Munem Wasif delves deep into death of the golden fibre | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 05, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 05, 2009

Chobi Mela V: The many shades of freedom

Munem Wasif delves deep into death of the golden fibre


The series, titled “Blood Splinter of Jute,” addresses the threat of extinction looming over the Bangladeshi jute industry.

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The venue certainly was interesting. The narrow lanes of Shakharibazar in Old Dhaka possess something of a hypnotic allure. But this is not about Shakharibazar; focus was on the opening of Munem Wasif's photo exhibition at Kolpona Boarding on February 3. The exhibition is a part of 'Chobi Mela V' (International Festival of Photography, Bangladesh 2009).
"'Jute is the golden fibre of Bangladesh, and is our national asset,' I remember this line from textbook essays on jute. Most of the textbooks used in our public schools will have us believe so," says Wasif. He follows it up with a quote from the closing announcement of People's Jute Mill (Khalishpur, Khulna, July 31, 2007): "...It is not possible to maintain the performance at a satisfactory level due to the factors like state of labourers, crisis of raw jute, extreme financial crisis, lack of production and irregular electricity supply..."
Wasif's series, titled "Blood Splinter of Jute," addresses the threat of extinction looming over the Bangladeshi jute industry.
Following the prescription of World Bank and other donors, state-owned jute mills -- once a thriving industry -- have become ghosts of their former selves. It's easier to shut down factories that are not making any money. But for every factory that goes belly up, thousands of workers and their families are left in panic, wondering where their next meal will come from.
The photographer relates his subject with the theme of the festival, "freedom": "It's all about economic freedom. When you have to rely on donors, you have to abide by their suggestions -- beneficial for you or not."
Twenty-four black and white images at the exhibit show the current state of once-thriving jute mills; farmers and labourers involved in the industry living off scraps; some, disillusioned and frustrated with the indifference of the authorities, taking to the streets. Wasif has worked for two and a half years on this project and shot in Khalishpur (Khulna), Kurigram, Rangpur and Dinajpur.
Wasif has earned international acclaim (City of Perpignan Young Reporter's Award 2008 being the most recent) for his documentary photography, zooming in on people living on the fringes of society.
The exhibition will continue till February 12. Alliance Francaise de Dacca, British Council, Canon, Drik, Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, Norwegian Embassy, Pathshala, and Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development are partners of 'Chobi Mela V.' Prothom Alo, The Daily Star, abc Radio, Ice Today, bdnews24.com, Channel i and Ujala TV are the media partners.

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