12:00 AM, February 06, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 06, 2013

Chobi Mela Vii

The vulnerable faces of human existence, revolution

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Karim Waheed

Human existence and revolutions are vulnerable. In that sense these two exhibitions are rightfully part of Chobi Mela VII, the theme of which is 'fragility'. Photo: Laura El-Tantawy and Ziyah Gafic

The first thing I noticed at the Laura El-Tantawy exhibition -- at National Art Gallery, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy -- is the image of an elderly woman's face. It's hard not to notice: the blown up photo is larger than life, and the face is too powerful with wrinkles, slightly downward gaze and the very visible tear trickling down from the left eye. Some teenagers decided to pose in front of it, asking their friends to take pictures. El-Tantawy's exhibition is titled “Faces of a Revolution: Egypt”. The same gallery also houses Ziyah Gafic's exhibition, “Quest for Identity”, which sheds light on victims of the Bosnian genocide.
It was rather surreal -- the mood these images created and the frolicking that was going on in the gallery. But maybe that's the point, that's reality. The world might not hear the roars of your revolution, for which you had sacrificed all; others may not even take it seriously. Life goes on in the rest of the world while your people face ethnic cleansing. Human existence and revolutions are vulnerable. In that sense these two exhibitions are rightfully part of Chobi Mela VII, the theme of which is 'fragility'.
Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian photojournalist and artist based in London, England. Her work has been published and exhibited in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
El-Tantawy's work is part of a larger series exploring Egypt's process of forming its identity. The work started in 2005 and has since expanded to look at the trials and tribulations of a nation in transition -- the time of Mubarak, the revolution, and the looming future.
The series focuses on images of Egyptians -- reflective of the country's current fragile state as it experiences political, social and economic turmoil. The images were taken at Tahrir Square, in Cairo, which has now become a symbol of a nation's struggle for democracy and dignity, a struggle for identity.
About her work El-Tantawy says, “…In Tahrir Square I saw the impact of Mubarak's failed policies on the people. I saw our fragility exposed: Grown man wept like children and young women fought like old men. In Tahrir I saw an awakening of emotions I thought had long disappeared from our psyche as Egyptians.”
Ziyah Gafic was born in Sarajevo, where he graduated in Comparative Literature. Since 1999 he has been travelling extensively and covered major events in more then forty countries.
Gafic's exhibition features images of everyday objects -- clocks, keys, combs, glasses -- that the victims of the Bosnian genocide carried with them on their final journey. During the four-year long conflict in the 1990s, approximately 30,000 citizens went missing; all presumably killed.
As part of the process of identifying those who disappeared, personal belongings found with the victims' remains have been collected by the Bosnian Government's Institute for Missing People.
Gafic has photographed every single item exhumed from the mass graves in order to create a visual archive that survivors could easily browse. The objects are not only a means of identifying victims but are also used as forensic evidence in the ongoing war crimes trials.
The fact that some of the victims carried personal items, such as toothpaste and a toothbrush, is a clear sign that they had no idea what was about to happen to them. These objects are the last permanent reminders that these people ever existed.
Though Chobi Mela VII had its concluding programme yesterday, the exhibitions will continue till February 7.

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