Live Webstream: Bangla New Year


Students of fine arts Institute of Dhaka University making and painting on mask to be celebrating up coming Pohela Boishakh, the first day of Bengali New Year. Dhaka, Bangladesh. April 12, 2010. ? A M Ahad/DrikNews

The Bangla New Year celebrations for the year 1417 by Chhayanut will be broadcast live through Drik ICT from the following sites.
The broadcast from Ramna Botomool in Dhaka is being done jointly by Drik ICT, Telnet Communications and Channel-i and will be available live from 06:15 am (Dhaka time) on the 14th April 2010.
Related Links:
Boishakh for Poonam
Happy’s New Year

Representing ?Crossfire?: politics, art and photography


Shahidul Alam in an interview with New Age

by Rahnuma Ahmed

Media reports on “Crossfire” exhibition
Latest report in Indepndent
Shahidul Alam?s exhibition, ?Crossfire? (a euphemism for extrajudicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion), was scheduled to open on March 22, at Drik Gallery, Dhaka. A police lockup of Drik?s premises before the opening prevented noted Indian writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi from entering, forcing her to declare the opening on the street outside Drik. The police blockage was removed soon after Drik?s lawyers served legal notice and the lawyers had moved the Court, and after Government lawyers i.e., the Attorney Generals office, had contacted the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner?s office, and the Home Ministry, during the hearing?on the government. The court commented that even after repeated rules had been issued on the government, crossfire had continued to occur. The court?s response and subsequent events enabled Drik to open the exhibition for public viewing on March 31.

Shahidul Alam in front of a collage, part of his Crossfire exhibition. Cartoon in the background of Home Minister Sahara Khatun, ?No crossfire killing taken place?. ? Wahid Adnan/DrikNEWS

You work in the documentary genre, this work is show-cased as being symbolic, interpretive. Does this mean a change in genres?
I find these categorisations problematic. I see myself as a storyteller. There?s fiction and non-fiction. This is clearly non-fiction, though it draws upon many of the techniques that fiction would use. The allegorical approach was deliberately chosen as I felt it had, in this instance, greater interpretive potential than the literal approach. Quite apart from the fact that one could hardly expect RAB to allow photographers to document their killing (they do sometimes have TV crews accompanying them on ?missions? but they are never allowed to be there during ?crossfire?), I felt that showing bodies, blood and weapons would not add to the understanding people already had. We are not dealing with lack of knowledge. ?Crossfire? is known and, in fact, it is because it is known that the exhibition is seen as such a threat. So, while reinforcing the known with images would have a value, it would be unlikely to be as provocative as these more subtle but haunting images are likely to be.
I wanted the images to linger in people?s minds, perhaps to haunt them. They are desolate images, quiet but suggestive. The attempt is not one of inundating the audience with information, but leaving them to meditate upon the silence of the dead.
Crossfire deaths continue despite regime changes. How do you view this?
Criminals have survived because of patronage of the powerful. The removal of criminals, through ?crossfire?, does not affect the system of control, but merely substitutes existing criminals for new ones. This is why crimes continue unabated under RAB. All it does is to undermine the legal system. Unless serious attempts are made to remove such patronage and, better still, catch the godfathers, the extermination of thugs and local-level criminals (and many innocent people are also killed) will have no effect on crime. The ruling elite knows this. So why use RAB at all? I believe it is to keep control. Dead criminals don?t speak. Don?t give secrets away. Don?t take a share of the spoils. They are disposable, and RAB is the disposal system.
Every government has used RAB and other law enforcement authorities to remove troublemakers. Bangla Bhai had become a liability when he was apprehended. He didn?t die in crossfire, but was hurriedly hanged all the same despite the fact that he wanted to talk to the media as he had ?stories to tell?. Dead people don?t tell stories. So, all governments would rather have RAB, to clean up their mess, than be confronted by their own shadows.
A change of government does not change this structure.
The inclusion of the Google map has turned this exhibition into a collective, history-writing project. Why that added dimension?
Art projects are generally about the glorification of the artist. The audience is generally a passive recipient. I see this as a public project. I have a role to play as a storyteller, but my work is informed by not only the collective work of my co-researchers, but also that of human rights groups, other activists, and most importantly by the lives, or deaths, of the people whose stories are being told. The survivors, the witnesses and others affected by these deaths are important players in this story and it was essential to find a way to make this project inclusive. I would be kidding myself if I assumed this show would put an end to extrajudicial killings. I also believe there are still many unreported cases.
The Google map has the twin benefits of being interactive and open. We have already been told of one person who had been crossfired but his name hadn?t come up in the archival research.
The internet will also allow a much wider participation than might otherwise have been possible.
Besides the Awami League?s electoral pledge of stopping extrajudicial killings, it had also promised us a ?digital Bangladesh?. I think it is appropriate that this digital Bangladesh be claimed by the people.
What is the significance of research?in the sense of dates, names, places, events?for this project, and for the exhibition?
The assumed veracity of the photographic image is an important source of the strength of this exhibition. We have deliberately moved away from the mechanical aspect of recording events through images, but supplemented it by relating the image to verifiable facts. Meticulous research has gone into not only providing the context for the photographs, which has been included in the Google map, but each image, in some way, refers to a visual inspired by a case study. By deliberately retaining some ambiguity about the ?facts? surrounding the image, we invite the viewer to delve deeper into the image to discover the physical basis of the analogy, and to reflect upon the image. The photographs therefore become a portal through which the viewer can enter the story, rather than the story in itself. Yet, each image, relates to a finite, physical instance, that becomes a reference point for a life that was brutally taken away.
Your exhibition is political, with a capital ?P?. Why is political engagement generally not seen in the work of Bangladeshi artists?
Art cannot be dissociated from life, and life is distinctly political. To paraphrase the renowned Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, the price of tomato is political. However, life is also nuanced and multi-layered. Our art practice needs to be critically engaged at all levels. While the war of liberation is understandably a source of inspiration for many artists, there are many other wars of contemporary life that seem to slip from the artist?s canvas. Most artists, with some exceptions of course, claim they produce art merely for themselves. I don?t believe them. Of course there is great joy in producing art that pleases oneself. But I believe art is the medium and not the message, and all artists, I suspect, want their art to have an effect.
I know it is pass? in some quarters to be producing art that is political. Being apolitical is a political stance too. While I can understand schools of thought that have rebelled against the traditional trappings of art, I do not see the point of producing art that is not meaningful. Strong art is capable of engaging with people. It is that engagement that I seek. My art is merely a tool towards that engagement.
I understand what you mean. A lot of the artwork that?s being produced in Bangladesh stems from commercial interests. Producing formulaic work that sells is the job of a technician and not an artist. Sure, an artist needs to survive and we all produce work which we hope might sell, but once that becomes the sole purpose of producing art, one is probably not an artist in the first place.
There is a strong adherence in Bangladesh to an antiquated form of pictorialism. This applies both to representational and abstract art. Ideas seem to take back stage. While I?m wary of pseudo intellectualisation of art, I must admit that the cerebral aspects of art excite me. The politicisation is an extension of that process.
Books on crossfire have been published, roundtable discussions have been held. Why did the government react as it did, do you think it says something about the power of photography?
The association of photographs with real events makes the photographer a primary witness, and thereby the photograph becomes documentary evidence. This makes photography both powerful and dangerous. Way back in 1909, much before Photoshop came into play, Lewis Hine had said ?While photographs may not lie, liars may photograph.?
Today, liars who run corporations and rule powerful nations, also have photography at their disposal. This very powerful tool is used and abused, and it is essential that we come to grips with this new language. Advertising agencies with huge budgets use photography to shape our minds about products we buy. Politicians and their campaigns are also products that we, as consumers, are encouraged to buy into. I see no restrictions on the lies we are fed every day through advertising or political propaganda. It is when the public has access to the same tools, and in particular when they use it to expose injustice that photography becomes a problem. These seemingly ?innocent? photographs become charged with meaning as soon as we learn to read their underlying meaning. This makes them dangerous.
Perhaps this is also why photographic education has been systematically excluded from our education system. A tool for public emancipation will never be welcomed by an oppressive regime. And we will have oppressive regimes for a while to come.
?Crossfire? was curated by an international curator, and you yourself have curated exhibitions abroad. Do you think international curators are more likely to engage with work such as ?Crossfire? on the basis of aesthetic considerations rather than lived, political ones, since s/he will ?be less knowledgeable about its history, meanings, metaphors, how the government has manufactured popular consent, resistance, etc. For instance, and you mention it in the brochure: John Pilger, the well-known journalist, had written when Barrister Moudood Ahmed had been arrested during the Fakhruddin-Moeenudin regime, he?s ?a decent, brave man.? And of course, it?s quite possible that Pilger didn?t know that the Barrister saheb, as law minister, was one of the political architects of RAB.
Ah yes, Pilger bungled that one. I think artistic collaborations create new possibilities. Our art practice is so often informed by western sensibilities that we at Drik deliberately explore southern interactions. The discussions between Kunda Dixit of Nepal and Marcelo Brodsky of Argentina in Chobi Mela V (our festival of photography) pointed to the remarkable similarity between the political movements in Peru and in South Asia. This made the inclusion of a Peruvian curator even more interesting, and Jorge Villacorte is a respected Latin American curator and art critic. Several other recognised international curators, from Lebanon, Tangiers and Italy had seen the show. I was somewhat surprised that while they introduced interesting ideas about curatorial and art practice and were hugely appreciative of the aesthetic and performative elements of the work, not one of them ever asked me about the impact it might have upon crossfire itself. Though it would be arrogant to suggest that this show would put an end to that.
As someone deeply in love with my country (I find words like patriotic and nationalistic problematic), my primary concern is the welfare of my community. If my work can contribute to improving the lives of my people, I will have been successful, regardless of how my art is perceived by critics. If the work is perceived as great art, but fails in its ultimate goal of furthering the cause of social justice, then I will have failed.
That said, the exhibition was only a small part of the larger movement for democracy. The activism surrounding the show, the legal action, the media mobilisation, and the spontaneous popular actions were all part of the process. The international curator had an important role to play, but only as a point of departure. We have since had students critiquing the curatorial process, where they have brought in elements relating to their political practice and social concerns. The debate resulting from the work is more important than the work itself. But it is the power of art, and particularly photography that makes such actions so vital.
There is an interesting sub-text to this exercise. The dinosaurs of Bangladeshi art have been incapable of recognising photography as an art form. Photographers are still not invited to participate in the Asian Biennale (though foreign photographers have even won the grand prize in the event). There is still no department of photography in either Shilapakala Academy (the academy of fine and performing arts) or Charukala Institute (the institute of fine arts). These are 19th-century institutions operating in the 21st century. It is interesting however, that while Charukala Institute refused to show my work in 1989, because it was a photographic, and not a painting, exhibition, it was the students of Charukala Institute who organised the first public protests when the police came and blockaged our gallery to prevent the opening of the Crossfire exhibition. It is reassuring that the students at least can raise their heads and look above the sand.
Drik under Crossfire (Independent)
Posted in New Age on 8th April 2010
Media reports on “Crossfire” exhibition

Drik: Photo power


By Satish Sharma

The shutting-down of two photographic exhibitions in Dhaka?s Drik Gallery in just the last few months proves that Bangladesh?s censors, unlike lightning, can strike at the same place more than once ? especially where Drik?s photographic practices are concerned. But then, Drik seems to have become a lightning rod inviting censure, and this will not be the last time either. Not if I know Shahidul Alam and his commitment to pushing photography in what he calls ?the majority world?. If actually being knifed has not stopped him, nothing will.
The British Council in Dhaka had once tried to shut down a Drik exhibition by Roshini Kampadoo because it ?hurt the image of Britain?. And in November last year it was the turn of the Chinese embassy in Dhaka that wanted an exhibition on Tibet, also in Drik, to be closed. When a personal visit by the Chinese Cultural Counsellor and his cultural attach? bearing gifts (calendar, a silk tie and tea) didn?t work, they invoked worsening diplomatic relations and brought to bear the weight of the Bangladeshi government, Special Branch police and even parliamentarians. But Alam didn?t buckle, instead inaugurating the exhibition in the street after the gallery was locked up by the police. He shut it down the next day, however, as a protest against the interference.
Alam?s new exhibition and installation, ?Crossfire?, should have been safer from threats of closure. It was not photojournalistic documentary or even an Americanised ?documentary style?. It showed no dead or disappeared people. Much more conceptual, it allegorically invoked the disappeared through subtler and quieter means. But because it dealt with ?crossfire? deaths by specially raised Rapid Action Battalions (in India, one would call these ?encounter deaths?), it drew fire ? and closure, and protests against the closure.

The ever defiant Mahashweta Devi, confronts Shah Aalm, the officer in charge of Dhanmondi Thaka, outside the Drik entrance. ? Taslima Akhter

Armed police barricaded the gates of Drik Gallery to prevent the exhibition Crossfire, organisers opened the exhibition on the streets outside of the Drik Gallery.?March 22, 2010. ??Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

There is something about photography that invites censorship. The power of the photographic image simply has to be controlled, it seems ? one way or another. If ideas of aesthetics, beauty and spiritual values don?t work, governments pass and use anti-terror laws. And internationally applicable anti-terror laws, with the attendant globalised cultural control, are now beginning to have a universal presence, reach and influence.
Shahidul Alam steals a kiss from Mahasweta Devi after the roadside opening of Alam's Crossfire exhibit. CNN reporter Ric Wasserman and New Age Editor Nurul Kabir, look on. ???Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

Shahidul Alam speaks at roadside opening of "Crossfire" exhibition outside Drik Gallery. Guest speakers Mahasweta Devi (centre) and Nurul Kabir (right) were also present. ??Taslima Akhter

The symbolic opening of "Crossfire" was through Mahasweta Devi unlocking handcuffs on Shahidul Alam's hands, to cries of "To the end of crossfire" from the crowds. ??Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

Any critical photography is subtly suppressed by evoking ideas of photography as a ?fine art?, and by inducing self-censorship before it is more pointedly and politically policed through action by the state?s security services. Self-censorship, I believe, was at the heart of the lack of any decent coverage, by Indian photographers, of the Emergency and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
The desire to control the photographic message is, however, universal. And that desire is as old as the medium itself. From colonial control of the photography during the 19th century to anti-terror laws in the era of the global ?war on terror? to control the photographic images of the 21st century, little seems to have changed. The power of photography to control and manipulate perception of the world?s raw realities is too important to be left unchallenged. It is noteworthy that these do not even have to be powers from one?s own country. Perception management is a global political strategy with a global reach; it is globally practiced.
Alam managed to evade police and sneaked inside Drik Gallery to join a video conference with Jean Francois Julliard, secretary general of Reporters sans fronti?res (RSF) in Paris. ??Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

Enraged students from Charukola, the Fine Arts Institute in Dhaka University formed a human chain to protest to forced closure of Drik gallery. March 23, 2010. ??Amdadul Huq/DrikNews/Majority World

Human chain by students of Charukala. March 23, 2010. ??Amdadul Huq/DrikNews/Majority World

"Closing down Drik Gallery is the same as banning painting" says poster at human chain outside Charukala. March 23, 2010. ??Amdadul Huq/DrikNews/Majority World

In February, Uzbekistan convicted a photographer for ?slandering the Nation?. Umida Akhmeddova had been documenting the daily struggles of ordinary people, and was accused of ?portraying the people as backward and poor?. Her ?photo album [did] not conform to aesthetic demands? and ?would damage Uzbekistan?s spiritual values?, said the expert panel appointed to look at her work.
The Abu Ghraib photos were not shot by professional photojournalists, yet special laws were passed by the US Congress to prevent their dissemination. Most of the pictures and video footage still remain out of reach ? legally secured, not only by the special acts of the US Congress, but also through the raising of issues such as the right to privacy of the ?victims? and their oppressors, and by wives of the soldier-photographers who raised issues of personal copyright to prevent these photographs from being seen more widely.
Anti-terrorism laws are also being used to prevent photography in Britain?s streets. Photographing the most well-known monuments has become suspect, with even professional press photographers being harassed by local police. Street photography, we have to remember, has a long and proud tradition, and the streets have a central space in the practice of urban photography. Even photography as a safely sanitised art form, a documentary style, is not a safe practice. But then, safety is not what should drive photography. It needs to recover and secure its critical spaces ? its critical power.
Satish Sharma is a photographer, critic and occasional curator. He was a former tutor at Pathshala and currently lives in Kathmandu.
The article was published in Himal Southasian
Related links:
Sri Lanka Guardian
Earlier post on Crossfire

Siege of Drik Gallery


New Age Editorial

THE siege, so to speak, of the Drik Gallery by the police on Monday, to force cancellation of a photo exhibition on extrajudicial killings by acclaimed photographer and Drik managing director Shahidul Alam, not only undermined the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution of the republic but also put the entire nation to shame. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, the police, along with the Rapid Action Battalion and the Special Branch of police, had, from midday onwards, put pressure on the Drik management to not hold the exhibition on the ground that it did not have official permission and that it might cause ?unrest in the country?, before they cordoned off the gallery half an hour before the inauguration of the show. Subsequently, the organisers were forced to hold an impromptu inaugural ceremony on the road in front of the gallery.
The reasons cited by the police appear somewhat dodgy. As Shahidul Alam pointed out, Drik has been ?arranging shows since 1993 and no permission has ever been required.? Other galleries in the capital and elsewhere in the country would certainly make the same observations. In other words, even if there is a provision in the Dhaka Metropolitan Police ordinance that makes obtaining permission for an exhibition mandatory, neither the organisers of such exhibitions have deemed it necessary to comply with it, nor have the police themselves shown any urgency with regard to its enforcement. The question then is why the police deemed it invoke a provision that is seldom enforced. The answer may be found in the remark of an assistant commissioner of police quoted in the New Age report. ?The organisers did not obtain official permission although exhibitions on sensitive issues require prior permission,? he said.
Indeed, the issue that the Drik exhibition deals with, i.e. extrajudicial killings, is sensitive. It is, perhaps, more sensitive for the police and the Rapid Action Battalion because they are the prime perpetrators of such killings. It is, perhaps, equally sensitive for the government since it has not only failed to rein in the trigger-happy law enforcers despite widespread criticism and condemnation, at home and abroad, of extrajudicial killings and, most importantly, embargo by the highest judiciary but also appeared, of late, to be trying to justify such blatant violation of the rule of law by the supposed protectors of law. It is unlikely that the police acted on Monday beyond the knowledge of the government, which could only indicate that the incumbents may be even willing to foil any attempt at creating public awareness of, and thus mobilising public opinion against, extrajudicial killings, which is what the Drik photo exhibition appears to be. It is ironic that the ruling Awami League promised, in its election manifesto, to put an end to extrajudicial killings.
As indicated before, the police action not only was in contravention with the constitution but also put the entire nation to shame. The inauguration of the exhibition was scheduled to be followed by the launch of the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, and the guest of honour was none other than celebrated Indian writer and human rights activist Mahashweta Devi. There were also celebrated personalities from some other countries. In other words, the police enacted the shameful episode in front of such an august gathering tarnishing, in the process, the image of the nation as a whole.
While we condemn the police action, we demand that the government order immediate withdrawal of the police cordon around the Drik Gallery and thus allow the exhibition to continue unhindered. It is the least that the government should do.

DAILY STAR Editorial

Police action against Drik exhibition:It undercuts people’s political and cultural rights
THE police action, stopping the Drik gallery exhibition of images relating to the incidents of ‘crossfire’ in Bangladesh, is a case of oppression and curtailment of our fundamental rights of freedom of expression, speech, information and cultural expression. On Monday, just before the exhibition was to be inaugurated by eminent Indian intellectual Mahasweta Devi, policemen positioned themselves before the gallery in Dhanmondi and simply refused to let anyone enter or come out of its premises. By way of explanation, they told the media that Drik gallery did not have permission to organise the exhibition.
The question of permission is totally uncalled for. There are hundreds of photo exhibitions and other such functions of public viewing happening everyday in the capital city. Did their organisers have to seek permission in each case to be holding these? Drik itself has been organising such events since 1993. Never was any permission required or sought or demanded by any agency. Exhibitions such as these have educative, informational and instructive values. Free flow of ideas helps enrich intellectual wealth of the country, broadens its outlook and enhances the level of tolerance in a society of contrary or dissenting views. There may be a debate on an issue but it doesn’t mean people on one side of an issue need not hear or refuse to see the other’s point of view.
This is exactly the level of maturity we crave for and have actually reached in certain areas of national life which must not be allowed to be undone through any ham-handed act of indiscretion. If the police become the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong for our society, then God help us.
Let certain facts be made clear. Democracy entails a guarantee and preservation of the political and cultural rights of citizens. In such a setting, the sensitivities of certain individuals or groups or bodies cannot override the bigger demands of an open, liberal society which the present government espouses as policy. Now, if the police or any other agency is upset at a revelation of the sordid truth that ‘crossfires’ have been, they should be making sure that such extra-judicial killings do not recur. The fault lies not with Drik gallery that it organised the exhibition. It lies in the inability or reluctance of the authorities to dig into the question of why ‘crossfire’ killings are today a reprehensible affair. Besides, why must the authorities forget that by preventing what they think is adverse publicity for the country they are only making it more pronounced before the nation and the outside world?
We condemn the police action. And we would like the home minister to explain to citizens how such acts that clearly militate against the people’s right to know and observe and interpret conditions can at all take place.

News in Netherlands

Widespread condemnation of closure of photo exhibition in Bangladesh (Power of Culture)

Prince Claus Fund partner closed down by police (Metropolis M)

News in UK

?Crossfire? censored ? the power of documentary photography (Prof. David Campbell)



23 March 2010
Bangladesh: Lift ban on extrajudicial killings exhibition. Amnesty International is urging the Bangladeshi authorities to lift a ban on an exhibition of photographs raising awareness about alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by a special police unit.
?Yesterday?s closure of the Drik Picture Library exhibition ?Crossfire? in Dhaka is a blow to the right to freedom of expression,? said Amnesty International?s Bangladesh Researcher, Abbas Faiz. ?The?government of Bangladesh must act immediately to lift the police ban and protect the right to peaceful expression in words, images or any other media in accordance with Bangladesh?s constitution and?international law.?
Hours before the ?Crossfire? exhibition was due to open at a special ceremony in Dhaka, police moved in and demanded that the organizers cancel it. When they refused to shut it down police closed the?premises, claiming that the exhibition had no official permission to open and would ?create anarchy?.
The exhibition includes photographs based on Drik?s case studies of killings in Bangladesh, which government officials have portrayed as deaths in ?crossfire?.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Bangladesh since 2004 when the special police force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was established.
In most cases, victims who die in the custody of RAB and other police personnel, are later announced to have been killed during ?crossfire? or police ?shoot-outs?.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations consider these killings to be extrajudicial executions.
Human rights lawyers in Bangladesh see the closure of the exhibition as unjustified and with no legal basis. They are seeking a court order to lift the police ban on the exhibition.
Drik?s Director, Shahidul Alam says he has held hundreds of other exhibitions without needing official permission, and that ?the government invoked a prohibitive clause only because state repression?was being exposed?.
Abbas Faiz said:?By closing the ?Crossfire? exhibition, the government of Bangladesh has effectively reinforced a culture of impunity for human rights violations. Amnesty International is calling for the?government to take action against those who carry out extrajudicial executions, not those who raise their voices against it.?
The ban is also inconsistent with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina?s pledges that her government would take action to end extrajudicial executions.
Amnesty International is urging authorities to allow peaceful protests against the killings and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
News in USA

Police in Bangladesh Close Photo Exhibit

By David Gonzalez

New York Times

Shahidul Alam had hoped his ?Crossfire? exhibit on extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh would ?shock people out of their comfort zone? and provoke a response.
He got his wish.
Minutes before the show was to open on Monday afternoon, the police shut down his gallery in the Dhanmondi district of Dhaka.
But instead of stifling public debate, the government?s action has had the opposite effect: art students have formed a human chain at the university and lawyers are preparing to bring legal action to reopen the show.
?It really has galvanized public opinion,? Mr. Alam said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from southern Bangladesh. ?People were angry and ready ? they just needed a catalyst. The exhibit has become in a sense iconic of the resistance.?
The photography exhibit was a symbolic treatment of the wave of executions carried out by the Rapid Action Battalion, an anticrime squad whose many critics say that it engages in violent social cleansing.
Rather than document actual killings ? something already done at great length by groups like Human Rights Watch ? Mr. Alam created a series of large, moody prints that touched on aspects of actual cases.
[Lens published a post and slide show, “Where Death Squads Struck in Bangladesh,” on March 16.]
Although the killings have drawn international condemnation, they have continued, despite promises by the government to rein in the battalion. Mr. Alam, a photographer, writer and activist, had hoped that his track record and international reputation would offer the ?Crossfire? show some protection.
But the police and officials from the battalion began to put pressure on him around midday, according to a press release from the gallery, insisting that the exhibit did not have the necessary official permission. As the 4 p.m. opening hour approached, the police closed the gallery, saying the show would create ?anarchy.?
With the gallery closed, Mr. Alam, his associates and invited guests put on an impromptu exhibit outside the gallery. The government?s intrusion ? without any apparent court order ? was denounced as illegal.
?The forcible closure of Drik?s premises is a blatant violation of our constitutional rights,? Mr. Alam said in a statement. ?We call upon the government to immediately remove the police encirclement, so that the exhibition can be opened for public viewing, and Bangladesh?s image as an independent democratic nation can be reinstated.?

Here Sleeps A Gentle Giant

He was clearly a peasant, and appeared to have travelled a long way to get to the photography museum. But unlike other visitors to the museum, he didn?t make his way to the exhibits or marvel at the splendour of the site. It was an officer he wanted, and finding his way through the labyrinthine corridors, he entered the office of the curator and took out his tattered prints.
Tea was brought in for the visitor along with the sugar cubes Iranians plop into their mouth, as they sip the liquid. The curator went through all the prints. Treating each with the gentle care only a lover of photography has for original prints. With a broad gentle smile, he beckoned the man to a more quiet room. They began to talk. They were now old friends.
It is this love for photography, this passion for the medium and the generosity of the man that has characterised Bahman Jalali. The show he had organized for me at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts, was done at a time when I was relatively unknown. I was surprised that a curator in Iran had searched out a photographer in Bangladesh, to judge their international contest, and to show work at one of their most prestigious venues.? The friendship and hospitality of Bahman and his photographer wife Rana, was the foundation for the love for Iran and its arts that has stayed with me.
After the tragic death of Kaveh Golestan, Bahman had been instrumental in the setting up of the Kaveh Golestan Awards. I was humbled at being asked to give away the prizes at the first award ceremony.? Again, it was Bahman, who had insisted that a photographer from Bangladesh, rather than a big western name be asked to be the chief guest at this important ceremony. Rahnuma had joined me on this trip. She rarely accompanies me on my trips abroad, but for Iran I didn?t have to do too much convincing. Once in Tehran, she soon found her own circle of friends. Bahman and Rana we shared. Later, when Shadi and Omid, came over to participate in Chobi Mela, Shadi became Ma?s adopted daughter.
My later trips involved meeting many other Iranians I was proud to consider my friends. The unpublished manuscripts Abbas Kiarostami showed me in his house, Ruchira and Sunil taking me to the gallery para of Tehran, the long chat and the exclusive view of ?sensitive work? by the ever provocative Parvaneh Etemadi at her studio, bumping into Isabelle Esraghi in a back street in Isfahan, meeting my old friend Satish Sharma at my talk in Tehran, were all moments to savour, but it was the long conversations with Bahman and Rana, where we shared dreams about photography and fiercely argued the merits of our favourite images, that has made Iran so special for me.
I had often wondered why Iran had given birth to so many great photographers. It was while Abbas was chairing Magnum, that I had taken two young photographers, Shehzad Noorani and Mahmud to visit the Magnum office in Paris. I remember the star struck youngsters soaking everything in, as Abbas walked them through the corridors that have heard the footsteps of so many of the greats of photography. Reza Deghati, had made three visits to Pathshala. We had featured his work in Chobi Mela, and felt proud at having featured him in one of Drik?s calendars. His brother Manoocher had also spoken to Pathshala students. A DrikNews photographer had the privilege of assisting him as a fixer. Being close to a great Ustad is still one of the finest ways to learn. My attempts to get Kiorastomi to Bangladesh had met snags with scheduling, but it was my failure to get Bahman to Chobi Mela that had vexed me the most. Before Dr. Hashemi of the Iranian Cultural Centre in Dhaka left, he had promised to arrange it via SABA, the Iranian Art Academy. It was to be a highlight of Chobi Mela VI.
Chris Rainier had just written about the new National Geographic Awards. I was to help him identify the ?Peter Magubanis of photography?, the few individuals who had been the mentors, the inspiration and the driving force in shaping the photography of today. National Geographic will miss this giant amongst giants. Chobi Mela will miss the celebrated artist. I have lost a dear friend. The man who brought in the prints to Bahman?s museum so many years ago, will miss an unusual man who made sharing a cup of tea with a peasant, in a big government office, seem as natural as light passing through a photographer?s lens.
Shahidul Alam
Taipei. 23rd January 2010

Iranian Photographer and Artist Bahman Jalali: 1944-2010

By?Syma Sayyah, Tehran

Bahman Jalali
Ustad Bahman Jalali was an internationally acclaimed photographer and renowned artist. ?He had a gentle manner that touched all of those that came to know him, he was good hearted, observant, a private and simple man, but an expert in his field.

He was liked and respected as a teacher and photographer by his colleagues, contemporaries and by his many students and without a doubt has influenced many young photographers deeply.? He was known as a war photographer and covered the Iranian Revolution, and published two books Khorramshahr and Days of Blood, Days of Fire.? He was also involved in making documentaries but he is mostly known for the time and devotion that he bestowed on his students and as a real good?ustad (teacher) to photographers, photojournalists and his students at the universities that he has taught for many years. He was easily the most popular professor as many students desperately wished to have him as their tutor.

He had collected a large collection of glass negatives from Golestan Palace, and published these in a very interesting book of his, ‘Visible Treasure’.? ?He was curator of Iran’s first photography museum and he exhibited internationally – currently he was participating in an?exhibition in Milwaukee.?? In 2007 he was honoured by the Fundacio AntoniTapies in Barcelona by a retrospective exhibition.
I worked with Bahman Jalali during the three years of the Kaveh Golestan Photojournalism Awards for which he was head of the jury as well as a member of the steering committee. ?I came to know his gentle yet interesting sense of humour during our many committee meetings and later during less formal dinners and time we all spent together along with our mutual good friend Mrs Golestan. ?I always found him calm and serene – he spoke his mind, never insisted but let the logic of his point reveal itself.

Bahman Jalali and Rana Javadi
With his wife, my good friend the photographer Rana Javadi, he lived in a beautiful house in the centre of Tehran where we all went to pay our respects this afternoon.? From what I saw today, the pain and sorrow of his students was overwhelming, one of them said to Rana, “I do not know if we are to express our condolences to you or you to us”? – this made everybody there watery eyed as this young man let out his emotion and cried his heart out along with all of us present.

Bahman had arrived back in Iran from Germany late last night, saying that he wanted to be under his own?lahaf (blanket). On Friday morning he did not feel well and so they went to the Tehran Clinic, where everything seemed under control until suddenly at about 3 in the afternoon, he kissed his wife’s hand and smiled and thanked her and a few minutes later left this world for the next, as calmly and quietly as he was famous for.

He will never be forgotten by all those who loved and respected him and I am sure that he will be looking after loved ones and his students from high above.
His funeral will take place on Sunday morning, 17th January, commencing at Artists Forum and he will be buried in the Artists plot at Beheshte Zahra.
Please join me sending his soul a prayer and we hope that his loved ones and Iranian photography will be able to bear this loss.? We are all surrounded by our memories of him.
May he rest in peace.

Where Three Dreams Cross

When Three Dreams Cross Banner

(Left to right: Abir Abdullah/Drik, Golam Kasem Daddy/Drik, Abdul Hamid Kotwal/Drik, Nasir Ali Mamun/Drik, Rashid Talukder/Drik, Mohammad Ali Salim/Drik)

150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

[ 21 January ? 11 April 2010 ]

The work of Bangladesh?s historic and contemporary photographers come together in a landmark exhibition which explores culture and modernity through the lens of photographers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Where Three Dreams Cross is a major survey of historic and contemporary photography from the subcontinent, with over 400 works by 82 artists, to be held at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, UK.
From the archives of Drik, legendary Bangladeshi photographers such as Golam Kasem Daddy, Sayeeda Khanom, Amanul Huq, Nasir Ali Mamun and Rashid Talukder will exhibit alongside their contemporary counterparts, including Abir Abdullah, Munem Wasif, Momena Jalil and Shumon Ahmed. Dr. Shahidul Alam, founder and director of Drik, will also be exhibiting and was one of the curators who brought the show together.
Images on show range from the earliest days of photography in 1860 to the present day. Seminal works from the most important collections of historic photography, including the renowned Alkazi Collection in Delhi, the Drik Archive in Dhaka, the Abhishek Poddar Collection in Bangalore, and the White Star Archive in Karachi join many previously unseen images from private family archives, galleries, individuals and works by leading contemporary artists.
Where Three Dreams Cross gives an inside view of photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.? It includes images from the first Indian-run photographic studios in the 19th century, social realism and reportage photography from the 1940s,
the documentation of key political moments, amateur photography from the 1960s, and street photography from the 1970s. Contemporary documentary-style photographs of everyday life present an economic and social critique, while the
recent digitalisation of photography accelerates crossovers with fashion, film and documentary.


  • ? For further press information or images please contact:

Jessica Lim at
Rachel Mapplebeck
Elizabeth Flanagan

  • ? Exhibition Details:

Opening times: Tuesday ? Sunday, 11am ? 6pm, Thursdays, 11am ? 9pm.
Tickets: ?8.50/?6.50 concs. Free to under 18s.
Whitechapel Gallery, 77 ? 82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX.

  • The exhibition tours to the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, 11 June ? 22 August 2010.
  • A full colour catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with a curator?s introduction and essays by Sabeena Gadihoke, Geeta Kapur and Christopher Pinney.
  • Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is supported by: Andy Warhol Foundation, Columbia Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
  • ? List of Participating Artists:

? Abir Abdullah, Bani Abidi, Syed Mohammad Adil, Ravi Agarwal, Shumon Ahmed, Aasim Akhtar, Shahidul Alam, Mohammad Arif Ali, Mohammad Amin, Kriti Arora, Abul Kalam Azad, Pablo Bartholomew, Farida Batool, Jyoti Bhatt, Babba Bhutta, Hasan Bozai, Sheba Chhachhi, Children of Sonagachi, Bijoy Chowdhury, works produced by CMAC, Iftikhar Dadi, Saibal Das, Prabuddha Dasgupta, Shahid Datawala, Lala Deen Dayal, Anita Dube, Gauri Gill, Asim Hafeez, Amanul Huq, Sohrab Hura, Fawzan Husain, Manoj Kumar Jain, Momena Jalil, Sunil Janah, Tapu Javeri, Samar and Vijay Jodha, Golam Kasem Daddy, Sayeeda Khanom, Dinesh Khanna, Anita Khemka, Sonia Khurana, Abdul Hamid Kotwal, Arif Mahmood, Nasir Ali Mamun, Anay Mann, Deepak John Matthew, Huma Mulji, Nandini Valli Muthiah, Pushpamala N., T.S. Nagarajan, D. Nusserwanjee, Prashant Panjiar, Praful Patel, Mohammad Akram Gogi Pehlwan, Dileep Prakash, Ram Rahman, Raghu Rai, Khubi Ram Gopilal, Rashid Rana, Kushal Ray, Kulwant Roy, Vicky Roy, Mohammad Ali Salim, T.S. Satyan, Tejal Shah, Tanveer Shahzad, Ketaki Sheth, Fahim Siddiqi, Bharat Sikka, Dayanita Singh, Nony Singh, Pamela Singh, Raghubir Singh, Swaranjit Singh, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, Vivan Sundaram, S.B. Syed, Rashid Talukdar, Ayesha Vellani, Homai Vyarawalla, Munem Wasif, G.A. Zaidi.

  • ? Curators:

Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is curated by Sunil Gupta, photographer, writer and curator; Shahidul Alam founder and Director of Drik Archive and Pathshala, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Hammad Nasar, co-founder of the not-for-profit arts organisation Green Cardamom, London, UK; Radhika Singh the founder of Fotomedia, Delhi?s first photo library and Kirsty Ogg from the Whitechapel Gallery.

  • ? The Five Themes (Incorporating historic, modern and contemporary works):

The Perfomance focuses on the golden age of Bollywood in the 1940s and 50s and includes images of actors and circus performers by Saibal Das and Bijoy Chowdhury as well as artistic practices that engage with ideas of masquerade. In addition to
glamorous photographs of actors, film stills and behind the scenes action shots, this section also includes the work of Umrao Sher-Gil, Bani Abidi, Sayeeda Khanom, Sonia Khurana, Amanul Huq and Pushpamala N.
The Portrait charts the evolution of self-representation, through the portraiture of a range of individuals from maharajas to everyday people. Works range from nineteenth century studio portraiture drawn from the Alkazi Collection to Pakistani
street photography by Babba Bhutta, Mohammad Akram Gogi Pehlwan and Iqbal Amin as well as contemporary work that offers a new take on the form by Shumon Ahmed, Gauri Gill and Samar and Vijay Jodha.
The Family explores and close relationships and group affiliations within society. It traces a history from late nineteenth century hand-painted family portraiture by artists such as Khubi Ram Gopilal through to informal amateur snaps by Nony Singh and Swaranjit Singh as well as contemporary investigations of creed, communities and race.
The Streets addresses the built environment, social documentary and street photography. This section encompasses a range of works from the early studies by Lala Deen Dayal to images of a globalising India by Bharat Sikka. It intersperses the
photo-documentary traditions of Ram Rahman and Raghubir Singh with contemporary practices by artists such as Iftikhar Dadi and Rashid Rana.
The Body Politic looks at political moments and movements within the subcontinent?s history. It touches upon the key dates of 1857, 1947 and 1971, as well as expanding beyond the tension lines between castes and beliefs to explore sexuality and eco-politics.? Portraits of nineteenth century courtesans feature alongside portraits of politicians. Also included are Sunil Janah and Homai Vyarawalla?s iconic press images, the photo journalism of Tanveer Shahzad and Rashid Talukdar, Kriti Arora?s? documentation of Kashmir, Munem Wasif?s? images recording the effects of global warming in Bangladesh and Sheba Chhachhi?s female mendicants.
Review in Guardian (UK)
Review in Independent (UK)

Painting and Photography

The Golam Kasem Lecture Series

By: Dhali Al Mamoon

6th September 2009. Drik Gallery Dhaka

Painting and Photography

Dhali Al Mamoon

Is there an art form that does not draw upon other disciplines? Are literature, music and architecture not informed by visual culture? Are the many manifestations of visual art not encapsulated within them? Today, the boundaries of creative work are difficult to define. If one has to draw a boundary, perhaps it is the sky. The activities that question our intellect, philosophy, science or art ? have all directly or indirectly, become complementary.

Painting and photography, these two forms of visual art are about seeing and showing, creating images and visual signs. The differences in their mode of production, has created some particularities. Painting is not merely the earliest form of visual art, but also the earliest example of human creativity. In this long journey, its structure, its form, its language and its expression both outside and within, have drawn upon each other and gone through transformations. Photography, the youngest of the visual art forms, is less than two centuries old, but has gone through dramatic shifts both within and outside.

The advent of this young visual art form has influenced painting, the earliest visual art form, the most. Very few painters have been able to distance themselves from this influence. According to many, photography has evolved from within the fine arts. Painters have searched for ways to capture the fleeting visuals that surround them, and it is this need that has enabled the discovery of photography.

Earlier in this decade the celebrated British painter David Hockney through his book, ?Secret Knowledge? analysed the creative practices of prominent western artists. This led to a storm of controversy in learned circles, for in that book, Hockney talks of how, well known artists had, prior to photography, used various techniques to enhance their painting skills. Da Vinci, Vel?zquez, Caravaggio, Van Eyke and many other painters had used lenses, mirrors and many other optical devices, to help them create their paintings. The book provides detailed descriptions of these techniques.

One of these devices was the camera obscura. Astronomers had used the camera obscura to obs as early as erve heavenly objects1630. This led physicists and optical scientists to the invention of the telescope and the microscope which revolutionized astronomy and the world of unseen microscopic objects. It opened up a new frontier in our visual culture.

The camera obscura took on many shapes and forms between the 16th and 19th centuries. Large, small, with and without lenses, with reversing mirrors, etc. They were all designed to render a faithful rendering of the scene before us.

Of those who were involved with painting and the visual arts, and also played an important role in the development of photography, a key figure was Louis-Jacques-Mand? Daguerre. Well before he began to improve upon the camera obscura he had established a reputation as a painter, particularly in panoramic painting and theatrical illusion. He later invented the diorama. He began experimenting with photography since 1823. Meanwhile another artist, Joseph Nic?phore Ni?pce successfully created a permanent rendering of a scene in 1822. Ni?pce had been working on lithographs for quite some time. So the advent of photography involved an amalgam of the two disciplines right from the start. Daguerre and Ni?pce began collaborating on their research, and overcame many of the obstacles in their path. In 1833, after the death of Ni?pce, his son succeded him as Daguerre?s partner.

Daguerre?s successful use of photography in 1839 (by a process known as the Daguerreotype) when he was able to record the effect of sunlight through chemical means, created a stir, and the Parisians felt this was superior to painting as it was more lifelike than painting could ever be. The Daguerreotype became increasingly popular and the use and power of photography spread. At the same time, Daguerre was given more responsibility, particularly in the preservation of valuable documents.

By the time photography became ubiquitous in the representation of human activity, the human landscape had also begun to change. Industrialisation led to the disappearance of earlier modes of living. Perhaps the camera too is a product of this industrialization. Photography?s ability for accurate representation led to a rapid increase in its usage. Since the Paris Commune, photography began to be used as material evidence in many political investigations. The revolutionary transformation that had taken place in advertising, post-Napoleon, due to the lithograph, was succeeded by a similar transformation due to photography. The role played by painting was gradually taken over by photography. Gradually, photography took on a more diverse role. Its contribution in extending the scope of visual arts to that of visual culture, is well recognized. On the other hand its replicability gave the image a popularity which other visual art forms like painting lacked due to the limitations of the medium. Rather, even in the fine art spectrum, the reproduction of paintings through photography has led to its democratization and a place in popular culture. Other artwork in museums, galleries and private collections, have become more accessible to the general public by their reproduction through photographs. Consequently, the chapters in western contemporary arts that have gained in prominence, owe their success to the discovery of photography. The advent of photography has transformed the structure of painting, its language, its technique and its perception. In adapting an image or painting to the confines of the photographic process there are elements that get truncated. Before the advent of the mechanical eye of the camera painters were very conscious of these truncations and ensured that the canvas was able to contain the gaze of the viewer. Visual boundaries were created through the use of shadows, or play of colour to restrain the eye. However, dividing the canvas itself was deemed acceptable. The image is a fragment of the visual scene, but artists want to create a complete vision, through the conjunction of images split across canvas divides. The tensions between the whole and the fragment, the seen and the unseen reflect the effects of the artist and the perceptive influences of the social structures she finds herself in. The visual structure or composition of an image has a focal point, around which the other elements are placed. This placement could even be an invisible pyramidal structure that provides stability in our everchanging reality. An attempt to arrest time, or perhaps suggest timelessness. The ramifications of the contemporary art forms reflect perhaps current social structures, and our collective wisdom, religion, philosophy, concerns, from the deeply personal to the centralization of power.

Our perceptions are changing. The inventions, the tools, the techniques follow a parallel path to these ideas. Photography is such a representation of our times. This avatar of our times has broken the boundaries of our experience, it has immersed itself into the fine arts. Similarly, this advent of photography has injected new energy into other contemporary fields of learning. The visual divides of a canvas are no longer a threat to the painter, rather she has learnt to incorporate it into her visual language. Her frame can now be invaded by peripheral objects that interject, exude, linger at the edges. The snapshot aesthetic has been appropriated into her language. What is interesting is that such visual grammar was in use even before photography was invented. Perhaps this was a pre-visualisation of photographic forms in our minds. It manifests itself in woodcuts. Perhaps the impressionists were inspired by Japanese printmakers in the same way that the visual truncation of photography has influenced other visual artists.

In the early days, photography was perceived as a threat by painters, but instead they have gained a new independence and a different visual grammar. It was the impressionists that led the way to this change. The aspects of photography that were trapped within the accepted norms of painting have also found new freedoms. The techniques of dissemination, as well as the specificities of production have become modes of expression for the artist. Freed of the rigidities of material taboos, there is a new democratization in the arts. The modes of production have opened new doors. There was a time when artists followed pre-determined layouts or set ideas which were enacted in the studio. Now they migrate to the open, letting their experiences guide their artistic rendering. No longer does their art work need to conform to a fixed visual straightjacket. The acceptance of this uncertainty has been liberating. The edges are now blurred. The brush has taken on new forms. The ability to freeze fleeting moments, has led to time and timelessness becoming elements of construction. The appropriation of photography has led to a modernization of the arts.

Photography has become a vital ingredient not only of visual arts, but of visual culture. But art critics and intellectuals have raised questions about the creativity and aesthetic validity of the medium. However it was in 1859 when photography held its own space in the Paris Annual Art Exhibition. A few years later in 1863, after a few legal skirmishes, photography was officially recognized as an art form by the French government.

While painting has been influenced by photography through seen and unseen ways, photography too has gained through the discipline of the visual arts. The pictorial syntax of painting has evolved over time. Many consider photography to have a ?pictorial syntax without a syntax?. There are others who think photography is a literal rendering rather than a representation of reality. That it is a receptacle for reality, and can hold no more than what is visually obvious. That it does not have the independence that other visual art forms have. These questions about the validity of photography as an art form have now lost relevance. What a photograph holds depends upon who, when, where and how, it is presented and contextualised. The postscript film ?Letter to Jane? (1972) directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, is a back-and-forth narration by both Godard and Gorin. The Hollywood actress Jane Fonda had gone to Hanoi during the Vietnam war. A photo of her was printed in the French newspaper L?Express. The film serves as a 52-minute cinematic essay that deconstructs the single news photograph.

It is difficult to value a medium based on its specific characteristics. It depends upon time, space and context, and the perceptions of the individuals or collectives that surround it. It is true, that photography can seek out, hold, capture and select, or arrange. While it may differ in modes of creative production, are these not intrinsic to all other art forms? In practice these categorizations depend upon the depth of intellectual ability, the sensitivity, the passion, and even the knowledge of the one who decides. That is precisely why creative work varies with time, space and context. Marcel Duchamp?s ?Fountain?, opened up new spaces for creativity. Soon the tools, the medium and the process, of art became secondary, the ideas and the concepts became the central elements. Duchamp inverted a urinal and called it art. He established the relationship with the roots of one?s work with what one created. He linked creativity with history and culture. His notion that art could be about ideas rather than material things revolutionised thinking about art. When this urinal, through its presentation lost its original functionality, then it entered a new space. Took on new meanings. So the construction of the artwork, or the creativity in its form gave way to the ideas and concepts of the artist.

The interrelationship between painting and photography in Bangladesh is different. In our visual practice, the fine arts institute has a firm foundation. From an organizational perspective it is this academy which quantifies artistic merit. As I?ve mentioned earlier, the Salon de Paris had, over 150 years ago, accepted photography as an art form in fine art exhibitions. That is about a 100 years before fine art practice itself was initiated in Bangladesh. We suffer from the inferior complex that colonial heritage has left us. We unthinkingly accept what is western as superior, so why this condescending attitude towards photography? Even now the fine art exhibitions at Shilpakala Academy (the academy of fine and performing arts), do not recognize photography. But the funny thing is that at the Asian Biennale, many participating countries submit photography as their artwork. More recently digitally manipulated photography is accepted as art. So even the disparity towards the medium is not consistent. Why then is photography not treated as part of the visual arts in Bangladesh?

This may be due to the patriarchal mindset or the fundamentalist concepts about fine art or to do with the power-play between the strong and the weak, the experienced and the inexperienced, or indeed a struggle between the past and the present, the old and the new. We have not learnt from the natural progression of either history or civilization, where progress is entwined with change. Who knows where our art is heading? Our lifestyle, or reality, or work sphere, our learning, our future, our hopes and the dreams of our next generation will shape the future of our art.

Translation by: Shahidul Alam


Dhali Al Mamoon

Dhali Al-Mamoon is a painter and a lecturer at Chittagong University. He was born in 1958, in Chandpur, Bangladesh. He holds a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, University of Chittagong. He received the National Award 2000, Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka, for the best art work of the year and the Grand Prize in the 12th Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka, 2006


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Rahnuma Ahmed

Thirtyfive years later

“Thirtyfive years? You will be meeting her after thirtyfive years?”
No contact in between?
Well, I would reply, we escaped from Pakistan in 1972. There were no official contacts between the two countries for many years so there was no question of any letter-writing, but in the late 1970’s, one of my father’s colleagues at Radio Bangladesh had gone to Pakistan, to attend a seminar. I remember asking my father hesitantly, can your colleague take a letter from me for Imdad uncle’s daughter? My father had said, `For Naghma? Well, I’ll ask him, but go ahead. I’m sure, he can.’ He had brought back a letter from Naghma. I remember that I had read it over and over again.
When we met last October, after thirty-five long years, she reminded me that I had also sent a maroon cotton sari with my letter. With her letter had come a set of studded buttons, a Sindhi piece of jewellery that village women wore. That I remember clearly. I had worn it for many years.
In the late 1980s, I had received a phone call. The caller said he was Naghma’s husband, he was in Dhaka for a conference. It was over, could we meet up? I dragged Shahidul over to where Haseeb was, we spent what remained of the day together. I wanted to know all about Naghma, we had a meal, we showed him parts of Dhaka. I remember he had said, y’know Dhaka’s quite funny, such stark differences right next to each other, next to a two-storied house you get a scraggly plot, and then suddenly you see a pretty posh building, and then again, right next to it, a government office. I remember looking at Dhaka anew, through his eyes. I remember looking at Haseeb, again and again, wanting to find bits of Naghma in him. I missed her. His presence made it acute.
After that, no contact. Four years earlier, we were in touch again. A spurt of e-mails, followed by another long silence, broken last year by a letter. She had been invited to a conference in Dhaka at the end of October, would I be in Dhaka then? We frantically wrote to each other. Until the last minute. Until she caught her flight to Dhaka.
I walked into the hotel lobby and asked for her at the reception but before the person behind the counter could reply, a man walked up to me and said, “Are you Rahnuma?” I nodded, and he said, “There’s Naghma.” I turned to see a woman in a white kameez and churidar, seated in a sofa facing the high glass walls. Her back was turned to me. She was looking at the fountain outside.
No words can describe what I felt in that first exchange of glances. Tahseen gave us a minute or two before joining us. Naghma introduced us to each other, he was also from Pakistan, he was here for the same conference. An old friend of her and her husband. Tahseen said I needed no introduction. Naghma had never tired of talking about me in the thirty-or-so odd years he knew her. He teased us as we sat facing each other. As we calmly spoke to each other. We had been misty-eyed, but only for fleeting moments. “If I had been in your place,” said Tahseen, “I would have wept my heart out, I would have been rolling on the floor of the hotel lobby by now.” We laughed.
Later, one evening when we were having dinner together, Tahseen spoke of his visit to his ancestral village in East Punjab, India, a few years ago. He spoke of how he had navigated his Indian friend who was driving the car right down to the village, of how he had known of each turn to the doorstep of their paternal home from stories that his mother had repeatedly told him. Stories of sorrow, and loss and longing. It was the first time since 1947 that anyone from Tahseen’s family had been to the village. But older people, he said, had known who he was. We shared in his amazement when he said, you know, I didn’t have to introduce myself, they knew right away, they said you are so-and-so’s puttar, right?
He quietly added, the whole village had turned out and wept.

In 1972, I did not look back

Afsan Chowdhury had insisted that the experiences of those of us who had been in Pakistan during 1971, was also part of the history of muktijuddho. I had contributed a piece to his edited four-volume Bangladesh 1971. This is what I had written about leaving Naghma, about leaving Pakistan. `I do not remember exactly how I came to discover that we were leaving, that we were escaping, that it would happen not in the distant future, but soon. Very soon. I was told of the exact date at the very last moment. My parents had strictly forbidden us, we were not to tell anyone, we must keep our mouths tightly sealed, it was not safe. But how could I not tell my dearest friend Naghma? Her father, like my dad, also worked in Radio Pakistan, they were Punjabis, they also lived in Garden Road officer’s colony. In my circle of friends spreading from colony to school and back, Naghma was the only one who strongly supported Bangladesh’s struggle for liberation. She was the only Pakistani with whom I could share tales of atrocities being committed by the Pakistani army, with whom I could share stories of West Pakistan’s exploitation of its eastern wing.
When I told her of our family’s plans to escape, I remember that I had shut the door tightly, that I had sat down next to her, that I had whispered in her ear, “We are leaving…”
I remember she had wept. I remember I hadn’t.
I was leaving Pakistan for my own country. I remember feeling proud. We were going to be free of Pakistan. I did not look back.’
Last October, when we met after thirty-five years, Naghma reminded me of that evening. She reminded me that I had turned the bedroom lights off and on before leaving. Their house had been right behind ours. It had been our pre-arranged signal. She had waited for that last sign.

Pakistan now

After her conference was over, she came and stayed with me for a night before leaving for Islamabad. We talked about politics. Continuously. Just like the old days.
We talked about Musharraf in Pakistan. About the military-backed caretaker government in Bangladesh. She repeatedly spoke of the institutionalisation of the military. It was this that had warped all possible democratic hope for Pakistan. For the majority peoples of Pakistan. For a long time to come. Being a client state of the US never helped democratic longings, she said.
I spoke of Bangladesh, of the changes that had taken place, pre- and post- January 11 last year. She replied with foreboding. She could see similarities, she said.
I found it disconcerting. We had left Pakistan. I did not want to turn back.
And then, a few weeks ago, Ikram Sehgal, defence editor of Pakistan, said the same thing while speaking to journalists at Dhaka Reporters’ Unity. He could see “commonalities” between Bangladesh now, and pre-election Pakistan. He termed these “disturbing.” Running the country was not a Captain, a Major, or a Brigadier, or a General’s business. It is not part of their training, he said. Their duty was to protect the sovereignty of a state. To help during times of national crisis. This, he added, could only be for “a short period.” (The New Nation, March 17, 2008).
I become curious. I want to explore “commonalities.” I turn to Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy (2007). I come across a discussion of Bangladesh. “The military’s role can only be limited to arbitration in cases such as Bangladesh, where the government has systematically encouraged the armed forces to look at other options for their financial survival. One of the reasons for the Bangladeshi military’s abstinence from taking over direct control lies in the source of the armed forces’ financial autonomy. Dhaka’s military depends on UN peacekeeping missions to earn financial benefits, and as a result it has remained out of power since 1990-1.” (p. 50).
I read on. “Over the years, Dhaka’s armed forces have built stakes in the hotel industry, in textile and jute manufacturing, and in education. Bangladeshi civil society is, perhaps naively, not alarmed by such developments.”
Bangladeshi armed forces investing in the hotel industry? How little one knows. I delve and come up with some bits of information. The Radisson Water Garden Hotel is jointly owned by Sena Kalyan Sangstha and Army Welfare Trust. It earned 9.52 million US dollars in the first year of its operation (2006-2007). In the second year, it generated a revenue of 13,377,424 US dollars, earning a gross operating profit of 6,721,356 US dollars. I come across other information. The 2007-2008 earnings were “the highest recorded hotel revenue in the history of Bangladesh.” Ian R Barrow, the General Manager of the hotel, thought it was Radisson’s “location” that was crucial. Being close to Zia International Airport, it had not been much affected by the political turmoil that had swept the nation, that had affected other businesses last year. But then, I thought, businesses close to the seat of power have thrived under any regime.
I return to Ayesha Siddiqa. She thinks if the military’s role in the economy expands, its influence in politics deepens. She thinks we should be alarmed.
I remember 1972. I remember being excited. We were going to be free of Pakistan.
First published in New Age on 1st April 2008




It feels strange to be called a ‘master’ when the ‘students’ are such hugely talented photographers. When it includes the inimitable grandmaster David Burnett in our midst the discomfort is complete.
dr-burnett-600px.jpg ? Jan Grarup
It was a delight to be in his company again. Though I’ve always enjoyed his images, and we’ve been co-jurors of WPP, this was the first time we’d spent so much time together. The poster for the first ever Chobi Mela in 2000, with his iconic image of the Muktibahini, still hangs on Drik’s corridor. Poor Munem Wasif travelled all the way to Amsterdam only to find his bearded tutor again.
sirio_058.jpgsirio_013.jpgsirio_066.jpgsirio_065.jpgsirio_048.jpgsirio_077.jpgsirio_117.jpg ? Sirio Magnabosco
But the pleasure of such company, the energy within those four walls and the sheer joy of seeing such wonderful images, made up for any qualms I might have had. David’s presentation was humbling. It’s candor, its warmth, the enormous breadth of his work and the unquestionable quality of the photography left me breathless.
the-war-we-forgot-1971-600px.jpg ? David Burnett/Contact Press Images. Design Reza/Drik

The WPP awards for Christoph, C?dric and Rafel that came in yesterday, was a welcome bonus, but an expected one. This was photography at its finest and despite the vagaries of judging and the imperfections of any selection process, photography such as this must surely rise to the surface.
Oh to be a student again!
? C?dric Gerbehaye, Belgium, Agence Vu. Congo in Limbo. General News, 3rd Prize Stories. WPP contest 2007

? Rafal Milach, Poland, Anzenberger Agency. Retired circus artists, Poland. Arts and Entertainment, 1st Prize Stories. WPP contest 2007


? Christoph Bangert, Germany, Laif. German Army sniper practice target, Kunduz, Afghanistan, 27 April. General News Singles, Honourable Mention. WPP contest 2007
Joop Swart Masterclass 2007:
Shahidul Alam
Susan Bright
David Burnett
Ayperi Ecer
Jan Grarup
Barbara Stauss
Brian Storm
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
Olivia Arthur
Christoph Bangert
Kate Brooks
Alexandra Demenkova: Sasha
Agnes Dherbeys
C?dric Gerbehaye
Sirio Magnabosco
Rafal Milach
Munem Wasif
Irina Werning
Xin Zhou

Changing the Face of Photography



Pathshala, The South Asian Institute of Photography celebrates its 10th anniversary
Elita Karim
Star Weekend Magazine Volume 7 Issue 5 February 8 2008
dswm1.jpg ?D. M. Shibly
Members of the Pathshala family have a lot to celebrate. ?My son had once written an essay in class, where he wrote that his mother is a photographer,? says Munira Morshed Munni, freelance photographer, photo editor at Drik News and teacher at Pathshala. She is also one of the first students of Pathshala, and has been with the school for the last ten years. ?His teacher, upon reading the line, immediately cut it out, assuming it to be a mistake made by the child. Later on, I had to go speak to her and explain that I really am a photographer and also make a living out of it. She was dumbstruck for a while.? You can’t blame the teacher, adds Munni. It is still very difficult for the society to accept this art-form as anything but a hobby, a side interest or a skill that is more or less limited to documenting wedding receptions or capturing nice images. Most people are unaware of the detailed calculations made by the seasoned photographer, of the possible number of angles that can be used for one shot, or the analysis of composition, frame and subject in the blink of an eye.
dswm4.jpg Left to Right ? Saikot Majumder, Sazzad Ibne Syed, Abir Abdullah
Pathshala, The South Asian Institute of Photography, located on Panthapath, has played a pivotal role in the last decade, in changing the social attitude towards photography as a profession. Offering basic and advanced levels courses in this field, the institution also offers diploma and Bachelor equivalent courses to students. Very soon, a Master’s level programme will also begin in collaboration with the University of Liberal Arts. The school is also a part of the upcoming regional Master’s programme between universities in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Norway and Pakistan.
Back in 1998, Pathshala had begun as a part of a three-year World Press Photo educational initiative in 1998. As the name Pathshala symbolises the ancient education system held in the open air, under the shade of a tree, free from the confining walls of a classroom, the institute emphasised on not merely conventional teaching the students. It allowed students to ask questions and develop their own style and perspective. The school was designed in a way that leads students to experience knowledge beyond the confines of the discipline.
dswm5.jpg Dr. Shahidul Alam speaking on the institute’s anniversary ? D. M. Shibly
According to Shahidul Alam, the Principal of the school and MD of Drik, Pathshala strives to do much more than teach photography. ?It is about using the language of images to bring about social change. It is about nurturing minds and encouraging critical thinking. It is about responsible citizenship. In a land where textual literacy is low, it is about reaching out where words have failed. In a society where sleek advertising images construct our sense of values, studying at Pathshala is about challenging cultures of dominance.? Dr. Shahidul Alam speaking on the institute’s anniversary. According to Alam, in the South Asian region, the need for a structured education in photography has always been felt. Since photography plays a significant role in the mainstream media, this need is mostly felt in the field of photojournalism. ?The people’s right to information is generally not recognised by the official media in many countries,? he says. ?This is clearly also true for the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) nations. The lack of sufficient professional skills in the media, especially in the field of photojournalism, has also allowed successive governments to pass on propaganda in place of news, and the people’s role in governance has been totally ignored.? Interestingly enough, most students, who go to this school, are studying subjects like Engineering, Medicine, BBA at other universities to comply with the conventional social mindsets. There are some, however, who end up choosing between passion and tradition, hence letting go of the so-called educational system approved by society. One such student is Azizur Rahman Peu, editor of Drik News, teacher at Pathshala and also one of the first students to have entered the school ten years ago. ?I was studying medicine in Rongpur,?he says, ?when I practically ran away from home to Dhaka. I wanted to be a journalist. Back then, I didn’t know how one would define a journalist. I used to think that a photographer was, obviously, what described a journalist, capturing and documenting moments in history. My love for photography, eventually, led me to start studying here at Pathshala.? Pathshala’s certificate awarding ceremony. Blaming not only the social net, but also the media in Bangladesh, students claim that even inside newsrooms, photographers are not given their worth. A photograph tells a story as well, which should complement the journalist’s written work, rather than act as a side support. ?Newsrooms have news editors,? says Shahidul Alam. ?However, the concept of a photo editor is not seen in newspaper offices here.? According to Alam, it was the Independent in the UK which had practically revolutionised the way photographs were used in newspapers, hence breaking the system. ?Other newspapers like the Guardian had to eventually accept this idea as well.? Pathshala also has regular academic exchanges between Oslo University College in Norway and Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia. It is not really an exchange programme, since students from these countries come to Bangladesh to learn about photography and not the other way around, adds Alam. However, this provides Pathshala students an opportunity to share experiences with students of very different backgrounds. ?The long-term partnerships with Sunderland University, Bolton University and the Danish School of Journalism, offer educational opportunities for students with other world class institutions. The internship opportunities at Drik, Chobi Mela and Drik News offer on-the-job training that is invaluable in professional life. The regular participation in international festivals and workshops provide a world-view essential to becoming established in the global marketplace. And then there is the acid test. Emerging students are in demand, and ever since Pathshala started, all students who have graduated are gainfully employed. Some are already at the very top of their profession,? says Alam. Celebrating a decade with fireworks. Norman Leslie, the programme director from ECU, says that his students have had the chance to experience life in all its reality and colours through this exchange programme. ?ECU is located in Perth, which is a city extremely isolated even in Australian terms,? says Norman. ?Students from this university, besides having the advantages of international exposure through this programme, have also created a certain bond between the two cultures which is extremely important when it comes to the art of photography.? Even though passionate about art and photography from an early age, Shahidul Alam had decided to take up photography as a profession by accident. Back in the 80s, Alam was doing his PhD in Chemistry in the United Kingdom. As was the norm and still is in the society, studying a proper subject define the integrity and depth of being a true man. ?And that is what my parents believed as well,? says Alam. ?I did not have much money and would work to pay my tuitions.? One of his close friends got into the airlines business and asked him to fly to the United States with him. ?A poor student like me would never get this opportunity ever again and so I decided to go. My friend in the UK asked me to bring him back a camera since cameras were cheaper in the US.? Alam got a full set complete with a tripod and lens and got back to the UK, only to find that his friend did not have the money to pay him back. ?And I was stuck with it!? laughs Alam. Pathshala recently entered its tenth year. Celebrating the school’s anniversary, a three day festival was organised where both the old and the new students presented their works, amidst other festivities.
dswm6.jpg Pathshala’s certificate awarding ceremony ? D. M. Shibly
A photography exhibition titled ?Studying Life? began marked the beginning of the festival on February 1 at the Drik Gallery. Exhibiting works by some of the most celebrated students of the school, this event was inaugurated by Atiqul Huque Chowdhury and Dr. Shahidul Alam. The exhibition, which will continue up to February 15, features thirty six photographers, including Munem Wasif, Abir Abdullah, GMB Akash, Tanvir Ahmed and many more. On February 2, certificates were distributed to the students who had finished their respective courses, starting from the basic to the undergraduate level. ?We had a full-fledged festival, complete with a winter Pitha Utshob,? says Joseph Rozario, the Administrative Manager of Pathshala. ?Students, teachers, along with a few photographers from outside the country had discussions on photography. These photographers also presented some of their unique works. The day ended with a film made by one of our own students,? he says.
dswm7.jpg Celebrating a decade with fireworks ?D. M. Shibly
The last day of the festival, February 3, was an ?absolute blast,? according to Din M Shibly, a Pathshala graduate who now teaches at the school and works for the monthly magazine Ice Today. The highlight of the day was when Prachyanat, the musical theatre group, performed at the school, much to the delight of the students and also a number of guests who had turned up at the celebrations. The notion that photography cannot be a proper career no longer holds true. Many students from Pathshala are working in the media, both local and international. Tanveer Ahmed, student of Pathshala who now works at Drik News, recently had one of his photographs published in the Time magazine as the picture of the year. The photograph shows a grandfather carrying the dead body of his grandchild after being hit by the Sidr cyclone last year. Many other Pathshala students have won international awards. Alam says that young people believe that there is more glamour and less money in this profession. ?It is actually the other way around,? he explains. He plans to work more on visual literacy, hold workshops in schools and develop this field as an academic subject in the educational institutions in Bangladesh. Photography is much more than capturing a mere image. It is what one captures within the image; emotions, environment, thoughts, social perceptions and so on. One simply has to look into a photograph to discover these elements, rather than looking at it. As actor and author Sir Dirk Bogarde had put, ?The camera can photograph thought.?