a research blog by Lotte Hoek
Little changes as fast and apparently organically as the layers of posters that cover the walls of Dhaka city. As layers are pasted over another and paper posters get ripped, overgrown and reused, the stratum of paper that covers the cement, tin and brick of Dhaka’s walls presents a continually changing backdrop to urban commuters.
The juxtapositions that are crafted from the blurring together of political rallying cries, glossy advertising pictures, stencilled announcements and bright film posters produce extraordinary compositions. Here the fist of an awakened worker disappears into the cleavage of a film actress, there the route to a Canadian visa points towards the nearest Kazi office. This layering and recomposing points to the ways in which walls can open up a space for the imagination that goes well beyond the intimidating capacity of the wall that excludes and enforces.
One evening, I accompanied a group of men who spend a few days a week cycling the still of Dhaka nights to paste fresh posters over the thickening layers of paper accretions. From Kakrail, where most film producers’ offices are, we set off with a small team on a vangari. The tricycle held big piles of posters, glue and brushes. The cyclist pulled these, as well as a lowly assistant to the producer and a helper. A number of these teams would cycle through the night to affix the posters to the walls.
Traveling with one team for night, affixing the poster for the now famous Ananta Jalil debut film Khoj: The Search (Iftikar Chodhury, 2010), I learnt to look at the walls of Dhaka from a new perspective. The posterwallahs, the men who cycle the night time streets and have their eyes trained on the city’s walls, adorn the walls with the posters of the film industry. Rather than just gates, or barriers, they look at the wall as spaces of potential. With them, I learnt to see the city’s walls as spaces of imagination and outward movement, part of the “migrational, or metaphoric, city [that] slips into the clear text of the planned and readable city” (De Certeau 1988:93). It is this city that comes alive in the everyday practice of the afficheur.
For an account of this journey, and an early version of the paper it is based on, see here: