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”
All your armies, all your fighters,
All your tanks, and all your soldiers,
Against a boy holding a stone.
Standing there all alone,
In his eyes I see the sun.
In his smile I see the moon.
And I wonder, I only wonder.
Who is weak, and who is strong?
Who is right, and who is wrong?
And I wish, I only wish,
That the truth has a tongue!
Absolutely stunning: Jess Worth. New Internationalist Magazine (Oxford)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Editor?s note, 28 June 2013: This article was written by Arjan El Fassed in 2001 in the satirical style then being employed by Thomas Friedman, of writing mock letters from one world leader to another. Although it carries El Fassed?s byline, it has been repeatedly mistaken for an actual letter from Mandela. It is not. It is a piece of satire and has never been presented by?EI?as anything other than satire. El Fassed has written?this history of the piece and how it subsequently was mistaken for a real letter, on his personal blog.
Memo to: Thomas L. Friedman (columnist New York Times)
From: Nelson Mandela (former President South?Africa)
I know that you and I long for peace in the Middle East, but before you continue to talk about necessary conditions from an Israeli perspective, you need to know what?s on my mind. Where to begin? How about 1964. Let me quote my own words during my trial. They are true today as they were?then:
?I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to?die.?
Thousands gathered shortly before afternoon prayers on Sunday in Fawwar refugee camp south of the occupied West Bank city of?Hebron?to mourn the death of eleven-year-old Khalil Muhammad al-Anati.
Israeli soldiers shot Khalil with live ammunition outside his home that same morning on 10 August after forces invaded the camp. He was buried not far from his home that afternoon by thousands of friends, family and neighbors.
Irish Senator David Norris said that entire families had been ?obliterated? and called for immediate lifting of the embargo on Gaza. And, calling for Ambassador Modai to be expelled, observed: “He has his fingers in his ears all the time, and he just repeats slogans from Jerusalem.”
Posted August 04, 2014 Please share widely
JULY 19, 2014 NICHOLAS ROBSON
A Facebook friend shared the following remarkable poem by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, who is a co-founder of the Institute for Middle East Understanding based in Seattle. It catches the nightmarish absurdity of the latest invasion of Gaza.
They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
?This is David.?
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think ?Do I know any Davids in Gaza??
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn?t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
We aren?t trying to kill you.
It doesn?t matter that
you can?t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren?t in your house
that there?s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn?t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
It doesn?t matter
that 58 seconds isn?t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son?s favorite blanket
or your daughter?s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn?t matter what you had planned.
It doesn?t matter who you are
Prove you?re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.