Please join exhibiting artists Samari Chakma + Naeem Mohaiemen and invited guest panelists, architect and poet Kabita Chakma, anthropologist and activist Saydia Gulrukh, and curator and researcher Tanzim Wahab, for an online panel discussion around the work presented at DARC.
On the occasion of the video “Bor Porong” or “Autobiography of the Drowned” (Chobi Mela 2021) being shown at Digital Art Resource Center (DARC), this panel brings together Adivasi (indigenous) makers from law and architecture and Bengali allies from visual arts and anthropology. This discussion will consider the disappearance of memories of human rights crimes as witnesses reach old age. The panelists consider the settler-colonial rhetoric of development in Bangladesh, twinned with the state project to grab land from indigenous peoples. Finally, they consider the use of the museum and gallery space to resurface memories that power commands us to forget.
Samari Chakma + Naeem Mohaiemen’s work is presented as part of Tending Land, a program marking the 40th anniversary of the Digital Arts Resource Centre (DARC). Autobiography of the Drowned is an oral history of the Chakma Adivasi (indigenous) people from Bangladesh, performed as an online dialogue between Samari Chakma, in Sydney, Australia, and Naeem Mohaiemen, in Dhaka. The work raises questions about how the modern borders of formerly colonised nations have recreated patterns of oppression that entrapped Indigenous and minority groups, resulting in dispossession, persecution, and displacement from ancestral homelands. Capturing the story of Samari Chakma’s mother specifically, the performance speaks to the struggles of those who lost their land after the government dammed the Karnaphuli River at Kaptai in the early 1960s, flooding villages and farms. The format of the conversation, which is translated between the Chakma language and Bangla (the national language of Bangladesh), emphasises the narratives being related, urging the viewer to listen carefully to loss and pain experienced in the past, as well as the continued impact of these events on the community today. Created during the COVID-19 pandemic using a digital communication platform, the work not only suggests new ways of keeping stories alive even during times of isolation, but also points to the way in which dispersed members of disenfranchised communities, who have sought refuge in different parts of the world, become exiles left only with memories, at times with no prospects of ever returning home.
Samari Chakma was born in Khagrachari, Bangladesh. After her Masters in General History at Eden College, she received her LLB law degree from World University of Bangladesh and was certified as a lawyer in 2013. She was the first Chakma female lawyer enrolled to hear cases at the Bangladesh Supreme Court in 2017. Samari’s legal work is focused on providing legal assistance to rape victims, and victims of false cases, due to the ongoing political crisis of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Samari was involved in the editing of two Hill Women’s Federation (HWF) publications – The Diary of Kalpana Chakma and Paharer Ruddho Kontho. In 2013 she founded, with comrades, the Comrade Rupak Chakma Memorial Trust, providing scholarships to 16 Pahari students. She is an editor at Thotkata.com and her writing has also been published in New Age, Survivable International, and Alal O Dulal. In 2018, she was a Bertha Global Exchange Fellow at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Berlin. Samari Chakma is currently in forced exile in Australia for her safety.
Naeem Mohaiemen makes films, installations and essays about socialist utopia, unstable borders, and fading family units. His essays include “Peace in Our Time? (Chittagong Hill Tracts 1715-1997)” (1997), “Connecting the Visible Dots: A Post- Accord history” (2010), “The Ginger Merchant of History: Standing in the shadow of ‘Giants’” (2016), “Muhammad Ali’s Bangladesh Passport: Unsteady Dreams of a Muslim International” (2016), and “Simulation at Wars’ End: A ‘Documentary’ in the Field of Evidence Quest” (2020). He is editor of Between Ashes and Hope: Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism (Drishtipat 2010). In Bangladesh, his projects exhibited at Chobi Mela (2019, 2017, 2009), Bengal Foundation (2020), Abdur Razzaque Foundation (2017), Longitude Latitude (2016, 2013, 2011), Dhaka Art Summit (2014), Dhaka Art Centre (2012), Bishaud Bangla (2012), ULAB (2012), BRAC University (2012, 2004), and Gallery Chitrak (2008).
Kabita Chakma is an architect, writer and an independent researcher. Writing in Chakma, Bangla and English, her research interests include the history, literature, art, cinema, architecture, and sustainability of disadvantaged communities, particularly the Indigenous peoples of the CHT.
Saydia Gulrukh is a journalist and researcher from Bangladesh. Her recent works done in collaboration with activists and artists include Snippets behind bars and other related stories, Scorched Lives at Hashem foods and Women in journalism: History and its present in Bangladesh. She also writes for a Bangla feminist blog, thotkata.com.
Tanzim Wahab is a curator, researcher and lecturer. In his work as a curator, he has been focused on themes of contextual modernism and contemporary art in South Asia, and possible correspondences between text and visual as a critical cultural production. He has headed several curatorial research projects and exhibitions, including Breaking Ground: Modern Art in Transition– featuring works of the modernist forerunners of Bengal- Gaganendranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan & S M Sultan and Subtext– a pseudo reading room inside gallery space examining the symbiosis of text-based-art and art-based-text. He has been awarded a curatorial grant by The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) and Korean Cultural Centre India (KCCI) in 2018 for a project titled (Dis) Place- an exhibition touching upon the thematic of displacement, and looking at the possibility of a post-historical space and function as a symbolic “act of discharge” on Bangladesh’s fractious histories and geographies (with Hadrien Diez). Tanzim was the Vice Principal of Pathshala South Asian Media Institute from 2013 to 2015. He was the co–curator of Chobi Mela Photography Festival, Dhaka at the editions of 2013- 2019, and the director at the edition of 2021.