On the ?uncertified? Pathshala

At a time when our entire education system is in crisis, the quality of education is in question and the values that student?s inculcate is a source of fear.?A student of?Pathshala South Asian Media Institute,?in response to questions about the validity of the very certificate he has obtained, talks passionately about the institution?s pedagogic model and how he has been transformed by it.

by Mahtab Nafis?

Mahtab Nafis
Mahtab Nafis

A letter to whom it may concern
BEFORE joining Pathshala, I had studied in nine schools and one university (all certified) in this country. But never before had I found an environment similar to the one at Pathshala. South Asian Media Institute, founded by Shahidul Alam. Forget about competing, none of them are even light years close.
From a very early age I had sincere doubts and disagreements with the ?socially accepted? and ?certified? educational systems. For, all I had seen was a bunch of sheep-like people following a curriculum given by a governing body or authority without assessing, questioning or having an opinion on the teaching method or the materials. It seemed that people blindly followed the dictum ?this is how things are?, an attitude which I could never accept. Everywhere, I saw teachers give students instructions or orders to follow a rigid structure, to memorise, to cover the syllabus. Even those studying in a creative field had teachers who would promote and indoctrinate a particular pattern of thinking or school of thought. This basically means that you are thinking other people?s thoughts and are being conditioned in someone else?s mental shadow. Continue reading “On the ?uncertified? Pathshala”

Didi. The Street Fighter

MAHASWETA DEVI (JANUARY 14, 1926 -?JULY 28, 2016), WRITER AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue "Nature's Fury" by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue “Nature’s Fury” by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Protocol wasn?t Didi?s thing.?Shoitan! (Satan) she would say lovingly. And then grab you and plonk you on her lap. The fact that both Rahnuma and I were far too old, and I was certainly much too heavy, to be sitting on anyone?s lap wasn?t something she worried much about. She didn?t care much for people?s age, and what other people thought, was something that had never bothered her. If you love someone, they sit on your lap. ?You have a problem with that??
Mahasweta Devi (Didi ? elder sister ? to all of us) had been a giant of a figure in South Asian literature for as far back as I can remember.?Jhansir Rani?(The Queen of Jhansi, 1956), Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1084, 1975) and?Aranyer Adhikar?(The Occupation of the Forest, 1977) her powerful novel about the Santal uprising were what we knew this celebrated writer and activist by. That she was a tease and loved to sing, and didn?t mind the odd practical joke, was a side to her that had remained private. What should have been apparent was the rebel in her; her uncompromising stand for the oppressed, and her clear position as to which side of the fence she belonged. Continue reading “Didi. The Street Fighter”

Runs in the Family

New findings about schizophrenia rekindle old questions about genes and identity.

In the winter of 2012, I travelled from New Delhi, where I grew up, to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish. He is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his firstborn nephew?the eldest brother?s son. Since 2004, Moni, now fifty-two, has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a ?lunatic home,? as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept awash in antipsychotics and sedatives, and an attendant watches, bathes, and feeds him through the day.

My father has never accepted Moni?s diagnosis. Over the years, he has waged a lonely campaign against the psychiatrists charged with his nephew?s care, hoping to convince them that their diagnosis was a colossal error, or that Moni?s broken psyche would somehow mend itself. He has visited the institution in Calcutta twice?once without warning, hoping to see a transformed Moni, living a secretly normal life behind the barred gates. But there was more than just avuncular love at stake for him in these visits. Moni is not the only member of the family with mental illness. Two of my father?s four brothers suffered from various unravellings of the mind. Madness has been among the Mukherjees for generations, and at least part of my father?s reluctance to accept Moni?s diagnosis lies in a grim suspicion that something of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself. Continue reading “Runs in the Family”

Photography in Bangladesh: a medium on the move

F?ted internationally, the country?s photographers have struggled for status at home. Could that be about to change?

Water reservoir is for the Komolapur Railway station. It?s the main station in Bangladesh. Dhaka.

From the series ?Railway Longings? (2011-2015) by Rasel Chowdhury

The eerie moonscape of Munem Wasif?s new photographic series, ?Land of Undefined Territory?, appears empty. On closer inspection, it reveals the scars of industrial activity, from vehicle tracks to stone crushing. The sense of menace and alienation is compounded by a three-channel video with a grating soundtrack.
These digital black-and-white shots were taken along an indefinite border between Bangladesh and India ? disputed land that is now home to unregulated mining but which also soaked up the blood of past upheavals, from the first, temporary partition of Bengal under the viceroy in 1905, to Partition in 1947 and the Liberation war of 1971. Ostensible documentary veers into questioning in Wasif?s deeply unsettling yet distanced probing of history, territory, ownership and exploitation. Continue reading “Photography in Bangladesh: a medium on the move”

Irfanul Islam: My quiet friend

Irfanul Islam
Irfanul Islam

The moon was low over the city lights at 4:30 in the morning in Mexico City. A dull orange thin sliver, it too was in mourning. I was heading to the airport, but had just heard the news. Rahnuma had been keeping me updated. Ever since Irfan?s disappearance, we had feared the worst, but hoped upon hope that this time it would be different. They had the money, why did they need him? The news hit very hard.
I had joined the Bangladesh Photographic Society in 1984. Irfan had been part of our small administrative team. After serving as secretary general and three terms as president, I left the BPS to start up the Drik agency. Irfan soon decided to follow me to Drik. He worked in the darkroom with Anisur Rahman. The giant prints we had made in those days of Bangabandhu, in that tiny darkroom, with improvised troughs and hand mixed chemicals, were the handiwork of these two fine technicians.
Quiet and somewhat reclusive, Irfan was also slightly self-conscious as he had a mild stammer. He was a photographer, though he was not employed as one at Drik. He still joined us on photo shoots. He made friends easily with his disarming smile, but was less comfortable with more public roles. Once we closed the wet darkroom at Drik, a lab technician was no longer needed. Given his interest in photography, we tried Irfan out at our school of photography, Pathshala, but it was Drik, where he felt at home, and while he was not normally the person to say no or be defiant, this was one instance where he put his foot down. He was not going to budge from Drik. We had to find a new role for him. Continue reading “Irfanul Islam: My quiet friend”

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”

Photographer Rasel Chowdhury Wins Bangladesh's Top Contemporary Art Award

Photographer Rasel Chowdhury Wins Bangladesh’s Top Contemporary Art Award

?artnet News

Rasel Chowdhury. Photo: Sarker Protick

Documentary photographer?Rasel Chowdhury beat out 300 other applicants to win this year’s?Samdani Art Award. The winner was announced today?at the Dhaka Art Summit,?which is curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt.?It is the largest showcase of South Asian contemporary art in the world.
Bangladesh’s premier art prize is awarded bi-annually to emerging artists between the ages of 22-40 living and working in the country. Chowdhury, who is a contract photographer for the New York Times and Getty,?will enjoy an?all-expenses paid three-month residency at the Delfina Foundation in London in order to work on his craft. Continue reading “Photographer Rasel Chowdhury Wins Bangladesh's Top Contemporary Art Award”

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”

Muslin show goes ahead

As things happen in this wonderful country of ours. Problems come up and solutions emerge. Everything is now under control. We are working flat out and a fabulous show is on offer!
Just held the first copy of the book ‘Muslin, Our Story’ in my hand and the book looks absolutely fabulous! We only have a few copies for the opening, but the rest are arriving by ship. Book your copies now. They are selling like hot cakes. Boy do we have a show on our hands!

Just saw the first proof copy of the book 'Muslin Our Story' and it looks stunning!
Just saw the first proof copy of the book ‘Muslin Our Story’ and it looks stunning!