It was a very cold and windy night when Eyes on Bangladesh started their opening reception of photo exhibition of Bangladeshi Photographers yesterday in New York City. But that all felt nice and warm once I was in front of those photographs! Sometime people’s life, day-to-day events, ordinary places, mundane time do not make sense unless someone sees through the lenses and set them in frames. Taken mostly by young photographers of Bangladesh, these photographs tell the story they feel important, should be told and talked about. The Photographers took these pictures from an activist point of view. They covered issues like social justice, human rights, women empowerment, environmental concern, effects of globalization, slum dwelling, etc. This exhibition is a window of opportunity to see what young Bangladeshis are mostly concern about.
The photographers are all of Bangladeshi origin, mostly young, nine total, seven men and two women, some are already awarded for their talent and work. They are:
- Jannatul Mawa
- Munem Wasif
- Rasel Chowdhury
- Rashid Talukder
- Saikat Mojumder
- Sarker Protick
- Shamsul Alam Helal
- Shumon Ahmed
- Taslima Akhter
Jannatul Mawa’s ‘Close Distance‘ is a series of nine pictures about housemaids and their respective housewives. Housemaids in Bangladesh live very closely with their master’s family under the same roof but have distant parallel relationship. They are dependent on each other but not equal. I liked the simple portrait kind of placement of the subjects. It is interesting to see their body languages, facial expressions, position of their hands and legs, some with bare foot, some are not. Can a picture tell the story of their relationship? Apart from the economic reality, I was mostly interested in seeing who seems to be the happiest of nine!! The pictures have power of drawing you into a mind game.
In Love Story, Shamsul Alam Helal has presented 12 studio pictures of his subjects. They are wild, funny, and colorful. These photos are about dream. Dreams of ‘we the people of Bangladesh’. Dreams seen through the lenses and printed on paper. Dreams can be daring, delightful, smokey, ephemeral, out of reach, hilarious, even unscrupulous but they are dear to the people who want to scape from reality. Who likes reality wholeheartedly! Do you?
Sarker Protick’s series ‘Of Rivers and Lost Lands‘ is a collection of eight pictures – reminder of a grey apocalypse in progress! With destroyed houses, drowned trees, disappearing villages people are becoming refugees in their own land. They have nowhere to go but live there. Lives are slowly disappearing into the white fogs of point of no return. In Protick’s word: ‘Places I have photographed do not exist anymore. River erosion still continues with dire consequences for this land and community.’
Munem Wasif’s Belonging is a series of photographs of old part of Dhaka city. He tried to capture the chaotic beauty of everyday life of residents there. He wanted to find harmony, connection, and symbolic meaning of what seems like a hi-volume, high pitch, broken electronic sound recorder of life as usual! All his 20 photographs are in black and white.
Saikat Mojumder’s 12 color photographs of slum life is depiction of struggle of arrival of a new life. Life, in abstract sense, do not care whether you are happy or not – it just wants you to bear the sensation of being the container of it.
Taslima Akhter’s photographs are about a disastrous building collapse near Dhaka. More than thousand people died. She took some heart-rending photos of the event. Pure madness to keep a higher living standard in one part of the world is taking life away from other parts of the world.
Rasel Chowdhury photographed the rapidly changing landscapes of Bangladesh and its environmental impact. Green – the color Bangladesh proudly love has been replaced by grayish ruthless presence of bricks, buildings, tires, and pollution. Dusty, dry and grey tone of the photographs fit with the mood of what he wanted convey.
Six photographs of Rashid Talukder was on display. He is probably most known to many Bangladeshis and aboard. His pictures were about 1971 and perfectly in line with the mood of March 26, the Independence Day of Bangladesh. Some of the photographs I saw before but they never failed to haunt me. 1971 was an absurdly painful, madly destructive time for a nation at birth.
Shumon Ahmed is a visual artist and he works with photo, video, text, sound and compilation of these forms. His installation was also an interesting piece!
Why do it?
The organizers – Eyes on Bangladesh – take all the pain and pleasure to make this exhibition to start a new kind of conversation with other Bangladeshis (and I assume, non-Bangladeshis too). Their questions – Is a potential dialog possible with the parents on wide-ranging issues? Who are the role models in Bangladesh community? Why divide more? Do they have to find and walk the path alone? It seems like they wanted to turn to a more dynamic, more creative, more challenging, more unifying, more critical path than their first generation ‘ancestors’. They want to understand the root of their ethnicity, be a proud and productive member of a community that are still very small, very new, very vibrant, full of possibilities in the United States. Hope this is an excellent effort towards building a bright future for generations to come.
Are there any connections among these photographers? Well, I think a connection can be made. These pictures speak about a system of injustice and inhuman reality where the victims are less powerful, very helpless, truly neglected. A sense of imprisonment is there. Rashid Talukder’s photographs spoke about a massive injustice towards a nation. Likewise, others voiced their concern about captivated freedom of housemaids, about ruthless urban development regardless of environment, about ever powerful jaws of abject poverty, about callous side of globalization, about inescapable climate change, about unattainable basic requirements.
On the other hand, there are powerful messages in these photographs. By being in front of curious cameras – these injustices are getting documented, meeting audiences, begging for options, shaking our consciences. One day these injustices may hear songs of freedom!
No wonder, cameras are mightier than pens!
And this last paragraph is a well-wished and good faith observation. I missed the photographer’s work related bio. There was no descriptions about their work in the distributed flyer. Photographer’s bio on the wall was too small to read and was placed lower than the natural eye level. Placement of many pictures were too high to get into. Pictures are a piece of frozen time. Unless we can see them good, they cannot ‘speak’ to us effectively as intended. Position, placement, height, light, size, print quality all counts in an exhibition. Hope this will improve in other events. For now, many thanks to organizers.
The event runs from March 26 to March 30, 2014.