Salzar Rahman, is an architect, artist and animator who is the co-founder and director of Studio Bangi, an enterprise that works on architecture, interior design, animation, video editing, cinematography, music. He is also the man behind the infamous water tank spaceship, a lifelong pet project that is determined to make the Dhaka city view more interesting to look at.
The art journey for Salzar started when he was young, always drawing or sketching or painting. He wanted to pursue art and that dream transformed into a desire to go to film school. But as there were no good film schools available in Bangladesh and because he did not have the funds to go to the nearest film school in Pune, India, he resorted to studying architecture in BRAC which he was able to fund with scholarships.
The idea to do art as a career occurred when Salzar was a student of architecture and got to learn many different disciplines which are not limited to only learning how to design buildings and spaces. They have a chance to learn to sculpt, paint, make models, learn 3D animation which helps in art or design-related fields. In Salzar’s own words “I actually did not go there to study architecture but more to learn the graph.” He was doing exhibitions for the Dhaka Art Summit and the Bengal Art Foundation and it was only inevitable that he established Studio Bangi, which works with all these disciplines together. Right after he graduated, the popular band Nemesis asked him to do the cover art for their upcoming new album and Salzar ended up making the whole music video for them. Salzar believes that the architecture discipline is such that a concept can turn into a painting or a video or a sculpture.
Salzar Rahman has a very particular style for his art, which he had developed because it was the easiest style to do when doing street art, with a stencil and spray paint, running around the streets of Dhaka at night, painting on walls. One does not really have the luxury of time to use shades and shadows on the quick. Speaking of street art, Salzar’s water tank spaceship mural artwork is by far the most interesting, captivating and completely out of the box, which put Salzar on the map as an artist to be reckoned with. It was in a way a trademark for Salzar, because it was unlike anything that was done before in Dhaka by any other artist. Most of the work that Salzar does has been thought of from a long time ago and is now only being turned into a reality. He used to look up at the water tanks when he was young and always thought that they looked like spaceships because of their unique structure, and once he had made somewhat of a career for himself he decided to turn those abandoned structures into a spaceship. He then had to convince the company Bkash to sponsor this seemingly crazy project and had to get special permission from the Dhaka North City Corporation and permission from the Director of WASA. It was very difficult to explain the gist of the project to another individual, especially a government official with the sentence “Salzar Rahman from Studio Bangi wants to turn the water tanks into a spaceship”, it is a ridiculous statement in itself but surprisingly the Director took it very nicely and agreed to it almost instantly.
There was a lot of pre-processing planning that went into this project, mostly because the surface was not flat and the shape was peculiar as well, with a half-cylinder for the body, a shallow sphere for the top and a truncated cone for the bottom. Here was where his architecture background helped him, as he used his knowledge of 3D modelling and made a copy of the structure in the software, unwrapped and painted on the surface and put it back together to see if it worked or not. But the 3D model and real-life structure are very different, so he had to make a scaled-down version of the water tank to see if the lens correction worked because the viewers would be looking at the spaceship from the ground which is when perception distortion occurs. Therefore, he had to exaggerate that from the beginning because not all the viewpoints could be accounted for, so the main viewpoint was concentrated on the traffic signal opposite Labaid Hospital so people stuck at that stoplight could look up and see the right shadows. According to the calculations, most of the sunlight comes from the side of Kamal Ataturk so the fake shadow is based on that, which required a lot of models and measuring to get it right. Salzar and his team had hired wall advert artists who follow a very geometric breakdown of the drawings and the end result looks printed even though they are all hand-drawn. Funnily enough, Salzar himself was not allowed to go up to the water tank to draw because the sponsors did not have insurance for him, and it posed a potential danger in case he fell. He was working on the drawings on the ground in the WASA offices and supervised the project and the experts went up the water tank. The whole thing needed to be redone because the shadows were wrong and the finished water tank spaceship became something that no one had ever seen before. Everyone who heard about the project asked him why he was doing this but Salzar said “Why not do this? They are all abandoned structures with no use, let me turn them into something interesting.” He even shared a funny anecdote with us, where he got detained by the police for using a drone to take footage of the water tank because the water tank is located opposite to the Gulshan Diplomatic Security Division. Luckily for Salzar, he and his footage were both safe.
Salzar believes that art can take many forms, some want their art to evoke a certain feeling, some want their art to be aesthetically pleasing and some want their art to be very technical, almost mimicking real life. Most of Salzar’s artwork is a means to an end, he wants to tell a story so he draws parts of the story, the painting is not necessarily the final product. For example, one of the artworks he had done for his first exhibition in 2008 but the story behind that piece was only released last year with Nemesis’s song Gonojowar. Salzar enjoys writing about the characters and making it like a book or a movie depending on his imagination and then the visuals, the painting or the artwork is just part of it.
He enjoys the methodology of the story building and the storytelling aspect and the art act as a support to tell that story.
When he started street painting, Banksy was a huge inspiration and there are many artists or people that he is inspired or influenced by, but ever since he was a child he has always been inspired by Sukumar Ray, the famous children’s writer and poet, especially because of his way of building characters into his story universe. Salzar feels that he has yet to reach that level as he has to write out or flesh out an entire story to do so, but the journey continues for that endeavour. His son Satyajit Ray was an inspiration too as a filmmaker because Studio Bangi does videography too. He is also a huge fan of filmmakers as storytellers such as Korean director Bong Joon-ho and Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron.
Just like any other creatively driven individual, Salzar too faced the dreaded artist block at times, but he believes that because he is interested in a lot of different types of disciplines when he is stuck on one type, he leaves that on the back burner and moves onto the next type. Soon enough, inspiration will strike regarding the first type and he goes back to it with a fresh perspective. This comes from his days as an architecture student where he had to deliver constantly even if he didn’t have a good output, and the only way he could do that was to grind it out regardless. “Doing art is not as pleasurable as others may think, it is a very unpleasant experience most times, maybe for a moment when you are starting a piece but then it dips down then it goes back up again.” According to Salzar,
“The idea is to push through, so art is kind of like defecating, sometimes you have to push through even if you don’t feel like it.”
Salzar Rahman is currently working on very interesting projects, a film script and a possible book are in the works as well. Salzar’s art is always evolving into different forms and each form has a connection to the other and he has the luxury to pick and choose which form he wants to concentrate on. In terms of his future goals for his art, Salzar Rahman plans to turn all the abandoned water tanks into spaceships and use them to tell a story.