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Magnum Foundation Interview

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Conversation between Shehab Uddin and Shahidul Alam


Champa with her son Ridoy, running to meet me. At first, she was very reluctant but soon she became quite willing, to pose in front of the camera. To trust or distrust some one is a matter of whimsy for her like others pavements dwellers. 2008, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Shehab Uddin/Drik/Majority World

UDDIN: I’m a freelance photographer in Bangladesh and I first met Shahidul in 1998. At that time I was in my hometown in Khulna. Shahidul, who also moved to Bangladesh a few years earlier was organizing all the photographers here. So it was a great moment for me to meet him.

After that, I came to Dhaka in 1990 and I joined a newspaper here. In 2005 I decided that work in the newspaper was not right for me, and I had the opportunity to join Drik and work directly with Shahidul. So I took the opportunity and worked there as a photographer. It was really a milestone, and a breakthrough for me.
ALAM: The agency [Drik] was set up primarily because we were very concerned that countries like Bangladesh, which some have called “third-world countries” and we choose to call “majority-world countries,” have been portrayed almost invariably through a very narrow lens. It worries me that Bangladesh has become in the eyes of many, an icon of poverty. The reality is something we cannot ignore. Shehab shows it through his work and I have no intention of wallpapering over the problems we have. What I do have a serious problem with is when people are denied their humanity and become icons of poverty; they become lesser human beings.
The agency was set up because we wanted to tell stories that got across the richness and the diversity of people’s lives and we realized the story had to be told by people who had empathy for the subject. So it was a platform for local practitioners. And that’s the birth of Drik. But when we started, we realized that a lot of the photography infrastructure a Western agency has acess to, was not available to us. So we started creating some of that infrastructure here. Later on we also began developing educational structures that could foster new talents. We are one of the few agencies in the world that has two galleries of its own, runs a school of photography, and runs its own photography festival; I do not know of a single other agency in the world that does anything of this type. But all of that is really part and parcel of Drik’s photography-philosophy–in telling rich and diverse stories without compromising the subject’s humanity–we just had to create a whole space for ourselves. And now we are telling our own stories.
Continue reading “Magnum Foundation Interview”

Ekti Mujiborer Theke

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He was the quiet one amongst us. The shadow that accentuated the highlight. In an organization known for its creativity and exuberance, Mujibor was the unsung worker. He swept the floor, lugged things around and was the one everyone called upon when things got bad. Looking for a picture of him, I realized he wasn?t even listed in the Drik Family Profile section. He never got mentioned in the acknowledgements, except for a general thank you to ?all the others who helped?. I could find no photograph of Mujibor, except for the one I took when he died.

Two of the photographs we eventually found. An old file photo of the Drik family. Mujibor is standing on the extreme right.



Another photo from our archives. Probably at a Drik picnic.

His is the typical story of the rural poor. With little education and no special skills, making a living had become difficult. His brother Moti, and cousin Delower who work at Pathshala and Drik, introduced him to us. A low paid job in the city was better than being out of work in the village. Drik also provided opportunities to learn. Mujibor needed to send money home, so sharing a mess with colleagues was the cheapest way to live. Skimping on food, another way to save more for the children?s education. Not a wise decision when one is in poor health, but Mujibor had little choice. The extra food allowance we provided was also sent home rather than spent on meals.
When he was diagnosed with TB, my sister Najma arranged for his treatment. But the treatment for poverty is more complex and needs long-term solutions. Over a third of TB cases in Bangladesh go undetected. Many of us who might be infected by TB face none of the consequences. A decent regular meal is often enough to keep the disease at bay. For many however, a decent regular meal is a tall order. With spiraling costs of food, and high house rents, sending money home, is often at the cost of one?s longevity. A trade off that many accept as given. Mujibor was 40ish. Not many people in Bangladesh know their exact age. Few have birth certificates. His life was unexceptional, his pay was unexceptional, his death was unexceptional. Once one accepts the reality of poverty. It is that acceptance, that the have-nots have to accept such lives and such deaths, that is exceptional.
Mujibor?s salary was considerably more than the minimum wage stipulated by the government. Yet he struggled to support his three children and wife, all of whom lived in the village, where costs were lower. He lived alone in the city.
I remember a migrant worker in Paris telling me. ?I live and work here, and send money home. Perhaps my sister will get married, perhaps we might even buy a plot of land, but the best years of my life are spent in loneliness and misery. Who will give me back my youth??
The inequalities between and within nations are propped up by systems which worship profit above all else. The buyers squeeze the sellers squeeze the suppliers choke the workers. A much more famous Mujibor*** had spoken of a golden Bengal (Bangladesh). That Mujibor?s followers will need to do more than name monuments after him and pursue insane acts of vengeance, for the gold to reach this Mujibor?s children.
Muhammad Al Bouazizi, a 26 year old fruit seller, set himself alight in Tunisia in protest. Mujibor?s protest was more muted. He suddenly fell ill and was bleeding from his mouth and rectum. He was immediately taken to hospital. We all rushed to his side. The doctor recognised me. He said he would take special care. He suspected lung cancer and that little time was left. We were devastated. He was transferred to Intensive Care. The family was called in from the village.
As I stroked his forehead as he lay with tubes stuck to him, I saw the taut muscular body, the kind all workers have. Like Sultan?s** paintings. He wanted water, but the nurses said it was dangerous. I was only able to convince them to wet his lips. He was parched and wanted more. We said goodbye. I used words, he spoke with his eyes.
It had been just over 36 hours when, a bit after midnight, the doctor talked of putting him on life support. We hadn?t told Mujibor, but the man knew he was dying. His gentle smile had long gone. When his brother arrived at around 1:30 in the morning, he simply said ?I?m leaving. Look after the children.? At 03:10 he had.
Mujibor and Bouzazi both died of a disease called poverty. Will the rage in Middle East and African nations spread to the rest of the world? They will say we are different, we have regular elections and a democratic system. Mujibor?s wife and children and millions of inhabitants of Golden Bengal might disagree.
*?ekti mujoborer theke lokkho mujiborer kontho? famous song sung during the liberation war, ?from the voice of one Mujib will rise a thousand other Mujib?s voices?
** S M Sultan, Bangladeshi painter known for the muscular men and women he depicted in his paintings of rural Bangladsh.
***Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (popularly known as Bongobondhu, friend of Bengal), who is acknowledged as the founder of the nation.

Chobi Mela VI: Debasish Shom: Redefining Space

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From the Exhibition Dhaka My Dreams, My Reality by Debashish Shom

To Debasish Shom, photography is the interpretation of a state of mind. He believes the physiological and emotional thoughts of the mind influence images greatly, and photographs act as a medium to unravel and express these thoughts.
A Bangladeshi photographer, Debasish Shom is a graduate from Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. Since childhood, Shom has always felt the need for a medium to aptly convey his emotions. When he graduated from university, he began taking interest in pictures and got admitted to Pathshala. Unlike many who have grown up with photographs, Shom?s first exposure of the art came through the institution.

Debashish Shom second from left at the special opening of four exhibitions at Drik 0n 23 January 2001. With him are (from Left to right) artist David de Souza, Chief Guest Kushi Kabir, Festival Director Shahidul Alam and artist Munem Wasif. Photograph Chulie de Silva

Soon, photographs and stories were beginning to take shape. His exhibition ?at Chobi Mela VI, ?Dhaka: My Dreams, My Reality? at the Drik Open Air Gallery is on till 3 February 2011.? It?embodies the psychosomatic war between his dreams and reality. He portrays how a person under the influence of drugs perceives his space in the bustling city of the rat race. There is a sense of isolation, illusion, depression and emptiness everywhere that largely contradicts what one knows Dhaka city to be.
?When I photograph, I always try to redefine my space. What is seen and experienced is reconstructed and a contradiction created. That is how I feel I am most involved with space and matter.?

From the exhibition Dhaka My Dreams, My Reality by Debashish Shom

The exhibit encapsulates complex struggles into simple photographs that strike the viewers almost instantaneously. They are powerful and potent, providing an?indiscreet?insight into undiscovered realities. To interpret the mind?s transition and turmoil is exciting and difficult at the same time, and Shom has rather effortlessly captured it in his frames.
Shom has held exhibitions at Drik Gallery Bangladesh and Kiyosato Museum of Arts in Japan. His work was also showcased in Chobi Mela IV. As a successful artist, would Shom recommend a career in photography to others?
?If someone is passionate, I believe a career can be built through photography. There is a lot of opportunity in commercial photography that can be approached alongside documentary photography. I only speak from my experiences, and I still believe I can make it as a photographer. However, it is important rethink carefully before making up one?s mind in this field. There is a lot of hard work involved.?
With the rampant growth of digital technology, the field of photography has become increasingly competitive over the past few years. There are more people taking pictures now.
?I think it?s great so many people are taking pictures. It makes them value pictures. Photographs then become significant in their lives and they can appreciate the art better.?
Debasish Shom currently works for CANVAS ? a fashion and lifestyle magazine.
——–

About Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

I’m a cranky, over-excited and lazy 18-year-old. I can suddenly “spark out” creativity and sleep non-stop for 12 hours. I also am frustrated (and in good moods, amused) by my own life. You can know more about me at 18forlife.wordpress.com
View all posts by Sabhanaz Rashid Diya??

A Different Bangladesh


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Photo: Sigrun Aker NordengMENTOR AND STUDENT. Photographer Morten Krogvold is pleased with student Prasit Stapith’s picture in the photo exhibition. Photo: Sigrun Aker Nordeng

Last updated:?27/01/2011 //??How do you want to display Bangladesh to the world?? Norwegian photographer Morten Krogvold asked his students during his workshop at the Chobi Mela festival this month. The result: A diverse portrait of Dhaka and Bangladesh.

28 photo students from Bangladesh and Nepal could this week show their pictures during the?Chobi Mela festival in Bangladesh after a seven day workshop supported by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. World renowned Norwegian photographer, Morten Krogvold, was once again responsible for the workshop, which has taken place since 2002.

?The Slum Trap?

Photo: Faisal AzaminPhoto: Faisal Azamin

Krogvold wanted to challenge his students to show a Bangladesh that was different from the traditional pictures the world so often is presented-?It is all too easy to get stuck in the ?Slum trap?. To bring your camera down to the slum is for me the easy way out ? you?ll get touching pictures without putting in any effort at all. I tried to challenge the students to think in new ways and focus on their Dhaka, says Krogvold.
Easier said than done. Almost all of the participants were first year students and with minimal experience in photography. After the students returned from their first photo trip, Krogvold had jokingly proclaimed that he wanted to ?shoot them all in the backyard?.
Still, student Anja Maharja merely has positive things to say about her mentor.
-?I have learned a lot from Morten. He can be strict, but he pushed us to be better photographers, says Maharja, who is represented with two pictures in the exhibition.

Asia?s largest Photo Festival

After one week of intense photo lessons, combined with inspirational classes on art history, music and movies, the students could this week present their own exhibition:?Self-discovery?. Krogvold is impressed with the students work.
-?The exhibition today is a more accurate portrait of Dhaka. It?s not just poverty and misery, but also growth, roller blades and development. This is a picture of this crazy town that I recognize, says Krogvold.

Photo: Farzana HossenPhoto: Farzana Hossen

The exhibition is a part of the Chobi Mela festivalen, which is said to be Asia?s largest photo festival, with exhibitions from 31 different countries. Krogvold is also represented in the festival with his exhibition?Encounters?.

Photo: Morten KrogvoldMAJESTIC PICTURES. Norwegian photographer Morten Krogvold will be presenting his pictures at the Chobi Mela VI photo festival, arranged by Drik and the photography academy Pathshala from the 21st of January to February 3rd. . Photo: Morten Krogvold

Last updated:?19/01/2011 //?Morten Krogvold, Norway’s most famous photopgrapher, is currently in Bangladesh. Be sure not to miss his exhibiton at the Chobi Mela festival!

With art exhibitions?nationally and internationally, as well as workshops and seminars all over the world,?Morten?Krogvold?has establish himself as well-known?photographer on the world scene. Now, you have the opportunity of seeing his pictures right here in Bangladesh!

Morten KrogvoldMorten Krogvold

Photo festvial

As a part of the?Chobi Mela photo?festival, Krogvold will be presenting?a collection of his?pictures?in an exhibition at the national art gallery,Bangladesh?Shilpakala Academy from the?21st January?until the 3rd of?February.
During the festival Krogvold will also?be holding a picture presentation in the Goethe Institute in Dhanmondi. This presentation will take place?on the?22nd??of January, 7pm.

Student workshops

Krogvold is no stranger to Bangladesh. Rather, he has been conducting photo workshops for students since 2002. This year, Krogvold will once again?be conducting?a workshop?for?photo students in Dhaka.?28 students from Nepal and Bangladesh?is scheduled to participate.

The student exhibition ?Self-discovery? will be upon for public from January 25th until 3rd of February at the Asiatic Gallery of Fine Arts in Dhaka.

Countdown to Chobi Mela VI

Are you dreaming of coming to Chobi Mela VI or wishing you were coming?. A wish is voluntary and you make it consciously and have some power over making it come true.? Dreams on the other hand by definition, involve our unconscious mind. Do we have power over our dreams? Or do they have power over us? Can we make a wish come true ? 10 days to go to find out.

Yes, the countdown has started and taking a closer look at behind the scenes?of the festival?was Channel I, one of the partners of the Chobi Mela festival.

M. Mahbubur Rahman hard at work on the exhibition prints. Photograph Habibul Haque.

M. Mahbubur Rahman meticulously checks colours of prints. Photograph Habibul Haque

Getting ready for the interviews. Photograph Saikat Mojumder

Shahidul Alam, Festival Director on Chobi Mela VI: Our right to dream on for a better majority world. Photograph Mahbub Alam Khan

Abir Abdullah Vice Principal Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. Photograph Saikat Mojumder

This entry was posted in?Chobi Mela,?Chobi Mela VI Partners,?Dreams

Chobi Mela VI Press Conference

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PRESS RELEASE
Chobi Mela VI to Open a Portal to a Restive World of Dreams
?All that we value, that we strive to uphold, all that gives us strength, has been made of dreams?

A peacock mutates from a princely pet to a goddess blurring boundaries between reality and illusion reinventing the Panchatantra (Indian animal fables in prose and verse) for the 21st century. Festival theme photo from the "India Song" exhibition by Karen Knorr UK/Puerto Rico, Courtesy of Tasveer.

Dhaka, Bangladesh. 28 December, 2010😕 The Chobi Mela VI – International Festival of Photography will be held from 21 January to 3 February, 2011 in Dhaka Bangladesh and will present the work of creative artists participating from 30 countries. The festival with its theme ?Dreams? is designed to be a birthplace of ideas, and a crossover meeting point for many artists. It will open a portal to a mystical world of images showcasing new trends in photography and bringing to the fore issues of our troubled world.
The unique festival will be launched on the 21 January, 2011 at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Parallel exhibitions will be held at Alliance Francaise, The Asiatic Gallery of Fine Arts, The British Council, Drik Gallery, The Goethe-Institut and the Lichutala at Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University. In congruence with the exhibitions there will be 8 workshops, 2 portfolio reviews and a week-long discussions, seminars and lectures at Goethe-Institut Auditorium that will initiate debates and discussions on issues central to contemporary photographic practice.

The main attraction on the 22 January at Goethe-Institut will be a video conference with Dr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court.? In this position, his mandate is to select and trigger investigations and prosecutions of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Inaugural ceremony and the evening presentations will also be broadcast ?Live through Internet? at: www.drik.tv.

The first Chobi Mela festival (Dec.1999-January 2000) was launched by Drik and Pathshala South Asian Media Academy to fill the need for a forum for sharing work and ideas, a platform for debate that was missing on this side of the globe. This inaugural festival focused on ?Differences? in the world we live in and in a sense was prophetic. The twin towers disaster followed and buried beneath the rubble the freedoms that the world has since lost. ?In a world ravaged by war, to turn to ?Dreams? after ?Differences?, ?Exclusion?, ?Resistance?, ?Boundaries? and ?Freedom? is to return to what holds us together in the face of all our obstacles, the focus of all our longings. In a vastly unequal world, it is our insistence on justice and our ability to ride the waves, which still keeps us dreaming,? says Shahidul Alam, Festival Director and Managing Director of Drik. ?I dream that Chobi Mela will play a role in re-writing the history of photography, and correcting the extremely Eurocentric version of history that is currently propagated.?
Many bodies of work that went on to become well known were first shown in Chobi Mela. Considered to be the most demographically inclusive photo festival and the resulting pollination has led to many exciting exchanges, and given rise to several new festivals in the region for which Chobi Mela has been the catalyst.
Ensuring the general public?s access is an important part of the festival and admission for the festival is free. Mobile exhibitions on rickshaw vans are now a trademark of the Chobi Mela festivals. The festival provides an opportunity not only to enjoy the outstanding work of national and international photographers but also raises important social issues critical to our existence.
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Chobi Mela Site
Chobi Mela Blog
For more information please contact Chobi Mela Secretariat
House 58, Road 15A (New),?Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1209
Tel +8802 8112954, 9120125, 8123412
Media Manager:
Qamruzzaman:
Tel: +8801911224884
Liason and Communication:
Chulie de Silva:
Tel: +8801927122141

In response to `Smoking gun abused for smokescreen'

By Rahnuma Ahmed

As a New Age columnist, I was thinking of writing about the controversy surrounding the Tibet exhibition (Into Exile. Tibet 1949 ? 2009, November 1-7) for my next column. My dear Maobadi friend, Tarek Chowdhury’s piece, which he was kind enough to forward me, had meanwhile been published in Samakal (`Tibboter odekha chobigulo onek kotha boley,’ November 13). Since some of our political concerns and perspectives are shared, since I benefited from his piece as I did from that of other writers who had trodden the path before me, who have extensively researched and written on China, Tibet and US imperialism, who have carefully built up their arguments and critiques based on a close scrutiny of facts and figures and have thereby helped deepen our understanding of imperialism, I drew on them. Unflinchingly. Unreservedly. Of course, I was careful to credit ideas as I went along (but not all. For instance, although I learned a lot from reading pieces by authors such as Michel Chossudovsky, F. William Engdahl and others, they were not named since I had not directly cited them. For an ex-academic like me, the space constraints of column-writing have been a learning experience).
In `Smoking Gun Abused for Smokescreen‘ (December 13) Tarek assumes that what I wrote in my column (‘China-US politics over exhibiting Tibet. In Dhaka,? November 23) was a `response’ to his Samakal op-ed. But if I had felt obliged to pen a response, surely??I would have written it up as that, and sent it off to Samakal?
I wrote as a columnist, not as Drik’s spokesperson. I have never done thus, because I do not see myself in that role. Neither, I think, do my readers (nor Shahidul Alam, or anyone else at Drik for that matter, but that’s beside the point). Secondly, I do not think my task is to pass judgment (`we don?t see Rahnuma draw any judgement about the SFT?the real ?area of contention? between us’). Not on SFT (Students for a Free Tibet), nor on anything else. That work, I think, is best left to judges. As a writer, I work towards contributing in, and in opening up further, spaces of critical thinking. Hence, I map out fields of debate, I position myself within the debate, often bringing into the discussion issues which have escaped the attention of other writers (in this case, `neat fit,’ Guantanamo, which I will go into later). I constantly seek to clarify why I think and believe what I do, as I do. Readers are intelligent people; in my view, they are both capable of, and also free to, reach their own conclusions which may, or may not, be in agreement with mine. To try and persuade, yes. To argue, yes. To pass judgment, no.
And hence, what I wrote in my column was obviously framed by my concerns (which would not have been the case if I was writing a `response’). After briefly describing what had happened (a visit by Chinese embassy officials, followed by Bangladesh intelligence, eventually a lock-up of Drik’s premises by the police), I wrote about what Tarek had written in his Samakal piece: the SFT, its funding sources, his suspicion about the timing of the exhibition, CIA funding of the Tibet movement through NED (National Endowment for Democracy). I then drew on the work of others who have researched on the SFT/NED/CIA nexus to elaborate on Tarek’s argument, and to offer my readers additional evidence: NED’s Reagan-ite origins, the roles of the (present) Dalai Lama’s brothers in the Tibet resistance movement during the 1950s in which the CIA had been active, had trained guerrilla units etc. etc.
After this, I broached the issue of cultural and political activism, seeking Shahidul’s response: an `opportunity to see rare photos,’ `we have faced pressure before,’ even `progressive institutions’ have wanted us to practise `self-censorship’; this I juxtaposed with Barker’s argument, namely, that progressive activists, both Tibetan and foreign, should first and foremost cast a critical eye over the `antidemocratic’ funders of Tibetan groups, or else, a progressive solution to the Tibetan problem, a `more thoroughgoing democratisation of [Tibetan] social life’ will not be generated. But Shahidul had said that Drik was not above criticism, that it was welcomed, and I expected readers to remember that. For me, the obvious implication of what he’d said was, whether Drik’s decision to co-host the exhibition was right or wrong should be a matter of public debate. It would give Drik the opportunity of critically appraising itself.
As for what I had written, it’s implication was much sharper. If formulated as a question it would stand thus: should Drik, as a progressive institution, have agreed to partner an exhibition with the Bangladeshi chapter of SFT, since the latter (the parent organisation) receives funding from NED, which now does what was covertly done by the CIA 25 years ago, even though the exhibition gives members of the public an opportunity to see a collection of rare photographs? This clearly was a matter for public debate (not a matter of my passing a `judgment’). I was certain that intelligent people/readers would clearly see what I was driving at.
I then returned to Barker’s argument. I wanted to tease it out further, not to minimise the importance of what he had said, but because I think (as probably Barker and many others do too) that there is no `neat fit’ between the different movements for freedom that different activists may, and do, simultaneously support. In other words, there is no `single’ list of freedom movements that will satisfy everyone critical of US imperialism. To illustrate my point, I drew on Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Irish Nobel Peace laureate, who is a strong defender of both the Palestinian, and the Tibetan, cause. I pointed to the recently-launched `Thank You Tibet!’ campaign to which Mairead belongs, which extends support to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet, claiming that they are a “model for all of us.”
In `Smoking Gun,’ Tarek points out that I had failed to mention Maguire’s connection to ICT (she’s a member of the International Campaign for Tibet’s International Counsel of Advisors). Also, that she’s an advisor to the Points of Peace Foundation (a media and human rights foundation located in Norway with “a mandate to support Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in urgent need of media, dialogue and communication assistance in their home countries and internationally”), and the founder of Voice of Tibet radio station (a PPF project aided by NED; the radio station, from what I gather, was founded by three Norwegian NGOs and not Maguire, as Tarek states, but it’s a slight error which is not crucial to our discussion). However, these additional? facts provided by Tarek, only serves to substantiate my point that there is `no neat fit.’ Does Maguire’s support for the Dalai Lama, her ICT membership, and being a PPF advisor weaken her credibility as a progressive activist? Does it imply that she is, let’s say, not genuinely concerned with promoting freedom and democracy in Tibet, or elsewhere, like Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq? Even though Maguire has strongly criticised Israel, “an allegedly democratic country with a sham justice system,” ?and the Bush administration for “increasing nuclearism, ongoing wars, and the ignoring of international treaties and laws in articles published in CounterPunch, USA’s best known left newsletter (which has also published articles critical of “anti-Chinese frenzy in the West, pursued in the guise of pro-Tibetan… human rights activism,” John V. Whitbeck)? (CounterPunch has published articles critical of CIA, US imperialism, too countless to mention).
Maguire’s support for the Dalai Lama, interestingly enough, does not appear to have prevented US immigration officials from detaining and harassing her at Houston airport (May 2009). `They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war.’ She added, ‘They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities.’ Detained for two hours, grilled, fingerprinted, photographed, then grilled again, Maguire was released only after the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organisation she helped found, raised a hue and cry.
There are `strings attached’ to Maguire’s `compassion for Tibet,’ says Tarek. I am not clear what he means by this phrase, and much less so, by this sentence which follows soon after, `True beauty of any actor can only be judged when the audience gets the chance to take a glance at the greenroom’ ? except that it seems to imply that something sinister lies behind Maguire’s activism. If Tarek means that support for the Tibetan cause is per se suspect, then what is one to make of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent decision to pull out of a peace conference meeting linked to the 2010 Football World Cup because the South African government had denied Dalai Lama a visa? (Reportedly, as a result of Chinese pressure). Further, what is one to make of Archbishop Tutu’s statement on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, human rights leaders and concerned individuals which tells the Dalai Lama, “we stand with you. You define non-violence and compassion and goodness.” How does one view this? As naivete on the Archbishop’s part, because he does not seem to be aware of the Dalai Lama administration’s acknowledgement (1998) that it had annually received $1.7 million in the 1960’s from the CIA, spent partly on paying for guerrilla operations against the Chinese, a fact which critics say, puts His Holiness’ commitment to non-violence, as being a public face? Or, should we be looking for a `strings attached’ answer? Or do we interpret it to mean that Archbishop Tutu’s opposition to apartheid and/or his subsequent defence of human rights and? commitment to campaigning for the oppressed is not genuine, but a mere rhetorical device? Or, do we re-think some of the issues, while reminding ourselves in the process that premier Chou-en-Lai had lent his support to the Pakistani military dictatorship in 1971 when it had unleashed a genocidal campaign against the people of east Pakistan because it was in communist China’s national interest?
Tarek writes, “Mistakenly she has equated Parenti?s strong criticism of China of ?dazzling 8 percent economic growth rate? (does this apply to pre-1978 period or when HH fled to India?) with the China which ?stood up? in October 1949 under the leadership of Mao and misled her readers grossly by misrepresenting Parenti?s views.”
What I wrote was: “One area of contention [with Tarek] is an old one, centering on whether Tibet is better or worse off, under Chinese communism. As Michael Parenti, severely critical of the Hollywood `Shangri-La’ myth puts it, old Tibet, in reality, was not a Paradise Lost. But if Tibet’s future is to be positioned somewhere within China’s emerging free market paradise?with its deepening gulf between rich and poor, the risk of losing jobs, being beaten and imprisoned if workers try to form unions in corporate dominated “business zones,” the pollution resulting from billions of tons of industrial emissions and untreated human waste dumped into its rivers and lakes?the old Tibet, he says, may start looking better than it actually was.”
Now, if I were to list out the different periods and their characteristics that are packed together in this passage, this is how it would look:
1. Old Tibet/pre-Communism, was not Shangri-la/paradise lost
2? New Tibet=part of Communist China:
(a) earlier/pre free-market paradise
(b) present/emerging free-market paradise: deepening gulf between rich and poor, risk of losing jobs in corporate-owned zones, pollution, untreated human waste
As should be obvious to intelligent people/readers who know that chairman Mao was not an advocate of free market enterprise ? even to in-attentive readers because of? the word `emerging’ ? the sentence incorporates the assumption that the deepening gulf between rich and poor, risk of losing jobs in corporate-owned zones, pollution, untreated human waste etc. etc. — was unbeknownst in the New Tibet which precedes the present pre free-market paradise, in other words, it was unknown in Mao’s China.
Tarek further writes, “To make her public response to my views and questions…” which seems to imply that my `private’ response to his `Tibboter odekha chobigulo..’ (Samakal had published its own slashed-down version) had been very different. But this is how I had responded privately:
2009/11/9 Rahnuma Ahmed (translated to English)

Dear Tarek

Many thanks for writing this article, and for selecting me to be the first reader. My chief comments are:

(a) the issue of China-Tibet-US politics, and its analysis from a geo-strategic perspective, is undoubtedly interesting, and important. But when this perspective is utilised to analyse the politics of culture, it is necessary to be extra-cautious, since our conceptual tools have been developed to analyse geo-strategic politics, on the assumption that it is primary.

(b) I have felt that you view politics and political struggles conspiratorially, this diminishes the significance of your piece, for instance, you seem to view people as conspirators. To push my point further, I have felt that you did not subject the Chinese government/state to the same critical eye as you did the US and Tibet/Dalai Lama.

(c) while it is true that the US and China are opposed forces, that their political systems and ideologies are different etc., I do find their alliance in some areas — and here I am not? talking of trade relations — very interesting. For instance, the recent Uighur/Guantanamo incident. And it is incidents such as these which remind me that it is no longer possible to view China from a 1960s perspective, as a beacon of light amidst darkness. If one sticks to the dichotomy that China is `good’ and the US is `evil’ — one has to turn a blind eye to too many things, I believe this will hinder our attempts to understand the state as a historical phenomenon.

We will/must continue to argue and debate. lal salam/r
And toward the end of my column, I spoke of the Uighur/Guantanamo incident, of how Chinese interrogators had gone to Guantanamo and grilled Uighurs (a Muslim minority from the autonomous region Xinjiang, in western China), how they had been actively assisted by US military personnel to soften them up. But in hindsight, it is my second point, about a conspiratorial view of politics, that now seems almost-prophetic. Even though, I must admit, it doesn’t answer why Tarek has chosen to ignore the long response which I posted on Shahidul’s blog (December 4) in response to? questions and comments on my column `Exhibiting Tibet.’ I had forwarded him the link, he himself had posted two comments after mine. Probably, an acknowledgement would have made writing `Smoking Gun,’ with all its allegations and accusations, difficult.
When Tarek writes, “Personally, I won?t be surprised to see the SFTBD?s Bangladeshi national director (it has quite a corporate style organisational structure), the young devoted lady who ?breathes her time equally between Dharamshala ? and Bangladesh? rewarded soon by some heavyweight promoter for her superb service” (italics mine), his gaze is undoubtedly male. It is directed at male readers, written to incite their curiosity on gendered lines.
May be if Tarek had been less melodramatic, less into `actors,’ `greenrooms,’ `make-up,’ `choreography,’ `media event,’ `orchestrated propaganda,’ `dress rehearsals,’ `TV shows,’ `anchors,’ he would have digressed less. May be if he had steered clear of metaphors that have become associated with an imperial mentalite ? Condoleeza Rice’s declaration, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” ?? he would not have barked up the wrong tree. Maybe, if he had been less `judgment’-al, he could have meaningfully contributed to the debate.
But who knows?
Published in New Age, December 20, 2009

Coping With Life

tanzim teaching 5-DSC03298Practical session under a banyan tree on the banks of the river Mahananda, Chapainawabgonj. ? Reza/Drik

?Kamera tulen?. Elsewhere, one would think a hundred times before pointing a camera. Permission, legality, issues of representation, all came into play. In any Bangladeshi village, getting people out of your lens is the problem. A cluster of heads surround the LCD. Peals of laughter. Old toothless smiles, a little baby held up so she can see. The disappointment of being left out. There might be serious issues to be dealt with, but right now being photographed was all that mattered.

Unicef_Workshop_JamalpurFourteen-year-old Rabeya, a member of our adolescent group, was taking photos in this beautiful location. I want everyone to live in such a beautiful environment. Jamalpur, 2009. ? Fatema Akter Hasi; 14

children on bridge 2-DSC03405Trainees from?Barguna. ? Jeevani Fernando


With every intervention, one has concerns. Entering people?s lives, creating expectations, making friends, all have to deal with the disengagement that follows. It was people you were dealing with. How do you walk out of a life you have changed, perhaps forever? What do you leave behind, how much do you take away? These were difficult questions and we didn?t really have answers. But we?d tried it before, in cities and in villages. The remarkable transformations it had made to some children?s lives made the risk worth taking.

13_Morium_IMG_0196This is Shorifa Begum on her wedding day in Taherpur. She is a bride at eighteen years old. Shorifa did not want to get married. She stopped her education because she could not afford to continue it. Then her mother forced her to get married to a man who agreed to have a cheap wedding ceremony. Chapainawabgonj, 2009. ??Morium Khatun; 16

moin teaching 7-DSC01225Md. Moinuddin training in Jamalpur. ? Aminuzzaman/Drik

There were aesthetic concerns too. In talking of composition, rules of thirds, moments, balance, were we suppressing their spontaneity? Did we impinge upon their way of seeing? Were we erasing their natural ability to tell stories? We needn?t have worried. Sure, they tried things out. Pictures were created with remarkable composition. Balanced frames with well-placed elements formed stylised images that a trained photographer would have been proud of, but we had underestimated their instincts. Our fears of over intrusion were unfounded. The most striking images resulted not from our training, but because they had a voice. They could now tell their own stories and no one was going to get in their way, not even their teachers. The proud, chest-out, stiff at attention pose, that thwarted every photographer looking for something ?natural? was very much part of that expression. The loud coloured d?cor that would embarrass the urban genteel, was shown off with panache. Quirky images of everyday scenes, seen the way only children see, were the nuggets that glittered through our light box.
Unicef_Workshop_BorgunaA group of children play in a local pond by climbing onto the tree and jumping into the water. They don’t go to school as their fathers are rickshaw pullers and do not earn enough to educate them. The parents are also not fully aware of the value of education. Barguna, 2009. ??Mohammad Jashim Uddin; 18
49_Salauddin_IMG_0402This is my uncle Shahidul’s goat. Every evening my uncle plays with the goat by holding up a leafy branch for him to jump up and eat. I watched this and took a photo. I also think that if the goat could become a human, then it might not need to jump like this. Chapainawabgonj, 2009. ? Md. Sala-uddin Ahmed; 16

There were quiet reflective moments too. Their realities, the every day challenges, the matter of factness with which they dealt with hurdles, had an immediacy that would humble a trained professional. Layered between romantic images in fields of Kash, looming clouds over flowing rivers, coiled branches silhouetted against stormy skies, were photographs that talked of strife. People less able who insisted on being able. Children longing to be children. A much too young bride. Another young mother to be, gingerly treading through a treacherous path. Absent are the images they were not allowed to show. That threatened a patriarchal society?s image. Pictures they had been forced to delete. Pictures they had staged, as their reality was being suppressed. To delete, to stage, to deal with censorship. These are things they hadn?t been taught. They were learning on the fly. Dealing with situations as best as they could. They were coping with life. Perhaps the ultimate lesson.
Shahidul Alam
Dhaka

Unicef_Workshop_BorgunaThis woman is removing paddy from the basket after it is boiled. She keeps her feet on a jute bag so that they don’t get burnt. Barguna, 2009. ? Tania Islam Jhuma; 14

viewing monitor 3-DSC03335Nature photographer. ? Reza/Drik

Unicef_Workshop_JamalpurSohel, 12, lives in Nandina and works in Mostafa Bakery making biscuits and other snacks. He helps his family with his daily wages. It amazes me that a young boy like Sohel has to work for a living instead of going to school. I do not want any child to work for a living. We have to create awareness among people about child labour. Jamalpur, 2009. ? Md. Amir Hossain Apon; 14

Unicef_Workshop_BorgunaAmy and Rumi are 11 and 12 years old. They go to the madrasa to learn Arabic every morning. Barguna, 2009. ? Tania Islam Jhuma; 14

20 Years of Drik

Twenty years.

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How does one articulate a history spanning two decades in a few lines? The truth is, you can’t. Which is why we are sharing with you some of our proudest moments in the best way we know how – with images.

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This exhibition is not about the number of years that have passed, but the milestones achieved and the battles won. It is about the new paths we have forged from the unlikely location of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.

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While we try to show cherished snippets of our past, there are others that we have to keep in our memory. The people who have helped us, the mistakes we made, the things we had to believe in with all our heart – these things are more challenging to visualise, but just as important.

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Drik was set up to be a platform for voices from the majority world, and on this special occasion, we are proud to introduce the first in the Golam Kasem Daddy Lecture Series.

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Twenty years.


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For some, it could seem like an eternity. For us, this is just the beginning.

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