A popular graffiti that emerged in the streets of Sorbonne, Paris, in May 1968, was ‘Structures don’t take to the streets!’— an attempted corollary to this could be that poetry eventually does. Shiraz Husain’s attempts to create a public sphere through the Khwaab Tanha Collective and its political posters come from similar intentions. Working with Hindi, Urdu, and even Punjabi writers, and their revolutionary poems, songs and sentences, Husain grafts them into a poster art format and takes them to people across classes and age groups. Mechanical reproduction in the eras of high capitalism in art could draw a lesson from his poster art production and his anti-individualism stance. ‘I do not wish for my art to hang on a rich man’s walls’, he once explained.
Inspired in equal measure by artists like Andy Warhol and Roman Cieślewicz amongst others, Shiraz has drawn, produced, and printed, hundreds of posters of literary figures from the sub-continent and taken their political work to a new generation. Whether it is his poster of Faiz’s ‘bol ke lab azaad hein tere’ juxtaposed with Najeeb’s mother being dragged by the police, his brutally hard hitting posters of Habib Jalib’s poetry, or the existential politics of Pash, Shiraz has single-handedly created a genre of political poster art in the country.
Today one encounters them in the hostel rooms of universities like Jamia, JNU, DU, on the walls of several homes, and in many small self-funded cafe’s across the country. Some of his posters have even been used in artistic and social campaigns against right wing politics. These posters live many lives, bought and sold at student festivals, cultural festivals and other events at extremely reasonable rates. Shiraz takes a personal interest in explaining the poets, their poetry and the contexts of their times to young enthusiasts. Irrespective of whether they have an interest in Urdu and Hindi poetry or not, many people get drawn to the posters for their alluring images, all drawn by Shiraz himself.
The following are ten amongst hundreds of the posters he has produced as part of the Khwaab Tanha Collective.