Photography & Political Expression

PHOTOGRAPHY AND POLITICAL EXPRESSION

Fusion Fest 2019-20

Shahidul Alam

He is a Bangladeshi photojournalist, activist and a teacher. He has covered news events including natural disasters, governmental upheavals, the deaths of garment factory workers, human rights abuses, Bangladeshi government’s and militarist’s repression and the “disappearances” of political opponents.

This photograph was taken on 5th August, 2018 while he was being arrested by the government shortly after giving an interview to Al Jazeera, and posting live videos on Facebook that criticized the government’s violent response to the 2018 Bangladesh Road Safety Protest. His arrest sparked many protests in Bangladesh, India and many Human Rights activists around the globe condemned the government’s actions. He was released on 20th November 2018.

The Middle-East Conflict

Though both Jews and Arab Muslims date their claims to Palestine back to a couple of thousand years, the current political conflict began in the early 20th century. Jews fleeing persecution in Europe wanted to establish a national homeland in what was then an Arab- and Muslim-majority territory in the Ottoman and later British Empire. The Arabs resisted, seeing the land as rightfully theirs. An early United Nation’s plan to give each group a part of the land failed, and Israel and the surrounding Arab nations fought several wars over the territory. Today’s lines largely reflect the outcomes of two of these wars, one waged in 1948 and another in 1967. However, the conflict continues and thousands die each year fighting for this cause.

Have we evolved as a society? Though we have suffered the consequences of war, we continue to walk on the same path. As individuals, are we able to see beyond what concerns us? Is our inability to do so the root cause of war?

Face 2 Face

This was put up in the urban areas of both Israel and Palestine in the West Bank. Wall-covering portraits of inhabitants making faces were spread on walls in public spaces. A total of 41 photographs were pasted with wall-paper glue on walls in several cities in Israel and Palestine. The portraits were categorized and paired according to the subject’s profession. They differed only in their place of origin: one person from Palestine, the other from Israel.

I Am a Man

The conditions of Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, were difficult to the point of deadly. Memphis was paying full-time employees a meager minimum wage of $1.60 an hour. But it wasn’t until two men died on the job in February, 1968 that protests broke out, with hundreds of sanitation workers taking to the streets to demand their right to unionize. This picture was part of the Bettmann Archive.

Here, a Tennessee National Guard squad lines Beale Street in Memphis as civil rights advocates march on March 30th, 1968. Most remember the 1968 strikes because they drew Martin Luther King Jr. to the balcony of Lorraine Motel, where he was assassinated. However, the protesters’ picket signs have their own place in history. ‘I AM A MAN’. Not a boy. Not a garbage collector or sanitation worker. A man.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

                                                                       

                                                         –  Martin Luther King Jr

“This nation … was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

                                                                              – John F. Kennedy

The Revival of Neo-Nazism

The ‘Unite the Right rally’ was a white supremacist rally that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, from August 11 to 12, 2017. Protesters were members of the far-right and included self-identified members of the  white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, and various right-wing militias. The marchers chanted racist and antisemitic slogans, carried semi-automatic rifles, Nazi and Neo-Nazi symbols and other symbols of various past and present anti-Muslim and antisemitic groups. The organizers’ stated goals included unifying the American white nationalist movement.

In the two years that have passed since ‘Unite the Right’, many rally participants have experienced many repercussions, including imprisonment, job loss, travel bans and so on.

What segregation do we carry unexamined in our own heads?

(segregations in terms of race, ideologies, geographical distance and so on)

Mob Lynching

This was photographed in a protest against the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq Dadri. On 28th September, 2015, around 10 pm, a crowd of villagers gathers at the home of Akhlaq in Bisara village near Dadri in Uttar Pradesh. They accused the family of slaughtering a calf that had gone missing in their village a few days ago and consuming its meat. They dragged out 52 year old Akhlaq and his 22 year old son Danish, and physically assaulted them. They kicked and punched the duo and beat them with sticks. While Akhlaq died, Danish sustained serious injuries, barely escaping with his life. The mob found some meat in the refrigerator and claimed it was beef. Police send meat to veterinarian to determine if it was mutton or beef.

How did the power of belief become greater than the value of life?

“Religion isn’t the cause of war, it is the excuse.”

                       

                                                              – Jasper Fforde

Horror In Pink

The series was inspired by the various atrocities that the Thai government took part in. One such  event was the Thammasat University massacre. It was an attack by the Thai state forces and

far-right paramilitaries on student protesters on the campus of the Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand, on 6 October 1976.

It was in response to a play staged by the student protesters the previous day, which allegedly featured the mock hanging of the then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The massacre began on the evening of October 5, as royalist-nationalist forces beat, sexually assaulted, and lynched student protesters. The death toll runs much higher than the official count. The man who orchestrated this assault was Samak Sundaravej. He was voted as PM by the citizens of Thailand in 2008. The series was made in protest of the Thai government’s lack of transparency and brutal suppression.

The Pink Man

The photographer, Manit Sriwanichpoom, has tried to depict present day Thailand through the man in the obscene pink satin suit – a soulless man without a conscience to trouble him. The artist also comments on many socio-poltical issues that Thailand deals with: the mutant personification of consumerism and capitalism, the rigid lines of masculinity, and such.

Are you the Pink Man?

A number hanging from the tree.

A dismal laughter, children

Watching

The festering wounds of those who have drunk

The concoction of lies, truths, and morals.

A storm-cloud approaches.

A stolid Sentinel recounts the numbers.

Again, a maniacal laughter echoes.

The numbers vanish. Redaction.

The murky rhythm of the Sentinel

is not unnoticed.

The Endless Wait

At least 8,000 families in Kashmir have lost their loved ones to enforced disappearances at the behest of the Indian armed forces between 1989 and 2009, according to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a collective of family members who campaign against enforced disappearances and are in search of their loved ones. This was photographed by Showkat Nanda.

“Enforced disappearances are a weapon of war. They are used to neutralize armed resistance against the state and their sympathizers. It is a global problem and not restricted to a specific region. Disappearances not only silence opponents but also create uncertainty and fear in the wider community,” says Parvez Imroz, a human rights activist who has extensively worked on researching and documenting enforced disappearances.

In the absence of a law, families often lodge “missing persons” complaints with the police to trace those who might have been subjected to enforced disappearance. The crime categorizations commonly used in the record books include ‘abduction’, ‘kidnapping’ or ‘wrongful confinement’. To top that, controversial laws like the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act of 1990, grant impunity to more than 700,000 personnel of the Indian armed forces.

76 year old Taja Begam spends most of her time perched at the window of her small mud house in the town of Handwara. She lives alone. Her sons, Gulam Nadi Dar and Mushtaq Ahmed Dar, went missing on the eve of Eid in 2002. They were 28 and 14 at the time. She does not remember the exact date, but recalls that it happened only a few months after the Indian forces had killed her oldest son, Mohammed Amin Dar, 32 years old at the time. Taja’s husband died of a brain haemorrhage three years later. Though locals offered to help her build a new house, she refused.

“ I will live here till I die because if my sons return, they will come straight to the house where I brought them up.”  (Image 2)

Children play near one of the most famous mass graveyards in Kashmir’s Kitchama village. In 2009, the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice, in collaboration with local human-rights groups, found nearly 2700 graves in northern Kashmir and conjectured that the graves  contained the bodies of disappeared people. (Image 1)

Epilogue

  1. “Now for a good twelve-hour sleep, I told myself. Twelve solid hours. Let birds sing, let people go to work. Somewhere out there, a volcano might blow, Israeli commandos might decimate a Palestinian village. I couldn’t stop it. I was going to sleep.

  2.                                                                   – Haruki Murakami      

  3.  

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy.”

                                                              – M K Gandhi

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.

Do justly now.

Love mercy now.

Walk humbly now.

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

                                                                                – From the Talmud

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