Biman Mullick is a graphic artist, stamp designer, social activist, marathon runner, and storyteller. Born in Howrah, India, he has been living in London since 1960. From 1960 to 1964 he studied art full-time at Saint Martin’s School of Art, London while also working full-time as a general porter in a local teahouse.
In 1969 he had the great honor of designing the ‘Gandhi Centenary Year 1969’ postage stamp for the British Post Office. This was “The first United Kingdom Postage stamp to commemorate an oversea leader and the first designed by an oversea artist.” (GPO Press Notice PB 167, dated July 7, 1969). In 1971 Biman was invited to design the first set of eight postage stamps for the new Republic of Bangladesh, another signature honor. Thanks to a Michael Gallery, a U.S. collector of Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani philatelic items, there is a whole website dedicated to Biman’s work as a stamp designer – here. The First Eight Stamps – Biman Mullick
As a trained designer, he has also taught at several educational institutions including Middlesex University and Kingston University. As an artist and writer, he has executed projects for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and other organisations.
Biman has taken an active part in the University of London’s ‘Bengali for non-Bengali’s” programme.
Having taken up running in his 60s, Biman participated in the London Marathon in 2006 at the age of 72 and was one of the oldest to complete the 26.2 Mile (42.195 km) race. He continues to pursue an active lifestyle and is engaged, among other things, in producing picture books especially for children who are learning in a non-Bengali environment.
Biman’s Contribution to Global Health
Who pioneered the campaign for fresh air in the UK? Unlikely as it seems, Biman Mullick!
Biman Mullick set up Cleanair in 1972, well before there was much awareness of the health risks of smoking. (N.B.: It was three years later, in 1975, that the U.S. State of Minnesota enacted the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, making it the first State to restrict smoking in most public spaces. And it was 31 years after that Scotland introduced a ban on smoking in public areas – on March the 26th, 2006. Smoking was banned in all public places in the whole of the United Kingdom only in 2007 with effect from a year later.)
Initially, it was a virtually single-handed campaign, without any financial support from any private or public funds. Not only that, Biman faced hostility from different quarters including people from Asian Festival, Multi-Culture Festival, and Artists Against Racism. Biman also faced opposition from various educational institutions where he worked as visiting lecturer.
“Before 2008 there was no law against smoking in classrooms. I protested against smoking by students in my classrooms. As a result, from at least 3 institutions my teaching contracts were not renewed.
“Naturally, I had hard times. At that time we often survived with Aparajita’s salary from Crown Agents where she worked as an export buyer for 18 years. Her job involved communicating with people through the telephone. Her ability to understand English with different accents from different parts of the world was extraordinary, naturally, she managed to communicate with them with her Indian accent which was described by others as ‘English without accent’. She still shows her unharried manner of communication on the telephone. Something, I am not at all good at. (Pioneering poster)
“l got involved in like-minded organizations Nationally and internationally such as National Society of Non-smokers and ‘Association for Non-Smokers Rights’ and worked for them free of charge as an activist, designed publicity materials organized exhibitions and seminars for them. Here is a small list.
‘Towards a Smoke-free Health Service’ London 31 May 1989;
‘Towards a Smoke-free Health Service’ London 1 October 1991.
‘Towards a Smoke-free Health Service’ London 1 October 1992.
“I attended the 8th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, Buenos Aires, in 1992 where I presented a slide show with talk called ‘The Importance of visual communication in health promotion’ and organized an exhibition of CLEANAIR posters and graphics.
“At that time most governments did not recognise that smoking is bad for health or the environment. But the British government played a kind of lip service and funded Health Education Council (HEC) and one so-called anti-smoking organisation. Both were run by highly paid ‘professionals’ who did their duties without passion. HEC appointed Saatchi and Saatchi, the biggest advertising agency to run a poster campaign.”
The Design Museum hosted an exhibition (5 March- 28 April 1991) of Cleanair posters with a comment “The witty graphic style is a welcome antidote to the stark and humourless imagery of much work in this area.’
Throughout his life, Biman Mullick has worked tirelessly to create a smoke-free environment for present and future generations. In 1988 the World Health Organization (WHO) honoured him for his contributions towards creating a pollution-free world. Biman was specifically recognized for establishing Cleanair, Campaign for a Smoke-free Environment, and for posters that deliver the message that ‘non-smoking is the norm.’
The Clean Air Story: An Artist’s One-man Campaign for a Smoke-free Environment.
By Barbara Brooker
In the cold winter mornings on their way to work a young couple used to leave their five-week-old baby with a babyminder. The baby minder used to keep the baby in a closed room with two invalid people who regularly smoked around 100 cigarettes between them during the day. The defenceless baby had no choice but to inhale their cigarette smoke, to endure the choking experience, and to suffer from the danger of passive smoking. This incident moved Biman Mullick, an artist, and an art teacher, enormously which motivated him to do something against passive smoking. At that time he was teaching at an art department of one of the London Universities.
He started collecting material on smoking and its effects and found more than 200 scientific papers on passive smoking alone. He also investigated how tobacco was promoted and found that the tobacco industry has used the power of visual images to promote tobacco which gave Biman the idea that the same weapon should be used to combat tobaccoism.
To draw attention to smoking and its effects on health and the environment he established Cleanair, Campaign for a Smoke-free Environment, and designed a set of posters and displayed these all over the University where he worked. His actions were not appreciated by the authorities and, especially when he asked his students to refrain from smoking in his classroom, he was warned against this. Ignoring this he continued his visual campaign and the University authority eventually decided not to renew his teaching contracts. He paid his price. As an artist and an author of childrens’ picture books he just managed to survive, though the main support came from his wife and her modest salary.
Biman continued designing posters, spending whatever he could towards printing and distributing them. That was in 1972. He is still carrying on his poster campaign against smoking. As a result of this, he made and is still making material sacrifices. He lost money; he lost jobs. But he has no regrets. He made new friends, regrettably, he lost some friends too, who misunderstood him. But the public, in general, supported him.
The WHO award: But he was rewarded as well. In 1988, WHO, the World Health Organization celebrated its 40th anniversary by awarding 40 medals. They were divided between II organizations and 29 individuals who were mainly high profile personalities from the fields of politics, show business, sports and the media, such as former US president Jimmy Carter, president Fidel Castro of Cuba, actor Larry Hagman, tennis star Pat Cash, and TV presenter Esther Rantzen. Among them was Biman.
In a letter intimating Biman of the nomination the WHO wrote ‘Through this award, WHO salutes individuals and organizations outside the field of health for achievements deemed worthy of international recognition in promoting the concept of tobacco-free societies.’ The WHO added in the letter that by accepting the Medal and Certificate he would lend weight to the world organization’s theme of, ‘Tobacco or Health: Choose Health.’ He was chosen for establishing Cleanair, a voluntary non-profit organization, and for creating a series of posters that politely, strongly, and humorously delivers the message that “non-smoking is the norm”.
The Design Museum of London admires Biman’s style of the posters and their use of humour based on visual puns. According to the museum, ‘The witty graphic style is a welcome antidote to the stark and humourless imagery of much work in this area’. Over 230.000 posters have already been distributed. According to Biman this is not enough; he likes to make his posters available to everybody who wishes to have a copy to help in creating a smoke-free environment. This is a high ambition, but he is confident that one day he will be able to achieve his goal.
Computer Graphics: Now Biman uses computers to create images for his campaign. His computer-generated images accompanied by factual texts have been exhibited in various parts of the country and abroad including India and Argentina where they were recognised as the ‘most innovative health promotion idea’, and an entirely new form of thought-provoking anti-smoking campaign. Biman used computers like a pencil or paint’.
In front of millions of television viewers the head of a pro-smoking group, funded by the tobacco industry, called him ‘a Hitler, a health fascist.; a newspaper article referred to him as ‘a health Gandhi’. But he does not consider himself either a Hitler or a Gandhi, he only wants to draw people’s attention to smoking and its effects and leaves them to
make up their own mind what to do about it.
As an ex-smoker himself he understands smokers’ problem of addiction and never blames smokers. He blames the industry which is engaged in indirect genocide and is responsible for worldwide pollution for its financial gain. In fact, Biman helps smokers who want to free themselves from the deadly addiction.
Some smokers find his posters are therapeutic and encouraging them to give up smoking. It gives him great pleasure knowing that thousands of walls display his posters, which reminds people not to smoke and thus to create a smoke-free environment. He believes that people should not be exposed against their will to other people’s smoke and suffer from the danger and unpleasantness of passive smoking, thus to breath clean air, a basic human need for survival and a basic human right and eventually create a smoke-free environment for all to share and enjoy.
Biman said, ‘designing posters for Cleanair gives me the same creative pleasure as from drawing, painting or writing, this is another facet of my creative activities where I can express my passion without inhibitions.
Biman Mullick – Honoured by the Government of Bangladesh
Why did the mere designing of some stamps result in such an honour? Because most stamps are printed as a way of raising money to defray the expenses involved in maintaining a national postal system (and perhaps other governmental expenses in the case of particular countries).
In the case of Bangladesh, the existence of the stamps served both to raise money for Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, and to raise the global profile of the cause and the country. Every letter posted with Bangladeshi stamps – even though initially not posted from within Bangladesh and therefore of merely decorative value! – carried the Bangladeshi message to individuals near and far.
By buying and using the stamps, ordinary individuals around the world could do their bit to support the cause. So that’s why the stamps were important. Biman’s stamps became an internationally visible representation of the struggle for the birth of Bangladesh.The First Eight Stamps – Biman Mullick
Biman Mullick on his own Work
You ask me why I draw or why I write. Let me refer you to the story of Alfred Hitchcock being asked, ‘Why do you make films?’ We all know that he was renowned for keeping his audience in suspense. But he promptly replied, ‘For money’. I could not answer like Mr H. because I am not him. But I can easily say: “For self-gratification”. So I should perhaps rather refer you to the incident when, apparently, someone asked George Bernard Shaw, “Why do you write?” He answered, ‘Do you ask a hen, why do you lay eggs?’ Without comparing myself with the great GBS, I can say, with humility, if I feel the urge to write or draw, I have to do it!
At the same time, I must confess my weakness: I cannot draw or write on demand. Professional writers and artists are usually very good at delivering goods on demand. Though I have indeed sometimes drawn and written on demand, I can do that only when I feel an affinity, an emotional identification, with the subject matter. Drawing and writing are fun – sort of “serious fun” for me. Does this confession make me an oddball, an exception?
Sometimes I ask myself, am I a writer or an artist? I really do not know. I may be a visual thinker. My art education taught me to think visually. When I write, I write with images; when I draw, I draw with words. To me, drawing and writing are two sides of the same coin. Does that make sense? I wonder!
I was trained to be an ‘advertising designer’. For a short while, I did work as an advertising designer. But fate took me to the publishing world as a so-called ‘illustrator’, a label I profoundly disliked because I never managed to ‘illustrate’ a text; I only managed to deliver a kind of visual statement loosely related to the subject I was dealing with. From childhood, I had a restless nature and was unable to follow a conventional lifestyle. Rather than following a career-oriented materialistic life, I found myself easily drawn to social, environmental, and humanitarian causes.
As a Gandhian, at the same time a believer in Tagore’s concept of liberal humanity, I am apparently very placid. But, when necessary, I am not afraid to challenge authorities such as mighty tobacco barons and other establishmentarians – in spite of knowing that the result would be (as it was!) personal losses which I could ill afford. My cleanair posters, and my posters against apartheid in South Africa, were created with an uncompromising crusading attitude.
I believe in quality without competition, because I feel that competition and money are the main sources of corruption for anyone trying to produce creative work of good quality. So I try hard to avoid competitions and examinations. Though in the past I had to conform with prevailing social conditions and forced myself to accept competitions and examinations, what I have always really believed in is simply doing my best.
My works are not in the stream of what is called ‘art for art’s sake’. My works are essentially functional. I know it is not fashionable to say something like that – but then I admit that I have never been at all interested in what is fashionable. More important, though I do appreciate abstract beauty in creative works, my dominant view is: if something is functional, it is beautiful. My use of words and images is best described as ‘Bimanesque’, which is a peculiar mixture of my Indianness and my British art education, with a pinch of my own eccentricities.
My training in visual thinking unconsciously worked as a creative force to pursue this lifestyle. My life is a series of experiments which involves deliberate exercise of self-promotion. I like experiments. Not only with my own life but also in my work. There are several descriptions and examples in ‘Durer Durga’.
People who know me are familiar with the fact that I consider myself ‘hopelessly optimistic’ but I have never managed to explain or even myself understand what I meant. Do I mean that I am hopeless because I am so optimistic? Or that I am optimistic in spite of being hopeless?
Reading my books, you can make up your own mind.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION *
Satyajit Ray and Biman Mullick: http://pipparannbooks.com/index.php/biman-mullick-and-satyajit-ray/
Biman Mullick’s Father: https://pipparannbooks.com/ajit-kumar-mullick/
Gandhi Centenary Year: https://www.postalmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Stamp-History-1969-Gandhi.pdf
Biman Mullick and Bangladesh: https://www.tbsnews.net/features/panorama/meet-man-who-introduced-bangladesh-world-through-his-stamps-316093
* OTHER LINKS*