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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

Since the March 23rd censure and closure of Shahidul Alam’s exhibition at the Drik Gallery by Bangladeshi police, events have been well reported and BLOGGED!

Robert Godden who writes the The Rights Exposure Project blog looked forward to the exhibition but warned it may face closure. David Campbell noted Rob’s foresight with his post ‘Crossfire’ censored – the power of documentary photography (cross-posted on A Developing Story blog)

LENS Blog followed up its preview by catching a soundbite of Alam‘s and reflecting his pride in the mobilisation of protestors:

“It really has galvanized public opinion. People were angry and ready — they just needed a catalyst. The exhibit has become in a sense iconic of the resistance.”

Peter Marshall has been as diligent as ever with two posts – Crossfire and More on Crossfire

100Eyes also had the scoop with a large image of the human chains an d protestors. Robert Godden returned to the issue highlighting the very serious issue of Death threats issued to organisers. Eyeteeth (a new favourite of mine) also followed the shut-down.

Of course, if you only have time for one source it should be Shahidul Alam’s own blog, to which two posts have been posted – firstly, Siege of Drik Gallery and secondly Drik: Photo power.

– – –

What’s my point? My point is that if we bloggers are to be be labelled prairie dogs (here and here), perhaps we should be noted for our hard work, solidarity and a long gaze that goes further than the end of a trustee’s vault?

“There is beauty and there is truth and most truth in this present world is ugly.”

Momena Jalil

“In the central jail of the capital Dhaka, it is unbearable to live there. It is impossible to document it, cameras are not allowed inside.”

Momena Jalil

Denied Freedom

The prisoners sit on the floor of the common cell; this special newly opened women prison has much space. But in the central jail in the capital Dhaka this same amount of space is packed with women and their children.

I received an email yesterday from Diederik Meijer, editor of The Black Snapper, an online magazine that presents each day the work of a new photographer. The works are selected by guest curators and grouped under a weekly (geographical) theme.

The magazine live since August 1st 2009  works with guest curators such as Abbas of Magnum Photos, Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan, International Photo Festival Bangladesh, Centro de la Imagen in Peru and The New York Times Magazine. In the Netherlands, guest curators include, Vrij Nederland magazine and Canvas International Art.

I was happy Meijer contacted me.

This week, The Black Snapper is focusing on photographers from Bangladesh. Following Andrew Biraj, they’ve featured Momena Jalil a photographer whose work I’ve pointed out before. Prison Photography and The Black Snapper share admiration for the Bangladesh photographic community and its numerous talents putting work out internationally.

Momena Jalil’s project is obscured however; her photographs are only half the story of sorry conditions in Bangladesh’s prisons.

These are the images she was allowed to take … and this is a newly operating jail. She was not granted access to the older sites of incarceration. The scenario is quite bizarre. Jalil speculates that, in 2007, this prison was hastily finished so as to house two prominent female political leaders. Not all the buildings, such as the male or juvenile blocks, in the compound were completed or in use at the time of Jalil’s visit. The prison was opened amidst a choreographed national media campaign.

Jalil refers to the women in their prison provided white shari with blue stripes as “angels without wings”. Jalil suggests that the crimes accused and evidence gathered are neither properly articulated or adequately qualified. Who are we to judge these women when the system that cages them exposes itself to grave question?

Take the time to read Jalil‘s involved and emotive response to the womens prison and be sure to follow the high standard of work presented by The Black Snapper.

Denied Freedom

The eyes of Salma tell more than we can read or understand, perhaps there is complaint, plea, anguish, misplaced trust or betrayal? It is fact a she hides her lips but she kept her eyes open. It is sad we are illiterate to the language of eyes.

Photo & Captions: Momena Jalil

I have been supremely busy lately. I have eight projects in various stages of draft, but want to throw up some quality images, accompanying words and give a general shout out to Bangladesh’s photographic community.

Through my day job, I am familiar with Shahidul Alam‘s fine photography. I am more impressed by his stewardship of his nation’s photojournalist community, here, here and here. It was at Alam’s Blog that I discovered the images of Momena Jalil. I’ll simply repost the photographs and let them and the text speak for themselves.

Mother and Daughter in Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

Mother and Daughter in Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

They were some 21 women. Some with with children who were free but had nowhere to go. So they stayed with their mother in captivity. It was a rare chance for us; it was the opening of the new women’s prison on eight acres of land situated on the Western edge of Kashempur. We were allowed because we were women and in those ten minutes we learnt what we could not have learnt in a lifetime. Losing one’s freedom strips us of the right to live. It is the strangest feeling, a chilling feeling. Freedom denied is freedom lost in the cradle of the life.

Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008. Having spent a year in prison already, 25-year-old Rahima still cannot reconcile with her living conditions. "The air, the walls, the people, the place- all of it has been a shock for me", she says. She struggles to wear the blank and emotionless expression that the rest of her inmates wear every day, yet every time she speaks of her experience in jail, she fights back tears.

Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008. Having spent a year in prison already, 25-year-old Rahima still cannot reconcile with her living conditions.

‘It is difficult to cope with all that goes within the walls of a prison,’ she says. ‘There were times when the prison guards molested me…they do sexually abuse women,’ she says softly, hiding her face behind her white saree. As soon as the guards walk in her expression changes and she mutters, ‘we have no problems at all.’

From Jalil’s post it is obvious the system has affected the women very differently.

‘How can you not love the darkness, the stench, the suffocation and the crowds?’ asks fifty-year-old Khaleda in her raw husky voice. Her big eyes and rough expressions complement her loud and dominating voice. ‘After spending twenty-five years I don’t think I would ever want to go back. I get a taste of everything here – be it having tonnes of friends or being tortured, all of it is ‘fun’, she says sarcastically.

Khaleda knows the secrets of the prison, yet she refuses to speak up. ‘You know why I came here? My husband married another woman for no reason. He brought her home with her two children. I had done nothing. But he still did that. So I ate the two kids,’ she laughs aloud. ‘And then I got involved in a trafficking case and a lot more.’

In twenty-five years, Khaleda has seen the darkest sides of the prison. She has lived inside crumbled cells with no space to even sit or breathe. ‘I don’t like the idea of being moved to this new unit of the women’s prison. I love the people there. The Dhaka Central Jail is overcrowded, stinky, a torture hole but it’s still been my home for the past so many years,’ she says.

Khaleda is one of 200 women who are waiting to be shifted to the first female jail in Kashempur that recently opened.

Women in a Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

Women in a Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a home-maker, a beloved wife but today she is only a prisoner behind bars serving a life sentence. She could have been many things but situation, time, circumstance and fate took all her rights to live free in society. Society finds them unfit because they cross the line of the law; they were not born to be criminals but time took them where they committed crimes… some killed step-children, some were found trafficking in-between borders, they were too many and we had too little time to know what crimes they were in for. We had ten minutes, the guards were rushing us, it’s unthinkable to let journalists roam inside a prison. But we have been there, my colleague and I; we saw faces up close, people who live among us, their faces hold the rumours of sisters, mothers…


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