Embracing the Other

Shahidul Alam?s new show combats Islamophobia, extremism: The Punch

Interview by Ina Puri

 

For celebrated Bangladeshi photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, a just world is a plural space where many thoughts can coexist. His latest show, Embracing the Other, opens in Dhaka on May 8

“If you?re not making certain people uncomfortable by your presence, you are probably doing something wrong.? Bangladesh?s best-known photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, 61, has lived by that adage, which, by and large, sums up why he does what he does. 

For Alam, who has been actively involved in the movement for democracy in Bangladesh for over three decades, photojournalism was a corollary of being an activist on the streets, seeking to see himself on the edge, so as to constantly ?feel the heat?, questioning, going beyond the obvious, not settling  for safe options.  

Shahidul Alam in the thick of things at anti government protest. Photo: Md. Mainuddin

In Bangladesh, Alam is credited with many ?firsts?: Among other things, he set up Drik Picture Library, the country?s first picture agency, in 1989; Pathshala, its first photo school in 1998; and the first email network in the country in 1994. He also founded the first photo festival in Asia, Chobi Mela, in 2000. Continue reading “Embracing the Other”

The spirit of a ghostly fabric

Rare depiction of terracotta weaver. Terracotta art was at its peak from 4th - 8th century. Courtesy of Ruby Ghuznavi, Dhaka. Bangladesh. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Rare depiction of terracotta weaver. Terracotta art was at its peak from 4th – 8th century. Courtesy of Ruby Ghuznavi, Dhaka. Bangladesh. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Having heard Saif speak of muslin over the last three years, I had gained some knowledge, albeit second hand. Going out filming with him to museums, arboretums and libraries, I had met some of the world?s leading experts. Lived part of the history. A surprise awaited me. It is not a book written by an expert, but a labour of love, written by a hungry enthusiast, not yet jaded by the weight of authority. It has all the facts. The rigour of research. The scholarly precision. The concern for one?s fellow human. Continue reading “The spirit of a ghostly fabric”

Chobi Mela IX: Transitions

Imagine being told you have only ten more days. To love, to live, to celebrate, to cherish, to repent, to ponder. Perhaps ten weeks, maybe months. Perhaps you have cancer, or you are on someone?s hit list. Or you have just been sentenced.Perhaps someone thousands of miles away will press a button. Perhaps you are in jail, being tortured. Perhaps death to you is a release, and end to pain, an ?acceptable price for your belief. Let?s move to happier thoughts. Perhaps you will start a new life. Maybe your first child is about to be born. You have crossed many miles and you near land. You see sunlight after years in solitary confinement. You bathe in rain after months of drought.
Maybe you have a discovery that will transform the way we live. Are you at a fork in your life as an artist? Have you embraced another medium, has someone given new meaning to your work? Is there a new visual language that will help interpret your world?
Perhaps you are seeing, or hearing for the first time. Maybe you are in love.Perhaps years of research have unearthed hidden wonders in the artistic space you walk on? Have you found a sparring partner, who stretches you to the limits of your potential? Is there a new way of seeing? Does your artistic journey, bring new relevance to the work you produce? Are you ready to emerge, as a butterfly from a chrysalis, momentarily waiting for your wings to dry?
Are you a curator whose interpretation has caused the world to look at a body of work anew? Are you on the other side of the fence, seeing what artists within have forgotten to see?? Are you prepared to take on the complexities of seeing, when doors are closed, minds are locked?? Perhaps space is your forte, and you work with the physicality of a venue, producing site-specific work that is ephemeral in its form, but eternal in its concept. Are you tied down by the shackles that define photography, or are you prepared to take flight, going outside the boundaries, reaching out to the periphery, unearthing the unknown?
Are you the old or the new, or do you not accept such definitions? Does your visual space extend to the non-visual, do you hear, touch, feel through your eyes? Is your photography trapped between the corners of a two dimensional frame, or will new relationships between dimensions be the catapult that releases your art? Do pixels move you? Are you married to grains of silver? Are objects found and unearthed, part of your domain?
Does the white cube encumber you? Do you seek open spaces? In spirit, in mind,in form. Are you able to connect the dots? Are you the artist, the curator, the scientist, the historian, the editor, the journalist, the collector, who will find the magic that will take photography to new heights? Who will tell your story? Share your thoughts, cherish those moments. Who will help you live after you die? Who will hold your hand as you dance naked in the sun, wear bright colours, sing out loud? Are you the storyteller who visualizes a changing planet?
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Continue reading “Chobi Mela IX: Transitions”

Kalpana's Warriors in Delhi

THE SEARCH FOR KALPANA CHAKMA

BY SMRITI DANIEL??/??28TH JANUARY 2016

Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening
Opening of ?Kalpana?s Warriors? at Drik Gallery 12 June 2015 on the 19th anniversary of her abduction. Photo: Habibul Haque/Drik

 

Shahidul Alam has long been gripped by the life of a woman he has never met.
It?s been two decades since Kalpana Chakma was abducted, but Shahidul refuses to forget her. Standing at the threshold of his latest exhibition,Kalpana?s Warriors, the Bangladeshi photographer pauses for a moment.
In the room beyond is the third in a series of photo exhibitions that began with Searching for Kalpana Chakma in 2013, and was followed by 18 in 2014. The woman around whom these pictures revolve is notably absent from them. She was abducted at gunpoint in the early hours of 12 June 1996 from her home in Rangamati in Bangladesh. Her captors were a group of plain-clothed men who were recognised as being from a nearby army camp. Kalpana never returned home and her fate remains unknown.
When the exhibition first opened at the Drik Gallery in Dhaka, many of those who had been photographed could not risk coming out of hiding, yet the room was full of people who knew Kalpana?s story intimately. Some simply stood for a while before the portraits, others wept. Continue reading “Kalpana's Warriors in Delhi”

As Drik As Possible

The dot matrix Olivetti printer was noisy. The XT computer came without a hard drive: two floppy disks uploaded the operating system. When the electricity went (as it often did), we had to reload it. Our bathroom doubled as our darkroom. A clunky metal cabinet housed our prints, slides, negatives and files. Anisur Rahman and Abu Naser Siddique were our printers; I was photographer, manager, copy editor and part-time janitor. Cheryle Yin-Lo, an Australian who had read about us in a magazine, joined as our librarian. We offered and she happily accepted a local salary. My partner Rahnuma Ahmed often got roped in when we were short-staffed, which was often.

Climate_Migrants
Climate Migrants: “Our people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” Alanis Obomsawin Photo Abir Abdullah from his series on Climate Change.

Continue reading “As Drik As Possible”

As Drik as Possible

Introduction to the Drik 2016 calendar.

A behind the scenes glimpse at a remarkable media phenomenon:

The dot matrix Olivetti printer was noisy. The XT computer came without a hard drive: two floppy disks uploaded the operating system. When the electricity went (as it often did), we had to reload it. Our bathroom doubled as our darkroom. A clunky metal cabinet housed our prints, slides, negatives and files. Md. Anisur Rahman and Abu Naser Siddique were our printers; I was photographer, manager, copy editor and part-time janitor. Cheryle Yin-Lo, an Australian who had read about us in a western magazine, joined as our librarian. We offered and she happily accepted a local salary.

Continue reading “As Drik as Possible”

The Statesman, and the Photographer

The statesman, and the photographer

by Shahidul Alam

Photographer Rashid Talukder and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (photographer unknown)/Drik archives
LOOKING at this photograph, one of the few in our library where the photographer is unknown, I realise how times have changed. This is the undisputed leader of a country with his arms across the shoulder of a newspaper photographer not known for being affiliated to his party.
No security guards, no party goons, no chamchas. Both men are at ease with the situation. The smiles, the casual gait, Rashid Bhai with his camera dangling, a single prime lens. Not even a camera bag (and this was the time of film when you only had 36 exposures). How times have changed. Sure, we live in a more security conscious world, but the distance between the leaders of today, and the people, isn?t simply about changed situations, it is about changed attitudes. Today the proximity between leaders and the people surrounding them has much more to do with business and benefits, than with humility and largesse. There was much more give and much less take. Continue reading “The Statesman, and the Photographer”

Bentleys and Benefits

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Photo and design by Yusuf Saib

 
Bentleys and Benefits is a unique exhibition at?Rich Mix?capturing the story and social diversity of the East End through the eyes of the young people who live here. The exhibition brings together the outcomes of ?Demystifying Photography?, a series of photography workshops, by?Drik Picture Library, Dhaka in collaboration with?Rich Mix?and?Morpeth School.
Five workshops between October 2014 and June 2015 were conceived to offer the youth of East London an opportunity to work with?Shahidul Alam, founder of?Drik?and world-renowned photographer, writer and activist from Bangladesh, and learn how to use digital technology to capture a memorable image by using key elements of story telling. By exploring emotion and perspective, and studying qualitative shifts between first person and third person narratives,?Alam?introduces the often-neglected sphere of visual literacy.
The photographers, all sixth form students at?Morpeth school, have been working closely with?Alam, to develop their own voice through photography; resulting in an intimate, compassionate and inclusive dialogue shaped by their experiences of life in Bethnal Green. The result is a photographic journey through the financial and social landscape of this extraordinary area of London.
Photographers: Arshad Ali, Fahim Ali, Halima Khanom, Mohammad Nahid Zakaria, Mohammad Zackariyya Ullah, Zayn Ali, Yusuf Saib?(Morpeth school)
Workshop Leader:?Shahidul Alam?(Drik)
Text: Mohammad Zackariyya Ullah (Morpeth school), Mary George (Drik)
Flyer Design: Yusuf Saib?(Morpeth school)
Logo Design: Yusuf Saib?(Morpeth school)
Social Media: Halima Khanom, Mohammad Zackariyya Ullah, Arshad Ali?(Morpeth school)
Fundraising: Zayn Ali, Mohammad Nahid Zakaria (Morpeth school), Mary George (Drik)
Coordinators: Matthew Keil and Sam French (Morpeth school), Mary George (Drik)
Project Management: Saiful Islam (Drik)
Prints proudly supported by?theprintspace.
Drik logoMorpeth logoRich Mix logoPrint space logo

Twitter:?@BntlyandBenefit

Moving opening ceremony of "Kalpana's Warriors"

Remarkable: Noam Chomsky

Absolutely stunning: Jess Worth. New Internationalist Magazine (Oxford)

We had a fabulous opening with moving recitation of Kabita Chakma’s poem “I will defy” by Aungmakhai ChakMarium Rupa and Rahnuma Ahmed. Many of the warriors were present in person. We were sad to miss Saydia Gulrukh, but her presence was felt.

I will resist, I shall defy
Will you do as you please?
You turned my home into sand
It was a forest where I stand
You made daylight go dark
Left it barren never a spark
I will resist. I shall defy
You strip me of my land
On my women, your hand
No longer shall I see
No longer will I be
Abandon, neglect, rage
A throbbing womb, my stage
I curl, I tear asunder
Awake, I search, I wander
I am who I am
And I will resist
I shall defy
Poem by Kabita Chakma
Translation by Shahidul Alam
Thanks to Arshad Jamal and Chris Riley for their support and Mohammad Mohsin Miah for helping with the printing. ASM Rezaur Rahman curated the show and the entire teams from Drik’s Publication, Gallery, Photography and Audio Visual Department as well as the volunteers from Pathshala did a wonderful job. We shall resist and we will continue to defy.

#kalpana ‘s Warriors by #Shahidul Alam at #Drik Gallery #photography #art #bangladesh #CHT #rights #dhaka #dhanmondi

A photo posted by Shahidul Alam (@shahidul001) on


Opening of "Kalpana's Warriors" at Drik Gallery II. Photo by Habibul@Drik
Opening of “Kalpana’s Warriors” at Drik Gallery II. Photo by Habibul@Drik

 

Opening of #kalpanaswarriors at #Drik gallery #dhaka #dhanmondi #photography #bangladesh #cht #rights A photo posted by Shahidul Alam (@shahidul001) on

Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening Kalpana's Warriors exhibition opening at Drik Gallery

Kalpana's Warriors

Remarkable: Noam Chomsky

Absolutely stunning: Jess Worth. New Internationalist Magazine (Oxford)

E-Invitation card

They told me you were quiet. But I felt the rage in your silence. That when you spoke, they rose above themselves. But I felt their fear. That they held you amidst them. But I felt their loneliness. They pointed to the Koroi tree where you would all meet. The banyan tree under which you spoke. Ever so powerfully. They pointed to the mud floor, where you slept. I touched the mat that you had rested upon, and I knew I had found the vessel that must hold your image.

New settlements with glistening tin roofs dot the hillsides. According to Amnesty International as of June 2013 the Bangladeshi government had still not honored the terms of the peace accord nor addressed the Jumma peoples concerns over the return of their land. Amnesty estimate that there are currently 90,000 internally displaced Jumma families. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
New settlements with glistening tin roofs dot the hillsides. According to Amnesty International as of June 2013 the Bangladeshi government had still not honored the terms of the peace accord nor addressed the Jumma peoples concerns over the return of their land. Amnesty estimate that there are currently 90,000 internally displaced Jumma families. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

They had tried to erase you, your people, your memory. They had torched your homes and when coercion failed, when you remained defiant, they took you away, in the dead of night.
Abandoned typewriter in the room where Kalpana and her comrades used to meet. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Abandoned typewriter in the room where Kalpana and her comrades used to meet. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The leaves burned as the soldiers stood and watched. The same leaves they weave to make your mat. The same leaves I shall burn, to etch your image. Will the burning mat hold your pain? Will the charred leaves hold your anger? Will the image rising from the crisp ashen leaves reignite us? Will you return Kalpana?
Pahari protestors could previously go to the GOC's office to express their grievances. Today, in Khagrachori, they no longer have that access. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Pahari protestors could previously go to the GOC’s office to express their grievances. Today, in Khagrachori, they no longer have that access. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The Shapla Mor in Khagrachori was also a centre of protest. Pahari protesters are no longer allowed there, though Bangali settlers have access, says Kabita Chakma, former president of the Hill Women's Federation. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The Shapla Mor in Khagrachori was also a centre of protest. Pahari protesters are no longer allowed there, though Bangali settlers have access, says Kabita Chakma, former president of the Hill Women’s Federation. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

For nineteen years I have waited, my unseen sister. For nineteen years they have waited, your warriors. Pahari, Bangali, men, women, young old. Was it what you said? What you stood for? Was it because you could see beyond the land, and language, the shape of one?s eyes and see what it meant to be a citizen of a free nation? For pahari, bangali, bihari, man, woman, hijra, rich, poor, destitute, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, Animist.
Posters in the meeting room where Kalpana and her comrades used to gather. Khagrachori. CHT. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Posters in the meeting room where Kalpana and her comrades used to gather. Khagrachori. CHT. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

You had reminded us that a nation that fought oppression, could not rule by oppressing. That a people that fought for a language, could not triumph by suppressing another?s. That the martyrs who died, so we might be free, did not shed their blood, so we could become tyrants. That we who overcame the bullets and bayonets of soldiers, must never again be ruled through the barrel of a gun.
That Kalpana is what binds us. That is why Kalpana, you are not a pahari, or a woman or a chakma or a buddhist, but each one of us. For there can be no freedom that is built on the pain of the other. No friendship that relies on fear. No peace at the muzzle of a gun.
These Kalpana are your warriors. They have engaged in different ways, at different levels, sometimes with different beliefs. Some have stayed with you from the beginning. Others have drifted. They have not always shared political beliefs. But for you Kalpana, my unseen sister, they fight as one.
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The Process

The process involved in creating these images are rooted to the everyday realities of the hill people, the paharis. Repeatedly, the interviewees talked of the bareness of Kalpana?s home. That there was no furniture, that Kalpana slept on the floor on a straw mat.


Rather than print on conventional photographic media, we decided we would use material that was part of pahari daily lives. The straw mat became our canvas. The fire that had been used to raze pahari homes, also needed to be represented, so a laser beam was used to burn the straw, etching with flames, the images of rebellion.
It was the politics of this interaction that determined the physicality of the process. The laser beam consisted of a binary pulse. A binary present on our politics. In order to render the image, the image had to be converted in various ways. From RGB to Greyscale to Bitmap, from 16 bit to 8 bit to 1 bit. To keep detail in the skin tone despite the high contrast, the red channel needed to be enhanced. The Resolution and intensity and duration of the laser beam needed to be brought down to levels that resulted in the straw being selectively charred but not burnt to cinders.
A screen ruling that separated charred pixels while maintaining gradation had to be carefully selected. And then, working backwards, a lighting mechanism needed to be found that broke up the image into a discrete grid of light and dark tones, providing the contrast, the segmentation and the gradation, necessary to simulate the entire range of tones one expects in a fine print. This combination of lighting, digital rendering, printing technique and choice of medium, has led to the unique one off prints you see in this exhibition. A tribute to a unique woman that had walked among us.