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National Portrait Gallery – Bangladesh’s 50th Anniversary Artwork

The National Portrait Gallery is celebrating Bangladesh’s independence and culture with the 50th Anniversary Artwork.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence and to communicate the findings of local resident citizen researchers’ into the experiences of the Bangladesh population in Tower Hamlets, a public realm artwork has been commissioned.

The artwork was originally intended to be an exhibition of art, research, and archive material at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives. But, it has since been moved outside and suspended from the Tower Hamlets Idea Store to ensure that the public and local residents can safely connect and enjoy the installation.

The artwork, co-designed by Paraa and led by artist Ruhul Abdin and architect Sadiqul Islam Shehab, recalls the formation of Bangladesh as a new nation in 1971. They have also incorporated what transpired afterwards for the varied people that make up Tower Hamlets’ Bangladeshi community. The large-scale steel structure stands out on the street, yet going beneath it and looking up at the exquisite design can create a more intimate experience.

The structure depicts the word Bangla in Bengali script, the most widely spoken language in Bangladesh and one that many local Bengali people of Tower Hamlets are familiar with. The letters are illuminated and placed against the Idea Store’s windows to improve visibility, especially at night.

The fabric industry, which employed many Bengali workers in Tower Hamlets and is still one of the most, if not the most prominent business in Bangladesh, supplying a huge number of UK apparel merchants, is referenced by covering the letters in traditional saree fabric. Each letter is wrapped in a distinct colour, which was inspired by Biman Mullick’s design for Bangladesh’s first original batch of stamps in 1971.

Two embroidered murals sit next to the letters, representing the research that the Citizen Researchers conducted as part of the project. The scrapbook approach to the stitching honours the numerous forms of information collected by the Citizen Researchers, such as sketches, poems, newspaper cuttings, and maps, and refers to the nature of integrating disparate archive items. Along the decommissioned escalator, specially produced posters display more of the photographs and archive material that were utilised.

Visit The Mural

The enormous size letters spelling out Bangla, suspended from the Whitechapel Library, are visible from the road, which is draped in vividly coloured saree cloth and LED lights. While walking beneath the building, look up to discover embroidered murals. It’s a celebration of the unique Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets’ identity, people, and stories.

📍 Idea Store, 321 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BU

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