For many, sand can be a great storyteller, with stories encapsulated in its grains. American marine biologist and nature writer Rachel Louise Carson once said "in every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand, there is the story of the earth."
In Bangladesh, Jibon Roy is an artist who tells stories with sand. He is a pioneer of sand art animation in the country, a creative craft he learned as a hobby by watching YouTube videos. The idea that it would earn him fame hardly ever occurred to him.
Over time, this hobby became an addiction and later his profession – and now he is known as one of the first (and most successful) sand artists in Bangladesh.
What is sand art animation?
Sand art refers to the modelling of sculptures or paintings with sand, in an artistic form. A common point of reference is sand castles on the beach.
Sand art animation is essentially an extension of sand art. In performance art, an artist creates a series of images using sand, a process which is achieved by applying sand to a surface and then rendering images by drawing lines and figures in the sand with one's hands.
Sand art animation started in 1968 when Harvard University undergraduate student Caroline Leaf made a film called "Sand, or Peter and the Wolf" by dumping sand on a lightbox and manipulating grain visuals.
It was only a decade ago that sand art animation was introduced in Bangladesh. And, over time, Jibon popularised this new art form.
Of Jibon and sand
Jibon's love for drawing and painting was born in his childhood. Ever since, he wanted to study art. But due to family objections, he was not able to pursue his dream. Jibon's father was worried about his son's future when he was studying fisheries science at the Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh.
But Jibon always had his elder brother, also an artist, rooting for him and supporting his 'art' dreams. "My mother also had a hand for drawing, she influenced me too," Jibon told The Business Standard.
At his university, Jibon joined a theatre group. He felt the urge to innovate in theatre work with new methods. Around the same time, he stumbled upon sand art on YouTube.
In 2012, he decided to participate in a university event to perform his art. With the help of a friend, he made a light box, an essential element for sand art animation.
However, Jibon met some roadblocks with sand art, which requires fine grains like powder. He initially failed using the sand from building construction sites. But fortunately, on his way to Mymensingh city, he got the material he wanted.
When he first performed sand art at the event in 2012, many thought of it as an incredible spectacle. But some accused him of deception.
"It was difficult for them to understand what they were seeing. You see, I was quick. The whole thing happened in a matter of five minutes or so," recalled Jibon.
Rumours spread that he was a "fraud," that he copied it from YouTube and manipulated the audience somehow.
He was hurt and became evermore determined to prove himself. But then came a lull in his creative endeavours. After graduation in 2014, Jibon's passion for sand art animation dimmed due to resource limitations and the unavailability of sand.
It was not until 2016 that Jibon found an opportunity to perform again on stage at an event. And this non-university event had about 3,500 people. "I was called in to perform. But on that day, I was not allowed to. They cited some timing issues. I remember weeping on my way back home," said Jibon.
But things took a turn when the film named "Ice Cream" was released in 2016 which featured Jibon's work. And almost instantly he captured everyone's attention.
"In 2015, director Redwan Roni Bhai shared a post on Facebook. He was looking for a sand artist for the movie. Later, through a friend of mine, I reached him. And that's how I got the opportunity to show my work on a big platform," said Jibon.
In the film "Raat Jaga Phool" released in 2021, Jibon's sand art was again featured, this time as promotional content for the film.
YouTube and the craft
Jibon's guide for learning sand art animation was YouTube. Day after day, he watched the work of sand art artists from different countries and that became the main source of his lessons. Since there was no one to personally teach Jibon, there was no substitute for hard work. He kept at it.
Jibon's first interest in sand art was sparked by seeing the work and skill of Israeli artist Ilana Yahav in story-telling with sand. At the time, Jibon was a university student. Later, Ukrainian artist Kseniya Simonova, who came third in Britain's Got Talent in 2019, served as his inspiration.
The craft involves using fingers and nails delicately. But sometimes Jibon uses modified chopsticks for the job too. The most essential ingredient for this is obviously sand – but of a particular kind. Additionally, this art requires a professional setup of lightbox, camera holder and fine sand, which are rarely available in Bangladesh.
The lights are placed under the glass for the lightbox. Artists tell different stories by making visuals with sand. Many, however, use coloured sand. Red, green and blue sand show different flairs. Working with coloured sand also requires extra care – in this case, white light should be used. However, the price of coloured sand is much higher than normal sand.
It was difficult for Jibon to buy the setup. He made the light box and camera holder with wood all by himself. He is dependent on his friends – mainly his expatriate friends – to collect sand and bring it to him.
"Since we have a lot of sediment/silt in the sand here, the sand freezes quickly. Our sea beach sand also has silt. Desert sand is the ideal sand for making sand art. Friends bring sand from places like Morocco or Maldives," explained Jibon.
Apart from making sand art, he has another skill – light art. Stories are told through light art using special types of light on fabric.
Onwards and upwards
In 2016, Jibon shot a sand art animation in his private studio and released it on social media. The same year, he performed at a Microsoft event. The success of this show paved the way for him to move forward. As a result, he got noticed by various agencies in the country and in 2016 he started handling various sand art animation jobs.
In 2017, Jibon got the opportunity of displaying a sand art animation called "Digital Bangladesh" in front of the Prime Minister at a function of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce. For him, this experience was like a dream, and it opened the doors to exposure and garnered his work more attention.
Jibon started working with various media agencies and sand artist associations and his work also stepped into the world of advertising. He also made art using rice, instead of sand, in the advertisement for Pran Chinigura rice.
He plans to start working with various international brands to expand his portfolio. "We don't value our own artists while foreign artists are highly revered. For example, for the same kind of work, a foreign artist would get a Tk5 lakh honorarium, while by domestic agencies I would only be offered Tk50,000," said Jibon.
Maverick Jibon likens himself to a "rule breaker" and as such, he took this as a profession.
Jibon believes that the ability to tell stories is one of the tools to move forward in his life's struggle. So he always tries to tell a good story to the audience.
"I always try to have a social message." During the pandemic, Jibon launched a project titled 'Covid Warriors.' The initiative amplified the contribution of the police and the doctors during Covid. "I always try to tell such stories," explained Jibon, who is trying to teach sand art to the next generation.
He has some students in Bangladesh, but his desire is to teach everyone hands-on through a creative school.
"The main goal is to establish a creative school in the future. I want to tell great stories. I want to make a movie with sand art. I want to go to many big shows," he said, adding with a chuckle, "[and] finally, I want to earn a lot of money!"
When asked why sand art has not yet been established as a major art form in Bangladesh, "we simply do not understand its value. In addition, it's costly and not everybody can pursue it," he replied.
Currently, six people are working in his team. There is a page called "Sand Creations by Jibon Roy" on Facebook with 43,000 followers, where you can find all kinds of work created by Jibon Roy.
Apart from making sand art and occasional acting, he also has a firm called "Organic Agro." Jibon's work earned him a 'Bronze' Digital Marketing Award in 2021 from Walton and a 'Silver' award in the same category about a couple of years earlier from Mojo.
He is a contender for a 'Gold' award this year.
Losing his father in 2019, Jibon regrets not being able to show his father the benefits his skills and talent brought into his life.