We chose not to be photographed. His broad smile was somewhat subdued, though the impishness of his chuckle still remained. The big hug didn’t work out. Even in the generous light through the large open window, a frail Kiarostami with tubes wasn’t how we wanted him depicted. He had cancer, and the surgery had gone wrong. My young friend Mansour Kiaei had accompanied me and had only met the great man for the first time. He wanted to photograph the two of us. We declined, saving the moment, for when Abbas would be better, and more the Abbas, as I had known him.
In the winter of 2012, I travelled from New Delhi, where I grew up, to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish. He is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his firstborn nephew—the eldest brother’s son. Since 2004, Moni, now fifty-two, has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a “lunatic home,” as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept awash in antipsychotics and sedatives, and an attendant watches, bathes, and feeds him through the day.
My father has never accepted Moni’s diagnosis. Over the years, he has waged a lonely campaign against the psychiatrists charged with his nephew’s care, hoping to convince them that their diagnosis was a colossal error, or that Moni’s broken psyche would somehow mend itself. He has visited the institution in Calcutta twice—once without warning, hoping to see a transformed Moni, living a secretly normal life behind the barred gates. But there was more than just avuncular love at stake for him in these visits. Moni is not the only member of the family with mental illness. Two of my father’s four brothers suffered from various unravellings of the mind. Madness has been among the Mukherjees for generations, and at least part of my father’s reluctance to accept Moni’s diagnosis lies in a grim suspicion that something of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself. Continue reading →
OPINION – 11 MAR 2016 BY DANIEL BAUMANN Frieze.com
How a photography course in Dhaka is challenging religious and artistic prejudices
Rasel Chowdhury, winner of the 3rd Samdani Art Award, People on low incomes living in slums beside the railway station at Khilgaon, Kamalapur, Dhaka, 2012, (from the series ‘Railway Longings’, 2011–15). Courtesy the artist
I just got back from the third Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) in the Bangladeshi capital. DAS is the brainchild of Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, a young collector couple based in the city; it’s not a biennial, nor an art fair or a festival, but an intense four-day summit. For it’s third edition, the Chief Curator of DAS, Mumbai-based Diana Campbell Betancourt, decided not to focus on a particular theme per se but on the South Asia region as a whole, which in itself is a contradictory concept. (What exactly is South Asia? Is Australia a part of it? Sri Lanka? Iran?) She engaged several curators, including me; I was invited to organize an exhibition for the Samdani Art Award, which is given to a Bangladeshi artist between the ages of 20 and 40. Back in October 2015, I had spent a week in Dhaka meeting the 20 artists who had been shortlisted for this award by Aaron Cezar, director of the London-based Delfina Foundation. From my very first conversation with the artists, I sensed that we were at the beginning of an extremely interesting week.
I learned a lot about Bangladesh – the local scene, art education, religion and why, for instance, artworks about love do matter. Some artists I met mentioned that their partner was either Hindu or Muslim and that they could not tell their respective families. As the week went on, I became increasingly enthusiastic about the obvious sense of urgency with which all of the nominated artists work: Bangladesh is rapidly changing on all levels, and these artists are all embracing the challenge to get involved, to have their voices heard and to find appropriate forms of expression for that.
This seemed particularly true for many of the photographers on the shortlist. As it turned out, they all came from a single school: Dhaka’s Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Set up in 1998 by the Bangladeshi photographer, writer, curator and activist Shahidul Alam, this private school has been dedicated to documentary photography and reportage from the beginning. Located in the central Dhanmondi/Panthapath area of Dhaka, it is a small institute for about 90 students who follow the three-year professional programme, and for about 600 students enrolled in the short, one-semester course. Initially funded by international organisations, Pathshala now is entirely supported through tuition fees. (Though relatively modest at US$460 per semester for the professional programme, inevitably, as in Europe or the US, students are likely to come from more affluent backgrounds, while there are scholarships allowing five students per year to study for free.) Continue reading →
Fêted internationally, the country’s photographers have struggled for status at home. Could that be about to change?
From the series ‘Railway Longings’ (2011-2015) by Rasel Chowdhury
The eerie moonscape of Munem Wasif’s new photographic series, “Land of Undefined Territory”, appears empty. On closer inspection, it reveals the scars of industrial activity, from vehicle tracks to stone crushing. The sense of menace and alienation is compounded by a three-channel video with a grating soundtrack.
These digital black-and-white shots were taken along an indefinite border between Bangladesh and India — disputed land that is now home to unregulated mining but which also soaked up the blood of past upheavals, from the first, temporary partition of Bengal under the viceroy in 1905, to Partition in 1947 and the Liberation war of 1971. Ostensible documentary veers into questioning in Wasif’s deeply unsettling yet distanced probing of history, territory, ownership and exploitation. Continue reading →
I have always held a strong sense of right and wrong. I have always wanted to help people.
Someone asked me recently why, and I responded that this was as much a part of me as the color of my eyes.
Then I realized that these innate characteristics were likely multiplied during defining moments in my own life when I wished for someone to help me.
I was the kid who found baby birds on the ground and took them home to live in our hot water cupboard.I would enlist my friends’ help to find bugs in the garden that we would mash up and painstakingly feed to the “patient” with tiny pipettes. More often than not, the baby birds didn’t survive, which bought floods of tears.
Sometimes they did, though, and for every feathered life saved, the angst was worth it.Continue reading →
Exchange Program (Iran – Bangladesh) 1-31 July, 2016 – Tehran
7 January – 7 February , 2017 – Dhaka
Application Deadline 10 May, 2016
Pathshala and Kooshk Residency present the first round of exchange program between Tehran and Dhaka for two Bangladeshi and two Iranian visual artists. This exchange program exists out of two parts. The first part is held from 1-31 July, 2016 in Tehran, Iran.
In this residency, the Bangladeshi artists have the opportunity to work in Tehran, Iran and collaborate with the Iranian artists. During this time, the space will be open to a local public of artists, students, and art critics. The program will end with a presentation and a panel discussion. Continue reading →
Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute will initiate to form a Human chain at T.S.C, Dhaka University on 9th April, 2016, Saturday at 3.30pm for the protest against the murder of Photographer and Drik Employee ‘Irfanul Islam’ who was kidnapped and murdered on 2 April, 2016. Photographers will wrap black cloth on their camera and other participants will wear a black badge and show protest placard.
We are requesting you all to take part in this protest and please note your presence and support is VERY IMPORTANT.
The moon was low over the city lights at 4:30 in the morning in Mexico City. A dull orange thin sliver, it too was in mourning. I was heading to the airport, but had just heard the news. Rahnuma had been keeping me updated. Ever since Irfan’s disappearance, we had feared the worst, but hoped upon hope that this time it would be different. They had the money, why did they need him? The news hit very hard.
I had joined the Bangladesh Photographic Society in 1984. Irfan had been part of our small administrative team. After serving as secretary general and three terms as president, I left the BPS to start up the Drik agency. Irfan soon decided to follow me to Drik. He worked in the darkroom with Anisur Rahman. The giant prints we had made in those days of Bangabandhu, in that tiny darkroom, with improvised troughs and hand mixed chemicals, were the handiwork of these two fine technicians.
Quiet and somewhat reclusive, Irfan was also slightly self-conscious as he had a mild stammer. He was a photographer, though he was not employed as one at Drik. He still joined us on photo shoots. He made friends easily with his disarming smile, but was less comfortable with more public roles. Once we closed the wet darkroom at Drik, a lab technician was no longer needed. Given his interest in photography, we tried Irfan out at our school of photography, Pathshala, but it was Drik, where he felt at home, and while he was not normally the person to say no or be defiant, this was one instance where he put his foot down. He was not going to budge from Drik. We had to find a new role for him. Continue reading →
Having heard Saif speak of muslin over the last three years, I had gained some knowledge, albeit second hand. Going out filming with him to museums, arboretums and libraries, I had met some of the world’s leading experts. Lived part of the history. A surprise awaited me. It is not a book written by an expert, but a labour of love, written by a hungry enthusiast, not yet jaded by the weight of authority. It has all the facts. The rigour of research. The scholarly precision. The concern for one’s fellow human. Continue reading →
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