What the World Eats

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As colleagues are out there trying to? provide relief to the people affected by cyclone Sidr. As I talk at my book launch of “Nature’s Fury” in Glasgow. The mail from Kenneth Van Toll reminding us on World Human Rights Day, of the disparity in people’s lives provides food for thought.

 

The people of Bangladesh have some of the lowest ecological footprint in the world, but they are the ones who will pay the price for the effects of? the world’s biggest consumers.

 

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Today, poverty prevails as the gravest human rights challenge in the world. Combating poverty, deprivation and exclusion is not a matter of charity, and it does not depend on how rich a country is.
By tackling poverty as a matter of human rights obligation, the world will have a better chance of abolishing this scourge in our lifetime…Poverty eradication is an achievable goal.

Louise Arbour
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
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What The World Eats

??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? Beth Hartford-DeRoos

 

Germany : The Melander family of Bargteheide

Food expenditure for one week : 375.39 Euro or $500.07
Favorite foods : fried potatoes with onions, bacon and herring, fried noodles with eggs and cheese,
pizza, vanilla pudding

United States : The Revis family of North Carolina

Food expenditure for one week : $341.98
Favorite foods : spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken

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Japan : The Ukita family of Kodaira City

Food expenditure for one week : 37,699 Yen or $317.25
Favorite foods : sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips

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Italy : The Manzo family of Sicily

Food expenditure for one week : 214.36 Euro or $260.11
Favorite foods : fish, pasta with ragu, hot dogs, frozen fish sticks

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Great Britain : The Bainton family of Cllingbourne Ducis

Food expenditure for one week : 155.54 British Pounds or $253.15
Favorite foods : avocado, mayonnaise sandwich, prawn cocktail,
chocolate fudge cake with cream

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Kuwait : The Al Haggan family of Kuwait City

Food expenditure for one week : 63.63 dinar or $221.45
Family recipe : Chicken biryani with basmati rice

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Mexico : The Casales family of Cuernavaca

Food expenditure for one week : 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Favorite foods : pizza, crab, pasta, chicken

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China : The Dong family of Beijing

Food expenditure for one week : 1,233.76 Yuan or $155.06
Favorite foods: fried shredded pork with sweet and sour sauce

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Poland : The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna

Food expenditure for one week : 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
Family recipe : Pig’s knuckles with carrots, celery and parsnips

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United States : The Caven family of California

Food expenditure for one week : $159.18
Favorite foods : beef stew, berry yogurt sundae, clam chowder, ice cream

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Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo

Food expenditure for one week : 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Family recipe : Okra and mutton

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Mongolia : The Batsuuri family of Ulaanbaatar

Food expenditure for one week : 41,985.85 togrogs or $40.02
Family recipe : Mutton dumplings

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Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo

Food expenditure for one week : $31.55
Family recipe : Potato soup with cabbage

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Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village

Food expenditure for one week : 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Family recipe: Mushroom, cheese and pork

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Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week? : 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite foods : soup with fresh sheep meat

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The Candy Man

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He was charming, witty, and took blame upon himself. Adviser Ayub Quadri, was the Minister of Education, Minister of Primary and Mass Education and Minister of Cultural Affairs, Government of the People?s Republic of Bangladesh. He was the perfect guy to rely upon for damage control. The public school background showed, as did the many years as a top bureaucrat. He had been a member of the elite Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP). An old boys network that still holds clout in the subcontinent.
The Press Information Department (PID) auditorium on the 3rd floor of Building 9, in the Bangladesh Secretariat was packed. Unlike many other Bangladeshi events this press conference started on time. Squeezing through the footpaths, crossing fences, lifting my bicycle over rickshaws stuck in traffic, I had panted my way to the secretariat. The police at gate 2 had been too perplexed by a bicycle going through the gate to even stop me for papers. I arrived just as the first question was raised. It was a packed hall, and while I thought I would stay at the back, I realised that I needed to get up there to stand any chance of getting a question in. I sat on the floor in between the video tripods.
The journalists had done their homework. And while there were a few questions that were repetitive, by and large, they knew what they wanted. In response to a question about the alleged corruption charges against one of the government officials involved in the transaction, the adviser joked. “Well I am the person in overall charge. The police don’t seem to be after me for corruption.” Pretty answer. Pity it didn’t answer the question.
The large table with the adviser in the middle was imposing. The Secretary of Culture on the left and another officer on the right played a largely ornamental role. So did the entire row of officials in the back. They did however lean forward to whisper in the adviser’s ear from time to time. The question came up of the alleged transportation of the bronze casket in 1959 to France, which Mr. Zakaria, the ex Secretary of Culture had mentioned in a press conference on the 1st December. The adviser let the question slip, saying he’d heard of such accusations and was looking into it. A member of the back row broke ranks and retorted, “There is no such record.” Mr. Zakaria, also an ex director of the department of archaeology, had mentioned a 49 year fight to get back this prized possession, without success. A journalist mentioned the case of the 30 paintings of Mohammad Younus. They had been sent to Yugoslavia, on a government to government exchange. None had ever come back. Quadri again said he didn’t know. “Don’t know” was quite a common response to questions. Candid perhaps, but not particularly useful.
In answer to the questions about the irregularities regarding the loan inventory, the adviser did provide figures, but no documents he could back them up with. Questions from the floor pointed to the disjoint between the figures he quoted and the ones given in the government documents submitted to the court. That they didn’t correspond to the inventory produced by the French themselves. He promised to provide updated documents this very evening. Tomorrow morning at the latest. Why the government had provided documents to the court which did not tally with the shipment, was a question that never got asked, and was certainly not clarified. The mystery of calling a press conference, but not having these documents at hand was never solved by the guests.
“I have full confidence that the items will come back.” He said, taking the weight of the world on his shoulders. As to why Bangladeshis should have confidence in him, was one that was never clarified.
“The company that had packed the crates have been doing so for 300 years,” he mentioned. The doubters have been asking for the packers to be named ever since the beginning, but have not been given an answer. Those who had thought the press conference would enlighten them were disappointed.
Since only government members of the committee were present, there was no one to question the claim that everything had been done to please the committee. That the committee had been fully satisfied with the proceedings. The fact that the official letter by the committee, in the hands of the press, said something entirely different was a mere technicality.
The inconsistencies were the problem. We still don’t know exactly how many items are being sent. Neither do we know exactly what is being sent. The few specifics the advisor provided, that there were “50 silver coins, and 8 gold coins,” might have helped in purchasing supplies for an Everest expedition, but didn’t help much in evaluating either the value, or the specifics of a museum item. Especially when the court record states “50 punchmarked coins” in one entry and an unspecified number of “gold and silver coins” in another. Assuming the number of silver coins in the latter entry is non-zero, and that the punchmarked coins are all silver, we still have a problem. The French inventory specifies “93 punch marked coins.” Are the “gold and silver coins” non-punchmarked? Do they add up to the “8 gold coins” the adviser was referring to? 50 + non-zero number = 50 and 50 + 8 = 93 in Ayub Quadri’s arithmetic.
There are bigger issues. He generally accepted that the insurance value was low, but claimed that it was an academic issue in the case of priceless items. Especially since he was confident that they were all coming back. However the French press release, issued on the 25th September 2007, stated that the insurance value was 4 million euro. The adviser today clearly stated 2.6 million euro. So who are we to believe? We are after all talking of the most prized possessions of a nation. Consistent statements help remove doubt. The adviser’s “confidence” might work on a poker table, but does little to put a worried population at ease.
He brushed off the accusation about whisking off the items in a hurry, or that there was any question of impropriety or stealth in terms of going against court directives. When asked why such an important event, which was covered by all major independent media, was completely unreported on state television, he smiled. The gentleman on the right did speak up this time. He pointed out that the question was “irrelevant.”
Other questions remain. Gold and silver coins is one thing. In the documents presented to the court by the government, even one of the most valued items, the large (and extremely rare) bronze statue the Vajrasattva does include an insurance value (not always the case for other items listed) of 200,000 euro. This item too does not have an accession number.
Quadri was unruffled throughout, never losing cool. Always extremely pleasant. His only admission to some concern was in answer to a question about when the items would come back. He said in no uncertain terms, “April.” He added, “Until then, I will stay worried, and looking at the mood in the room, I can tell that you too will not rest.” I hope he meant 2007.
As a child, we would watch the candy floss man take a tiny spoonful of sugar, a dollop of colouring and would watch with amazement as the machine spun out a pink web, which he would twirl around a stick. One portion was only dui poisha (two paisa). A figure which we could realistically save up. The large pink fluff, folded on contact, and melted in the mouth, but did give a sense of attainment. We called it hawai mithai, sweet made of air. This candy floss press conference too, had little substance but plenty of form.
Whether the media kids will feel they got value for their dui poisha is something we’ll see in tomorrow’s headlines.
3rd December 2007. Dhaka.
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Previous governments have killed farmers when they demanded fertilisers and seeds. Villagers have been killed when they had the audacity to demand electricity, resist open pit mining. Yesterday 14 cyclone affected people were detained for trying to present a memorandum demanding relief. We wonder what demands for saving our heritage will bring.

The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw

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The battle lines appear to have been drawn. Guimet is a respected museum, and there has been natural interest in a show that should be very special. Why then such resistance from art lovers of Bangladesh? Surely art is to be appreciated? It is part of our identity and an important part of the image we portray. Why on the other hand, the secrecy? The organisers should be taking credit for arranging such an event and not trying to sneak away under police protection. If there is nothing to cover up, why the covert operation?
The emotions are high. I’ve seen people weeping because something very special to them has been taken away. I have seen people angry because they feel violated. I have seen people frustrated, because they feel helpless against the power of the establishment.
As a journalist I need to be wary. It is important to separate the emotions from the facts. To not let friendships sway one’s judgement. To apply journalistic rigour in one’s analysis regardless of whether one agrees with the outcome of one’s research.
So let’s separate the facts from the opinions.
The Guimet is a respected museum known and admired. The protesters are respected citizens with a high level of credibility. Questions have been raised about both entities, which we need to address further, but there appears to be a gap in the puzzle, which no one so far has discussed. The answer could perhaps provide a vital clue.
What was the motive behind the exhibition and who initiated it? Who are the stakeholders? The interest of Guimet is understandable. Leaving aside the accusations for the moment, an important museum specialising in non western art would surely have an interest in such a prized exhibit. But would a museum, knowing there is so much resistance, and bad press, insist upon such an exhibit coming, when so many other options are available? Major museums are usually booked way in advance. The opening dates for this one is also well past. We have Christmas and New Year coming up. Setting up the show, once the entire shipment has arrived, will take another three weeks by the director’s own admission.
We have been repeatedly told that the event is in the interest of promoting the image of Bangladesh abroad. Having put in the huge amount of work and expense that has gone into the curatorial process, does it really make sense for the French Government and Musee Guimet to take on such flak? Does it make sense for the French Government and the Museum officials to demonstrate their love for Bangladesh, when Bangladeshis themselves are opposing the event so vociferously?
While exploring these options I have come across several opinions. One states “The truth is that that some quarters in Bangladesh are upset that the items to be shown are Hindu art artifacts and that this exhibition is going to send the wrong image of Bangladesh to the French public: that Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country, has a strong Hindu culture and art history. This is the real story not the bullshit that has been published. How come knowledgeable sources in Dhaka write to me to tell me what they know for sure and not to you?”
Another friend said “The majority of the works are fakes, and taking the show to the Guimet would reveal this fact, exposing the perpetrators. Hence the resistance.” This too is attributed to knowledgeable sources. None of the people who tell me these stories will reveal who these knowledgeable people are.
Sitting in the comfort of the French Ambassador’s residence we heard him say, “Some people who wanted a good image of Bangladesh had promoted the exhibition.” By implication, this was something the protesters were not inclined towards. So the love of the nation, or lack of it was his criterion for determining which side of the divide one would stay. And who are they? He too was reluctant to reveal who these good people were. I suppose good people are by nature modest, and unwilling to take credit for their virtue.
It doesn’t take deep analysis to see that none of the accusations hold. So we are still grappling with the motive. Not of Guimet itself, but of the ‘some’ people that the French Ambassador has repeatedly alluded to.
There was another event “Sonar Bangla Fair” which was planned as a conjunct to the Guimet exhibition. While both the government and the French embassy have denied direct ties to this event, it is clear from the many circulars and press releases that have gone out, that the Guimet exhibition was part of a package. The extensive lobbying, the pressure applied to media houses, and the behind the scenes manoeuvres through which people have been told to ‘drop’ the case, has come not so much from the French, but from highly placed Bangladeshis. Is it their love of Bangladesh that is the driving force? Is love for their country something they should be so secretive about?
The protesters have been very open about their position and have stated so through their physical actions and their statements. Independent bloggers from both sides of the camp have expressed their opinions openly. Why have the promoters of this exhibition, with access to both the government and the embassy, chosen to work strictly under cover? The planning for this exhibition has been going on for a long time. As in many a Bangla romance, the promoters’ unrequited love has been a well kept secret, but it has survived a change of government.
The recent statement by prominent citizens to the French Government, shows a disturbing turn in the position taken by the protesters. “While we were originally open to the idea of showing the work at Musee Guimet provided the transparency issues were addressed, the recent actions of the museum has removed any semblance of trust in the organisation, and we are no longer willing to loan our prized possessions to an organisation with such standards of behaviour. The incident, originally restricted to the issue of an exhibition now appears to have created a general distrust in the French government amongst the Bangladeshi public.”
How come these well wishers of Bangladesh risk alienating the very public that they love so dearly, but are still shy about declaring the love for their country?
I believe one important word that has so far not been uttered is ‘money’. What is the ‘package’ that the Guimet exhibition falls under? How much money is involved? Who are the beneficiaries, and how were they chosen? Who are they affiliated to?
The government in power has made corruption their number one target. Business people, prominent politicians and even ordinary citizens have been asked to declare their assets and their links to financial ventures. Perhaps it is time for the government to ask all the people who are linked with Masterpieces of the Ganges Delta exhibition, the Sonar Bangla Fair and all the ancillary events to declare the extent of their association and the monetary value that such association brings. Citizens have been asked to help the government by reporting any suspected cases of corruption. With activities of the Ministry of Culture itself in question. With the government appointed committee complaining of non-cooperation by Culture ministry officials. With people chanting chor chor (thief, thief) in the streets outside a public institution, why has the government suddenly gone blind? Have the sniffer dogs of corruption, who bark at the slightest whiff of a nexus, suddenly lost their sense of smell? Or would that be a same side (own goal)?
Perhaps this piece of the jigsaw will help us see the full picture.
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12:40 am 3rd Dec. The Government has finally responded. Press conference called by the Ministry of Culture at 12:00 pm. Building 9. Bangladesh Secretariat.

The Price of Priceless Objects

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letter-to-the-french-government.docStop Press: Ten crates containing rare archaeological treasures of Bangladesh have been bundled out of the national museum and are said to be bound for Guimet Museum in Paris, via flight AF 6731 (dep: 1205 Saturday 1st Dec 2007). Preparations had been made to secretly remove the items through a shipment order by the French Embassy made to Homebound Packers and Shippers. Trucks and forklift arrive secretly in museum in early hours of morning. But the news leaked and media professionals and protesters gathered outside the museum. Under heavy police presence Homebound vehicles (Dhaka Metro Umo 11-0814, pho 11 3634, U 14 0187) and fork lift trucks all bearing “Save The Children and USAID Cyclone Sidr Emergency Relief ” signs were used to remove the priceless items. Predictably, and as in the case of all previous authoritarian governments, while the story was the lead news in all major newspapers and independent television channels. BTV the state run television channel which is the only terrestrial channel in Bangladesh, failed to report the incident altogether.
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Protesters and media professionals watching as crates get loaded onto Homebound trucks. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Homebound trucks preparing to leave National Museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Trucks being escorted out of National Museum by police. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Homebound convoy heading to airport. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Police arrest Shekhar Shaswata. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Shekhar being taken into custody. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Media professionals demanding to be let in. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Further clashes with police. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Media storm into Shahbagh police station. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Media in officer Morshed’s office. Morshed claims he knew nothing of what was going on all day across the road. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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Shekhar being released upon signed undertaking by those demanding his release. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Protesters clashed with police. Shekhar Shashwata was arrested, and some media professionals roughed up. Eventually protesters were able to get Shekhar released. Police officer Morshed who made the arrest, claimed he “knew nothing about what was happening across the road.”
The lack of transparency surrounding the exhibition has led to huge controversies where leading citizens have demanded that the government and the French Museum allow experts to inspect the items being taken away. Past allegations of art objects having been taken to France and never returned have increased the suspicion.
While the government has appointed a committee to investigate the matter, in an unprecedented move, government and French Embassy officials have, without informing either the committee or the media, taken the items out of the museum in what resembled a police protected museum robbery.
Protesters are asking international media to disseminate the news, and prevent the artefacts from being taken away in this manner. Bangladesh is under emergency rule where protests and gatherings of any form are illegal, and police have wide ranging powers. After a recent unrest at the universities arrest warrants were issued against 8,300 largely unnamed people. Teachers, students and university employees arrested after the event are yet to be released. There have been accusations of torture in custody.
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Earlier on in the day:
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Above: Tearful protester outside museum at 10:15 AM 30th November 2007. Below: Homebound truck with Cyclone Relief sign outside museum.
? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
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forklift-on-standby-by-museum-0265.jpg Forklift on standby

loading-at-front-of-museum-0297.jpg Forklift in front of Museum
hombound-and-cannon-4233.jpg Homebound in line of fire
protests-outside-museum-0293.jpg Protesters outside museum

Video of protests. ? Rabeya Sarkar Rima/DrikAV
The background to the story by Anisur Rahman
Letter to the French Government by prominent citizens
1st Video Clip of Protest Press Conference. ? Naeem Mohaiemen
2nd Video Clip of Protest Press Conference. ? Naeem Mohaiemen
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The Price of Priceless Objects by Shahidul Alam
This was breaking news. Shishir Bhattacharjee, Nisar Ahmed and Rahnuma were racing against the clock. The pukur churi (daylight robbery, lit: pond stealing) had to be stopped. Bangladesh is awash with conspiracy theories and I needed to be convinced that something irregular was really taking place. A major exhibition of Bangladeshi heritage in a well-known western museum seemed a good thing. I wanted hard facts. Facts emerged, and eventually tumbled out.
The issue in question was a proposed exhibition at the Mus?e National des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet, in Paris, where some of the most prized archaeological objects collected from the five major museums would be on display in an exhibition announced on the Museum website as “Masterpieces of the Ganges delta. Collections from the Bangladesh Museums.” The only suggestion that things might not be going entirely as planned came from the notice “dates to be confirmed.” The France Guide still lists the original dates: 24/10/2007 to 03/05/2008.
Doubts had been raised about the transparency of the process through which the exhibition had been arranged. With leading national experts calling for a stay order and the court requiring the government to demonstrate that due process had been maintained,
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things were getting murky. A hastily called press conference by the French Embassy landed them in further trouble. The Ambassador was promptly withdrawn. Unconnected some say, but unusual in a country where the departure of western ambassadors is generally accompanied by considerable fanfare.
“Some Bangladeshis who want to improve the image of Bangladesh abroad have been supporting the exhibition”, the new ambassador stressed. The suggestion that the Bangladeshi experts who had questioned the intentions of this prestigious museum and the French government itself, and even had the audacity to suggest that the French might possibly have intentions not entirely in keeping with Bangladeshi interests, were unpatriotic, was perhaps unintentional.
Not a hair on Sita’s head was singed as she had walked through the flames. But she had been doubted, and she felt only the test of fire could prove her innocence and her loyalty. Who is loyal to Bangladesh is now the question. Protagonists of the proposed exhibition at Guimet promptly dismissed the ones who demanded transparency, as Talibans and enemies of the state. My beard didn’t help.
The fact that these very experts had over the years been the mainstay of collecting, creating and nurturing these collections, didn’t appear to affect the French argument. Given Kwame Opoku’s recent statement “Mus?e Guimet in Paris which incidentally also holds thousands of stolen/illegal objects from China and the rest of Asia,” one would have expected the French to be more concerned with damage control.
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Extract from “The Museums in Bangladesh” by Firoz Mahmud and Habibur Rahman from the chapter initiated by the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Return and Restitution of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin” set up by the International Council of Museums ICOM. Page 487.
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Extract from list of organisations and locations where stolen Bangladeshi cultural property have been illegally taken. Page 488
Or was this an attempt to gain what they could before the cat got out of the bag? Els Van Der Plas, the director of the Prince Claus Fund in the Netherlands, held Guimet in high regard and had respect for the director. June Rollinson of the British Council in Dhaka, also spoke highly of the Guimet. Mark Haworth-Booth, former senior curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was an old friend and had been a guest teacher at Pathshala. He fully supported museums lending work to each other but felt a shared copyright of the photographs (the contract gave Bangladesh no rights over the images of the artefacts) would have been the normal practice.
However it was Mark’s comment “I do not think that professionally-run museums would lend an object if it had no accession number” that got me going. The appendix listing the items, obtained by court order, was a farce. The number of items varied in different reports. We managed to obtain the French internal listing which had 20 more items than the Bangladeshi list. These had been obtained in a joint excavation (France and Bangladesh) in Mahasthangar, and were all marked ‘reserved’. Items had been clumped together without individual listing (e.g. ’93 punch-marked coins’). Insurance value was sometimes missing. The basic documentation of a normal museum inventory, like period, condition and markings were missing. A large number of items had no accession numbers. And this was a listing of the most precious items belonging to Bangladesh, many of which Bangladeshis themselves had never had the opportunity of seeing! Not even the nation’s leading scholars, researchers historians or archaeologists. Certainly, it was the Bangladeshi side that should have provided these details, but with UNESCO stressing ‘due diligence’ on the part of the borrower, to accept such a precious consignment on the basis of such flimsy documentation, was fishy. More importantly, there was no way in which even the most diligent officials could verify that the objects lent, were indeed what had been returned.
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This was what the French press release had insisted was ‘complete documentation’.
When Jos van Beurden sent me his soon to be published article “Diplomats and smuggling of art” providing extensive and well documented instances of how majority world countries had their art objects stolen by wealthier ones via diplomats, it appeared as if it is the image of France and not of Bangladesh that needs rescuing.
With some juggling of schedules, I was able to combine a trip to Paris to show a newly made film, with the possibility of a trip to the Guimet.
Mus?e du quai Branly, the museum inviting me, was also on the ‘wanted’ list put together by Opoku and others. I needed no further convincing. I was off to Paris.
Quai Branly had sent a car to pick me up from Charles de Gaulle airport, and it was with considerable curiosity that I asked the driver what he thought of the Guimet Museum. Xavier had never heard of the place. I must have been unlucky with my driver, for Michel Philpott of Le Monde du, who had invited me, did indeed know the Guimet. It was perhaps not amongst the finest in the world, but still an important museum. It was also within walking distance.
The following morning, my Armenian photographer friend Ruben and I decided to pay the Guimet a visit. I had my HDV video camera with me. I had done a few other things in preparation too, like writing to the press officer Helene Lefevre, asking for an appointment. She did respond to my mail, but no appointment had been granted. I had been concerned that the Bangladeshi government had no rights over the photographs taken by the French photographer, but a mail to him also failed to elicit a reply. So Ruben and I were taking our chances. With my own work having been shown at the Centre Georges Pompidou fifteen years ago, I thought I had the credentials as an artist. I also had my press pass.
Crossing the Seine on a sunny Paris day, looking back at the Eiffel Tower, walking through the manicured pathways with Parisians striding by in their haute couture, I could picture Doisneau photographing the famous kiss.
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The Kiss. ? Robert Doisneau/Magnum
Finding the museum in the busy Paris map was not easy. Tucked away in the edge of a roundabout in Avenue D’Iena, was our famous Mus?e Guimet. Two homeless people had camped outside on the footpath, and children were having lunch on the short staircase. This represented the reality in all our countries but is distant from the image the establishment generally tries to provide.
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Map of Paris. Guimet Museum shown as small dot in centre of red circle.
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Left: Homebound truck loading outside Bangladesh National Museum 11:15 AM 30th November 2007. Right: Homeless people outside Guimet Museum. Paris. France. 31st October 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
I felt at home as I walked through the small entrance. This was far less pretentious than our own national museum. The informality of the place was comforting. The elderly gentleman beside us as we stood at reception overheard me asking about the Bangladeshi exhibition. Speaking with an American accent he remarked on what a fine show it would be. “It was taking time, but it would definitely be there.”
I was in journalist mode, and having discovered that he was Ambassador Dean and a board member of Guimet, gently led him on to the sort of work the museum was known for. He pointed out that the museum had just restored the head of a Cambodian statue to its body after 500 years. “Where was this statue?” I asked in as innocent a tone as I could muster. “Right here in this museum” was the proud board member’s reply. The head that was France’s gain, was presumably Cambodia’s loss.
I was lucky. Both the director of Guimet Jean-Francois Jarriage and the curator of the show Vincent Lefevre, were available that day, and didn’t appear to have any appointments at that time. I handed over my card, and spoke to Anna the director’s secretary, over the phone. She hadn’t seen my card then, but when I explained over the phone that I was from Bangladesh, I could sense a chill. Suddenly everyone clammed up. Neither the director nor the curator was able to see me, and no one in the museum would make any comment. Perhaps it was years of colonialism that had shaped our behaviour, or our rustic mannerisms of hospitality. I couldn’t help wondering how a visiting journalist who had arrived at the doorstep of any of our museums, would have been drowned with cups of sweet tea laced with condensed milk by the time the director had come over.
It was only a month ago when I had walked through the national museum at Siem Reap, aghast at the rows of ancient Cambodian statues whose heads were missing. One wonders where the heads have landed up. Ambassador Dean’s quest for restoration might just result in Guimet’s acquisition of the remainder of the bodies.
“Masterpieces of the Ganges delta.” France’s gain, Bangladesh’s loss?
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Some of the rare sculptures being taken to Guimet Museum
Article by Kwame Opoku

Portraits of Commitment

Portraits of commitment
Why people become leaders in the AIDS response

Challenges help us find our true selves. They take us on a journey within the depths of who we are, leaving us at a destination we hope is worthy. Some people find themselves at lesser places.
AIDS is one of those challenges.
The South Asians in this book tell how AIDS has made them a better doctor, researcher, legislator, citizen or person. We know AIDS affects our daily life?but because of it we now have more respect for human rights and individual choice where once there was little or none. AIDS has helped us to see who we want to be.
Photographs by Shahidul Alam. Interviews by Karen Emmons. Commissioned by UNAIDS.
Tuk Tuk in Fort, Colombo
Viewers watching “Portaits of Commitment” at Fort Station in Colombo on the 21st August 2007, as part of ICAAP8. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
A story from Sri Lanka on WAD: Positive & Strong Princey Mangalika on HIV/AIDS
Reviews: IPS. Daily Mirror
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Shilpa Shetty. Actress, Big Brother Winner. Mumbai India. “Being a celebrity has advantages – people hear you. I thought I should make use of this position and speak out.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Tahir Baig Barlas. Corporate Manager. Karachi Pakistan. “We have the opportunity to do something now before it’s too late. Let’s not be reactive.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Sabina “Putul” Yeasmin, Daughter of a sex worker. Tangail Bangladesh. “I gave wrong information to make others afraid, as I had been. I had to go back and give correct information.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Sapana Pradham-Malla. Advocate. Kathmandu Nepal. “I can’t turn away.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Sally Hulugalle. Community Worker. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I want a better deal for those who are voiceless.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Rev. Alex Vadakumthala. Priest. New Delhi India. “The church finds its meaning when it responds to the challenges of the times.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Rajiv Kafle. Former Drug User. Kathmandu Nepal. “I saw a need and an opportunity where I could step up and really make a difference.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Noor jehan Penazai. Partliamentarian. Islamabad Pakistan. “These politicians have to realise it’s a very serious disease and we have to talk about it.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama. Doctor. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I had to do something for the patients …they needed a place to go, to be consoled and, if dying, to die with dignity.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Arif Jafar and Anis Fatima, MSM and mother. Lucknow India. “I am grateful to Allah he gave such a son to me.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Habiba Akter. Dhaka Bangladesh. Positive Counsellor.
“I have no choice. If I don’t do it no one will.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld

An exhibition supporting the book opens at the Barefoot Gallery, in Colombo at 7:00 pm on the 18th August. 704 Galle Rd. Colombo 3.

Tales From a Globalising World

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Photo: Philip Jones Griffiths
Tales From a Globalising World
Before the white man took black slaves across the Atlantic, before the Romans marched their armies across Europe, before Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and Krishna brought new meanings to our lives, people had reached across the boundaries of their known world to reach for the unknown. They searched for power, for wealth, for salvation for escape. Though the world has changed the forces are largely the same. Photographers, the modern day storytellers, tell the tales of these new journeys. Ten photographers from different nations and different sensibilities take us along their routes. They hold our hands, for we are all strangers in this slippery and winding path.
They talk of promised lands and unrealized dreams. Of struggles, triumphs and contradictions. Of unseen poverty and empty glamour. Of wounds that have healed and of new forms of enslavement. Of mixed identities and changing fortunes. Globalization is not new, and colonialism is not dead. The search for roots competes with the search for utopia. But In a world where new fears give rise to new forms of oppression and corporate interests create the new rules of engagement, fragments of memory compete with visions of imagined futures while reality in its many forms, across nations and across cultures, continues to shape our lives. Through tender, provocative, abstract and sometimes brutal images, through lost childhoods and regained lives, through dense ghettos and lonely faces, through found mementos and anonymous production lines, through images of hope and visions of despair, the storytellers of today remind us of the invisible threads that connect us all.
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Photo: Andreas Seibert
ANDREAS SEIBERT
Somewhere from Nowhere
China, Pearl River Delta: 21st-century megalopolis
They once had dreams. Huddled at dusk into the back of a truck that appears to move into the night, they?ve traded their dreams for the harsh realities of makeshift homes. They build boutiques, condominiums, fancy homes for fancy people. They will never enter the homes they build or shop in the fancy malls. Their only chance to enter the condominiums is as a domestic servant or as a delivery boy. The dream of the big city where the streets are paved with gold only survive in the electronic TV screens in cramped dorms. There is a certain universality in their existence. The stark faces lit in the cool neon lights in Andreas Seibert?s rendering of migrants in China?s Pearl River Delta, have an eerie resemblance to the faces in the sweatshops in Europe. The man crossing the barren field to the tenement squares could easily be songwriter Ralph McTell?s old woman in London:
She’s no time for talking
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags
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Photo: Thomas Kern
THOMAS KERN
Homeland of Globalization
USA: from Detroit to the Mexican border
They had talked of a world without borders. Of freedom for all. Of opportunities unlimited. But the mobility of people did not parallel the mobility of goods. The notions of freedom do not apply equally to all nations, the search for freedom changes into the quest to protect ?American Values?. Huge inequalities across borders and between communities create isolated groups that find more solace in guns and the cross than in reaching across barriers of class and race. Factory floors transform people into robots. The champions of consumerism come face to face with poverty and discontent. The glitter of Las Vegas loses its sparkle in the relief queues in black neighborhoods. Amidst the rhetoric and the slogans, through the memorials and the sit-ins, the biggest war machine in existence searches blindly for peace. Wrapped in the metaphor of the American flag, they continue to ask ?Why do they hate us?? without once stopping to look at themselves.
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Photo: Cristina Nu?ez
CRISTINA NU?EZ
Made in Italy
Italy, Milan and Naples: parallel worlds of fashion
They tell us what to wear, how to look, what to feel. They shape our desires. Anorexic women tread waiflike along catwalks as if suspended in space. Swirling amidst the popping flashlights, they walk in measured gait. In calculated gestures, they cast vacant glances, looking into space. Celebrities and brand names team up to create a make belief bubble that longs to be touched but is never within reach. It is a world within itself, celebratory, narcissistic, trend setting. Back in the dressing room, the make-belief world slowly merges with reality. Peeling off layers, Nu?ez strips down the mask to reveal the world beneath. The sweatshops, the hopefuls and the also-rans switch between the real world, the fake world and the make belief world in no particular order for the borders are often blurred.
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Photo: Stephan Vanfleteren
STEPHAN VANFLETEREN
Facing Stories
Belgium: the poverty of loneliness
GDP, GNP, per capita income. These are the measuring sticks of progress. First world, second world, developing world the tiers of development. As nations strive to move up the value chain to greater wealth and greater prosperity, they leave behind the fabric of human connectedness that bind our souls. The second car becomes more important than the time spent with a friend. Not everyone makes it to the speeding train of progress. Some fail to catch it, some step out willingly, some slip off the packed rooftops. But it is a speeding train, and once it goes by, is difficult to stop. The ladder of success has rules of engagement, and those who fail to understand the rules, never make it to the goalposts. They dream, they love, they despair, they cling to familiar haunts, to known friendships. Lonely friends unite in their solitude, be it drugs, a lover, a pet, an old harmonica.
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Photo: Shehzad Noorani
SHEHZAD NOORANI
Childhood Denied
Nepal, India, Bangladesh: struggle to survive
The child is lonely in a crowd. The island in the middle of a busy road offers a brief respite, but hunger gnaws away, and work must begin. The employment differs, from cleaning kitchens near the fish market, to satisfying men with a hunger for more than food. The train station, the local brothel, the dock, the crowded slum, offers shelter, sometimes food, but always demands something in return. It is an equation they have learnt early and is far more real than the maths equations which they will never learn. They leave homes, friends, family, sometimes forever, returning perhaps only to die. Race, religion and class and all other tools of social oppression, combine to ensure that those born poor will die poor. Like the snail without a shell they wander through life, moving from ?uncles? to ?husbands? to ?masters? and ?bosses?, accepting whatever is dished out to keep the hunger away for another day.
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Photo: Ziyo Fafic
ZIYO GAFIC
Quest for Identity
Bosnia-Herzegovina: recovery from war
Sombre clouds over dense mountains. Square pictures saturated in colour. Neat rows of coffins, bodies of the only ones recognisable after the genocide. A comb, a watch, an old note, dentures, bent spectacles. How does one represent war? What is the image of bereavement? What colour is pain? For a young man who has been through war, it is a difficult portrait to paint. But Ziyo Gafic paints it with muted light. Unsentimental, but tender, he observes from within. It is not only grief that he photographs, but survival. Muslim but white, European but Muslim, white but poor, Gafic takes on the dilemma of his identity and gives it form. The solidity of a bridge over placid water. The luminescence of transparent plastic bags over dense foliage carrying the remains of known ones. The earthiness of digging a grave, the silence of a morgue, the weightlessness of objects of everyday use, form the background of his tapestry. But through it all the carefree leap of a child, defying gravity, exuding joy, remains a lasting image.
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Photo: Tim Hetherington
TIM HETHERINGTON
Healing Sport
Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya: ways out
The weather-beaten fingers hold the ball firmly. A torn scarf, strings tied together and bits of cloth make up this football. Small and not quite round it is held as it should be. A prized possession. Bob Kpwilo of Millenium Stars Football Team (formerly Power from Heaven), stands in the middle of the field, the sweat on his dark skin glistens in the soft light. They are footballers. Masters of takwondo. Sometimes they are glue sniffers, or child soldiers, or all of them at once. In bare classrooms and overcrowded cities, they practice sport in the shadows of war. The children are pawns of competing warlords. The countries are pawns of wealthy nations. To slave traders, gold miners and oil diggers, Africa is just a pawn. But these children want to play a different game. They have been torn from their parents, wounded in battle, blown up by mines. They have been raped. They have raped, they have killed. But these are games they will no longer play. With wooden limbs, blinded eyes and scarred minds, they?ve chosen sport as their answer. They?ve chosen games without pawns.
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Photo: Bertien van Manen
BERTIEN VAN MANEN
Paradise in Boxes
France: immigrants in the Paris suburbs
They generally stare at the camera. Young children, couples, families wearing their best clothes. Young men in football gear. Propped up on the mantelpiece, or held against the favourite carpet. Sometimes it is a photograph of their home, or their wedding day, or their identity card with a faded photograph. Lodged between teacups or stuck on a window, they show different realities. Lives they have found and lives they have left behind. Which is more real? Who is the man through the broken glass? What are we looking at, the photograph on the windowpane or the Parisian cityscape beyond? The flare from the flash bounces rudely off the print. The prints stuck between a gilded frame and the wallpaper compete for attention with the artifacts of living. The duality of these images plays on the duality of their existence. Here, there, now, then, before, after. A self exiled existence that rarely turns out the way it was planned. A choice that was not really chosen.
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Photo: Philip Jones Griffiths
PHILIP JONES GRIFFITHS
Independence and Transition
Vietnam: values, old and new
They put poison in their fields. Mothers still bear children with twisted limbs and enlarged heads. They still die of cancer. Between 1961 and 1971 the US military used the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam. On March 10 2005, judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. No Vietnamese have ever received compensation for the damages they have suffered. But the country has changed in many ways. A giant bill-board hovers over a paddy field, towering above a farmer with her bamboo hat. For Philips Jones Griffiths, the author of Vietnam Inc., the signs of westernisation give mixed signals. Belly dancers, mobile phones and yuppie kids might show a Vietnam moving west, but Griffiths also sees the other side of the coin. The mannequins modeled on western features and urban poverty as farmers are pushed into the cities show the erosion of value systems that capitalism threatens to destroy.
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Photo: Akinbode Akinbiyi
AKINBODE AKINBIYI
Black Atlantic Divinities
Nigeria and Brazil, Lagos and Brazilia: migrant gods and returnees
They embraced all the gods. Their ancient ones, the ones of their brothers and sisters under oppression, even the ones of their oppressors. Moving across the ocean, the music, the architecture, the culture, the religion, fused into one. Three centuries of slave trade have created a bond across continents. The African beat and the colours of Brazil, immerse in each other. The chaos, the vitality, the fervour, the passion all become one. Yoruba, Candombl?, Umbanda, three religions with blurred borders, protect the mixed communities on either side of the Atlantic. The collective gods punish evildoers and the insolent, but also protect motorcars, overlook wars and ensure justice and creativity. The shrines, the rituals, the symbols, the art, are preserved in the mixed cultural roots of the Africans of the west coast and Brazilians. Their bondage has led to a shared sense of divinity. They dance and they pray together. Out of the darkness came light.
Shahidul Alam
7th July 2007, Dhaka
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Photo: Md. Mainuddin/Drik
Tales From a Globalising World exhibition being packed at Drik Gallery in Dhaka for shipping to La Paz, Bolivia.
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Drik Gallery presents
30 years of photojournalism: Manoocher Deghati
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Photo: Manoocher Deghati
In the summer of 1978, Manoocher Deghati educated as a filmmaker, returned to Iran after three years of studies at the Rome school of cinema just as the first major demonstrations against the regime of the Shah were breaking out. He decided to photograph these events. “I remember going out the first day with a camera in hand. There was a great deal of agitation. A truckload of soldiers rolled by. One of them loaded his rifle and fired at me. The burst of bullets passed on either side of my head. I was alive. I was shocked. But above all, I realized that I was a target because I was taking pictures. That only reinforced my determination to take pictures.”
In 1979, the Sipa Press agency had asked him to become a permanent correspondent in Iran. Manoocher photographed all the big events of the new regime of Khomeini, the hostage crisis at the American embassy and the Iran-Iraq war, which he covered for six years. Currently he is the head of IRIN Photo, the United Nations’ News Agency, and lives in Kenya
Manoocher Deghati will present his work on the 18th July 2007 at 6:00 pm at the ULAB Campus Auditorium. Manoocher will also talk about his work with Afghani photographers at AINA Media Centre in Kabul.
Auditorium
4th floor ULAB Campus
House 56, Road 4/A
Dhanmondi Residential Area
Dhaka

I can kill any Muslim

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Year end play: The Nuculier God
Theatre: The World
Set Design: Tony Blair
God: George Bush
Sacrificial Lamb: Saddam Hussein
Slaves: Saudi Royal Family and cohorts
Extras: The United Nations
Theme song: I can kill any Muslim
I can kill any Muslim
Any day I choose
It?s all for the cause of freedom
I can kill any Muslim
Wherever I choose
It is cause we?re a peace lovin? nation
So we egged him on
When he attacked Kuwait
And the trial may have been harried
So we supplied him arms
To gas the Kurds
With him dead, that?s one story buried
Violence in Iraq
Has been on the rise
The US can hardly be blamed
Our interest was oil
And we stuck to our goal
Why must my cronies be named
Saddam?s emergence
As Arab resistance
That wasn?t part of the plan
Had Amnesty and others
Kept quiet when it matters
We?d have quietly gone on to Iran
Asleep I was
When he hanged on the gallows
Well even presidents need to sleep
Oblivious I was
When the planes hit the towers
I had other ?pointments to keep
More Iraqis dead
More ?mericans too
OK they warned it would happen
Why should I listen
When I rule the world
No nation?s too big to flatten
The Saudi Kings
They know their place
At least they?ll know by now
Muslim?s OK
If you tow the line
Out of step, off you go, and how
Tony and me
We keep good company
Dictators know when it matters
Regardless of crimes
And religious inclines
Safe if you listen or its shutters
I can kill any Muslim
Wherever I choose
I choose quite often I know
I can kill any Muslim
Any day I choose
I did it so now they will know
Similar to Rumsfeld’s concern that the Abu Ghraib pictures coming out, and not about the events themselves, the Iraqi government worries about the footage of Saddam being taunted, getting out. The fact that the taunting took place doesn’t appear to be an area of concern. With the US government stifling Al Jazeera, and increasing censorship in mainstream media, citizen journalism appears to be the only way people can get past the PR camouflague.
With all political parties of Bangladesh, as well as most Muslim leaders around the world, choosing to remain silent at the execution of Saddam Hussein, it is left to human rights organizations to remind us, that despite his atrocities, Saddam will be remembered for his defiance. The butcher of the Kurds will go down in history as a victim of flawed justice. The guns are now clearly turned against Iran, but the Saudi rulers, as well as the Egyptians and the Jordanians would do well to ponder, ?Who is next??

Sitting on a man's back

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Three bombs had gone off the day before, and they weren?t comfortable about me walking on my own in the streets of Kabul.

Streets of Kabul

The driver insisted that he gave me a lift. The suggestion that a particular hill not too far away would give me a good view of the city was a good one, and the late evening light was just leaking through the haze. He offered to stay to give me a lift back, but I wanted to be on my own, and writing down that I needed to get back to Choroi Malek Asghar, I wandered off, free at last. Coming down the hill, I wandered through the back streets as I tend to do in cities I am new to. An odd conversation in my broken Urdu helped. As always kids wanted to be photographed, and wherever I went, people offered me cups of tea, or invited me home.

Abdul Karim latched on to me. Insisting that I visit his family, he took me through the narrow winding mud path that led to the tiny doorway that was the entrance to his home. My first task was to take photographs of the family. I had none of the language skills he had, but it didn?t seem to matter. Initially surprised by this stranger the man had brought home, the family quickly turned to more important things, like being hospitable to this mehman (guest).

Marine Engineer

I gesticulated wildly enough to convince them that I needed to catch the light while it was there, and Abdul Karim became my self appointed guide. I could go and take some photographs, but was to come back and have tea. The sun had almost set by the time we were back up the hill. A lone runner ran circles around the flattened top of the hillock. Football fever had set in and the shouting of the kids chasing a ball in the dried up swimming pool in the centre, carried through the evening sky. Four young men came up and made conversation. Two of them had been to Pakistan, and we spoke in Urdu and in English. One was an out of work webmaster, and wanted my email address. They posed, I photographed, and he scribbled his email address so I could email the picture back.

Four young men

The sun had set and Abdul Karim wanted me to keep my end of the bargain. The young men also wanted me to visit their homes. Perhaps they could take me out the following day they suggested. They knew great places for photography. We exchanged mobile phone numbers. Undiplomatically, I suggested that perhaps they too could come to Abdul Karim?s and then I could go with them to their homes. One young man took me aside and explained that they couldn?t go. It would be breaking purdah. I wondered how I had become an exception to the rule.

Abdul Karim, his mother, Bibi Shirin, his wife Ayesha, and their two children Mehjebeen and Sufia lived in this one room flat. There were mattresses on the floor and one television set and one radio. There was a tiny courtyard and metal steps that went up to what looked like a loft. Abdul Karim had worked as an engineer in the marines and was now out of a job. He showed me the children?s book he used, to try and teach himself English. Even with body language and the best of intensions, our communication faltered, but there was no mistaking that I was a welcome guest, and my major challenge that evening was leaving without having dinner with the family. The path outside was by now pitch black, and Abdul Karim walked me through the maze and got me to a cab. We parted with some sadness.

Back at the Aina office where I was staying, the guard with the Kalashnikov welcomed me with a smile. I could see why my colleague Nazrul hadn?t left the compound for the last two months.

Aina guard

Day before yesterday we drove up to Salang, past the bombed out ruins of what had been thriving villages, past the tank carcasses, past vast stretches of barren land, interspersed with lush foliage by the river beds. A young man took great pleasure in racing his steed against our minivan. Two boys flagged me down, insisting that their friendship be recorded in my camera.

Two boys

Back in Kabul, I did walk out on my own, without an escort, and went to the market place. The men in the bakery insisted that I try their freshly baked bread and I briefly sat with new found friends and watched Hindi films in the restaurants.

Bread maker

I spoke to Arif who ran a small studio, and came across the out of work labourers in the market square looking for work. A child and an old man reached into the gutter to pick up a polythene bag they could sell. It was in a worker?s face that I realized why people who are capable of so much hospitality, and are so willing to give, have become objects of terror to the foreigners who live here.

Labourer looking for work

They want the very things that the west has officially championed. Jobs, security, a home for their families and for their land to be free of occupation.

Organisers at the Sarina Hotel claimed it was the first fashion show in 20 years in Afghanistan. There were few tell tale signs of the riots that had taken place here a few days ago. But the white landrovers outside, four sets of security barriers, and the armed US soldiers on guard, marked the distance between central Kabul and the rest of the country.

Fashion BurkhaUS security guards

I remember Tolstoys words ?I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.? They seem to have learned little in 120 years.

Choroi Malek Asghar
Kabul
9th July 2006

Having the Eye

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Preface to Drik Calendar 2006

It was a stinker of a letter. Written to an organisation I knew little about. I was angered that World Press Photo (WPP) had little to do with the world and was largely about European and North American photography. Though it featured work from all over the globe, the jury, the photographers who entered the contest and the winners were largely white western males. So in my letter I had suggested that they rename themselves Western Press Photography. The phone call was a surprise. We didn’t get too many overseas calls in those days. The managing director of WPP Marloes Krijnen, politely pointed out that they too had written me a letter, still on its way, which was dated prior to my letter, and hence had not been written in response to my tirade. They had just asked me to be a member of the international jury. My letter had also mentioned that I considered WPP to be a very important contest despite its shortcomings, and should the opportunity arise, I would be interested in hosting the show in Bangladesh . This led to the second part of the conversation. While the exhibition is generally booked way in advance, there had been a cancellation, and should we want it, the show could be made available in three weeks.

Having recovered from the initial excitement of being asked to be on the jury of what is considered the pinnacle of press photography, I tried to compose myself and considered the options. I needed time, and asked Marloes whether she could call back in a couple of hours. The exhibition could only be shown in its entirety, and we had faced considerable problems with our own exhibitions. The major galleries were either state-owned or belonged to foreign cultural centres not prepared to question the government, or be controversial in any way. Our work had always been critical of the government and the elite, the donor community, the patriarchal system and of the self appointed protectors of religious and family values. We didn’t know of a single gallery that would guarantee that no censorship would take place, except for our own gallery. There was just one small problem. Our gallery hadn’t yet been built. We had drawn up the architectural plans for it though, and part of the superstructure was in place, but still no gallery. I was stalling.

Rafique Azam was then not the superstar that he is now. This was his first project, and we had wanted to give these young architects a free hand to interpret our ideas. I rang him up and asked him if he could build us a gallery in seventeen days! Rafique didn’t react as badly as one might have expected. He knew I was crazy enough to have meant it and having told me how ridiculous the idea was, settled down and gave me a list of all the things he would need to make it happen. He needed to work round the clock, a fair bit of money, some of it the following morning, and full freedom. There could be no slip ups in the supply chain. It was going to be a race to the finish as it was.

Osman Chowdhury was a client, but it was as a friend that I rang him up. There was no way he could organise the sort of money we needed at such short notice from his company, but he was able to promise a sum that we could get started with. And he could provide it the next morning.

Marloes rang as she had promised, and I said we would be happy to host the exhibition, in our own gallery. There the polite conversation ended. But that was also the beginning of a wonderful relationship between our two organisations, World Press Photo and Drik. A relationship that has blossomed over the years.

It didn’t take long for the news to spread. Mr. Gajentaan, the Dutch ambassador was a friend who had a strong interest in the arts, and had arranged photo exhibitions in his home in the past. Excitedly he rang me and wanted to come straight over. WPP coming to Bangladesh was big news, and he wanted to be part of the action. He was calm enough when we told him about our plans to have it in three weeks and in our own gallery. It was when we told him he was standing inside the gallery that he flipped. There was no gallery. ?Do you realise this is the most prestigious photo exhibition in the world?? he asked. Yes, we knew. And we would have a good show. A much shaken ambassador went back to Gulshan. To be fair, he didn’t call World Press to tell them that the gallery was only being built.

There was more to the story. It was 1993 and the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party were fighting each other in the streets, locked in a bitter battle for power. This we felt, could be a chance to unite these warring factions. We knew there was no chance of getting the two leaders of the parties at the same table, but the deputy leader of the BNP was Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury, a student of my father, and we could probably approach Abdus Samad Azad through a personal friend Kaiser Chowdhury who was then the chief whip of the Awami League. Having been so critical of World Press Photo in my letter to them a week earlier, I was now extolling its virtues to two of the most powerful politicians in the country. Kaiser and my mum did the original groundwork, and I put in a good pitch about how this would demonstrate to the nation that they were forward looking political parties, and how much media coverage the event would have. It worked, and they agreed to jointly open the show. Now I had another tool to play with. While local media didn’t really know much about World Press, the fact that these two sworn enemies were going to open a show together was big news, and we managed to get the media excited. Mahfuz Anam of The Daily Star, the biggest English daily, agreed to do a whole media campaign around the event, and the bits were beginning to fall into place. At the packed press conference on the veranda of my parents’ home (Drik rents the upper floors), we were stalling for time, to let the paint dry in the gallery upstairs!

?rp?d Gerecsey the curator (who later went on to become managing director of WPP) and Bart Nieuwenhuijs, the board member who had come to setup the show, huddled with my colleagues and spoke in agitated whispers. Who was going to bell the cat? Eventually it was Bart who came up to me. They wanted to put in nails on the freshly painted walls! We did put in those nails, and the show was a spectacular success. The two deputy leaders cut the ribbon together, and confessed that they enjoyed sharing a cup of coffee, despite their political differences. The media went gaga. WPP and Drik had together pulled it off.

Since then, the two organisations have continued to work together at many levels. An impromptu seminar for press photographers followed. We arranged for the show to go to Kathmandu and Kolkata. Rabeya Sarkar Rima of the Out of Focus group became the first Asian child jury member. I remember telling Marc Proust when he came to curate yet another WPP exhibition in our gallery, that Nurul Islam, the young man who sold us flowers in Monipuri Para, had also been a former child jury member. We had the WPP retrospective exhibition at the National Museum at the first Chobi Mela, the festival of photography that we launched.

We collaborated on many other things. We started nominating young Asian photographers for the Masterclass, and one year, two photographers from Pathshala, our school of photography, GMB Akash from Bangladesh and Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi from Zimbabwe were amongst the twelve talented photographers in this international pool. Pathshala itself relied heavily on WPP for its existence. With no state or other external funding, it was always going to be difficult to setup and maintain a school of photography in our region. We utilised the first WPP seminar programme to launch the school, and the tutors and the workshops that WPP provided became important anchors for what has now become a degree programme. WPP even provided a grant which was a big help in those early days. Since then we have collaborated on training Asian and African photographers in regional programmes organised in Jakarta and Kenya , and been involved in longer term educational projects in Sri Lanka and Tanzania . I myself worked in the jury another three times, once as chair, and I have spoken at several WPP events.

Interestingly, it was the very issues I had raised in that original letter which the two organisations have worked together to try and solve, and both WPP and Drik are very different organisations today.

It is to celebrate that friendship, on the 50th Anniversary of World Press Photo, that we put together this calendar. The images are by the majority world participants of WPP seminars and their tutors, some of the finest photographers around. It is a protest against the continued use of exclusively white western male photographers to document the majority world that developmental agencies and western media have made their standard practice. It is a direct answer to the superior race argument that they continue to use to justify their actions and to dismiss our work when they say ?they don’t have the eye?.

Shahidul Alam

I Will Not

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Today on Earth Day we are celebrating by making promises

But I will not
I will not stop throwing paper on the ground.
I will not stop using plastic bags
I will not go to clean the beaches

I will not stop polluting

I will not do all these things because I am not polluting the world

It is the grown-ups who are dropping bombs

It is the grown-ups who have to stop
One bomb destroys more than all the paper & plastic that I can throw in all my life
It is the grown-ups who should get together and talk to each other

They should solve problems and stop fighting and stop wars

They are making acid rain and a hole in the ozone layer

I will not listen to the grown-ups!

[Student of class five of Karachi High School on Earth Day 1991].

It was in the wee hours of the morning. Propped up in our beanbags Nuzhat and I chatted while Zaheer and Ragni clicked away on their keyboards. I was in Karachi doing a story on Abdul Sattar Edhi, the philanthropist I admired greatly. Nuzhat and I had a lot of catching up to do, and our stories wandered in unplanned directions. We talked of when she and Nafisa Hoodbhoy had started the Peace Committee in Karachi and as she remembered this story her bright eyes welled up. Nuzhat was not the sort of person one could imagine being angry. But as she recalled the words of this little boy, she shook with emotion.

It was a week after they had heard the news of the US dropping a bomb every two minutes on Iraq. They had talked in school of how the world was being destroyed, of how the minds of people were being moulded, of how Pakistanis were looked upon at airports, but how the work of Edhi went unreported. She recalled how at the end of her talk, the chief guest, a woman known for her good work, went up to the boy and quietly told him off. How the prizes went to the other kids who had made presentations that no one could remember.

What can we say to the blind & deaf?
What does education & learning mean?

What should we teach & why do we teach it?

These were questions Nuzhat asked that night. Questions we continue to ask.

As we put together the work for this festival, I have marvelled at the range of statements the artists have made to address ?resistance?. At their modes of expression. At their defiance. To resist, to challenge, to question, to go against the grain, to deliberately choose the untrodden path is a conscious decision. It is a risky route fraught with danger, but a route we must follow, if change is to come.

The festival itself continues to buck the trend. Open air marquees without gates or walls bring rarely seen work to a wider public. Billboards on cycle rickshaws take exhibitions to city spaces that have never known gallery walls. Combining innovative low cost solutions with state of the art technology, video conferences link the virtual with the real, while canvas prints on giant scaffolding scorn the air conditioned confines of exclusive openings. Hand tinted prints rub shoulders with pica droplets on digital media. Fine art, conceptual work, installations, traditional photojournalism, coexist in a strange mix, oblivious to attempts to categorise and label. The future, the present and the past huddle, sometimes uncomfortably, to produce a kaleidoscope of images and woven messages, that question, reflect and celebrate aspects of our existence.

When globalisation has become a euphemism for westernisation, it is this dissolution of borders, this resistance to consumerism, this dream of a world where the might of a few, can be effectively challenged, this belief that tanks and stealth aircraft, and media spin will not subdue an indomitable spirit, that characterises this festival. It is this attempt to subvert, through blogs and handbills and word of mouth, the propaganda machineries that dominate the airwaves, that the artists have taken as their inspiration. The festival is a call to resist, and a declaration of the resistance to come.

Shahidul Alam

5th December 2004