Unknown bird

Drifting in cage and out again
Hark unknown bird does fly
Shackles of my mind
If my arms could entwine
With them I would thee bind
Rooms it had eight
And doors it had nine
Windows betwixt you find
Up above the glittering hall
Mirrors might make you blind
What fate alas makes bird do thus
Caged bird breaks free to fly
Of bamboo raw the cage I saw
This mind of mine still longs oh so
Lalon Fakir cries as he sees with his eyes
The cage wither and die

Lalon Fakir Shah (1771-1890) was a Bangali philospher and poet, who refused to be classified according to class, caste or religion. Born in what is now Kushtia, in Bangladesh, his verses dealt with the relationship between the body and soul, with the cage being the metaphor for the body and the bird the symbol fo the soul.
New forms of slavery create new kinds of chains; violence suffered in silence, ancestral lands commandeered, resistance made illegal. How many masks does the freedom to profit wear now? As an activist I want to go beyond walls built to occupy territories, beyond bombs dropped to coerce the unarmed, and cells built to house the ‘other’. As an artist, I want to paint with colours that don’t yet exist and use words I have yet to invent. As a photographer, I want to see how far the light will reach beyond the cage.
Two songs by Arif Baul sung at Lalon shah Bottola Modhupurnima Sadhushangha

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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