all the while, until we eventually settled on the story of Bonbibi. We both loved how she represented a strong female character, and how her story could be both relevant hundreds of years ago and to this day.
The project culminated in October where all fourteen artists work was exhibited in London (Tara Theatre), Birmingham (The Rep Theatre) and Manchester (Contact Theatre) across three weekends.  

Gratitude to Tara Theatre and Britto Arts Trust for choosing me to be a part of this unique project, and to Arts Council England for funding the project.
Participating artists:
UK-based artists; Abbie Lois, Kamilah Ahmed, Rehemur Rahman, Rupinder Kaur, Ruby Kitching, Thahmima Begum, Tia Ali.
Bangladeshi-based artists; Azizee Fawmi Khan, Emadul Hoque, Hridia Anisha, Monon Muntaka, Mridul Kanti Goshami, Rakib Anwar, Topu Apurba Jahangir.
Artist's Statement
Our project began with the intent to uncover lost stories from Bangladesh and imagine them through our respective practises as illustrators. We were focusing on rural deities which were believed by both Hindu and Muslim communities of Bangladesh. Our research and discussions led us to Bonbibi, the protectress of the Sundarbans, found through the 18th century script Bonbibir Johuranama. We immediately fell in love with the story of a goddess whose mission is to protect the forest whilst securing the livelihoods of those depending upon it. The largest continuous mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, situated in South-West of Bangladesh is widely known to act as a shield against natural calamities from the Bay of Bengal. In recent times we have not only forgotten the ancient protector of the forest but also to pay our debts to the forest itself as we exploit its resources in unsustainable ways. Similarly, Bangladesh now suffers from a continuous tension in between the conflicting religious communities. It has never been more vital to remember the story of Bonbibi. We intertwined our individual pieces with a narration from the story in both English and Bengali so that audiences in both countries can listen to her tale.

This is my first screen print of six depicting this ancient tale. Here, I am beginning the story of Bonbibi - her mother, Golalbibi, has been exiled deep into the forest by her husband, and husband’s first wife. She is left alone to give birth to her twin babies in the forest. When she gives birth to a girl and a boy, she is at a loss for what to do - how can she raise two babies, alone in the wild? She contemplates leaving them, but is scorned for her selfishness by a female deer. She ends up taking the boy, and leaving the girl. This girl, Bonbibi, is taken care of by the female deer - learning the ways of the forest all the while - until she becomes old enough to leave the forest on her own accord.

This is my second screen print of six depicting this ancient tale. Once Bonbibi leaves the forest, the demon half man, half tiger Dakshin Rai takes control of the land. He regularly takes human sacrifices from those who live there, and demands that they pray to him as lord of the forest.

This is my third screen print of six depicting this ancient tale. This print shows Bonbibi returning to the forest many years later as a grown woman. She is depicted in many tales as having a ‘jungle fowl’ as a steed, so of course I went with that to mark her royal entrance! She returns to bring peace to the forest, first seeking out the demon Dakshin Rai.

This is my fourth screen print of six depicting this ancient tale. When Bonbibi returns to the forest, she searches out for the demon tiger king Dakshin Rai. When she finds him and they begin to fight, his mother, Narayani, intervenes and tells him he needn’t fight a woman, so she will fight in his place. Narayani gathers a fleet of demons and they go to battle against Bonbibi.

This is my fifth screen print of six depicting this ancient tale. After Narayani and Bonbibi finish their battle, with Bonbibi the victor, they come to an agreement that Dakshin Rai will be cast deep into the shadows of the forest, as ruler there instead.

This is my last screen print of six depicting this ancient tale. After banishing Dakshin Rai to the depths of the forest, Bonbibi becomes the guardian of the forest, protecting those that live within its boundaries from tigers and other dangers. All she asks is that they call her name should they be in any danger, and that no one who enters takes more of its resources than what’s necessary. If they are greedy and take too much, she will not protect them, and will fall prey to Dakshin Rai.

The reverse of the pieces - I researched traditional textiles examples in Bangladesh to use as inspiration for the design.

On the middle section on the reverse, shows the Bengali script which is said to be uttered before entering the forest, as a protective verse against tigers and other dangers. It was believed that if you took too much from the forest out of greed, Bonbibi would turn away from you, leaving you at the mercy of the evil tiger demon Dakshin Rai.

বিপদে পড়িয়া বনে যেই জন ডাকে
'মা' বলিয়া বোন বিবী দয়ার মাতাকে
উদ্ধারে তাহার তরে আপনার গুণে
মায়ের জহুরা কত লিখিব এখানে

My two final pieces alongside the reverse of one, together as a triptych on display at Contact Theatre, Manchester

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