Rooted in our Soul and Soil
Photos: Salma Jamal Moushum
An indigenous community called Santal lives in the northern districts of Bangladesh. For thousands of years, these people have been eking out their livelihood by hunting and foraging in the Sal forests. Different kinds of rodents especially the rats, is one of their main sources of protein. However, with the advent of hybrid crops, pesticides, technologies and increasing deforestation, this community of skilled archers have almost forgotten their ancestral profession of hunting. Many of them have abandoned their indigenous culture, religion due to the Christian missionaries and now this large, culturally enriched people have been suffering from an identity crisis.
On the other hand, as they have lost the heritage of their traditional lifestyle, the entire ecosystem of their locale has started to perish. A sign of this ecological disaster is the explosion of rat population that has started to destroy their agricultural produces, invade their homesteads in millions. Nowadays Santals, the once hunters, have become hunted by their former prays.
Kamruzzaman Shadhin, a gifted artist who has been living alongside Santal village of Mollanipara since his childhood sees it as the eternal struggle of human versus nature. Through his solo installation art exhibition titled "Rooted in Soil" at Alliance Française de Dhaka, Shadhin depicted how Santal community's crisis resulted from their forced disintegration with nature has endangered their existence. He also portrayed that likewise the Santals, humanity as a whole too becomes jeopardised when it defies its relationship with nature.
"I didn't want to say that Santal community is dying out. I have taken them as the representative of the entire human race. On the other hand, I have taken rats as the symbol of calamity that Mother Nature can inflict upon us," says Shadin.
"At the heart of my installation, you can see a big mound of rice and there are thousands of earthen rats trying to climb on it. Rice is our staple food. This important feature of my installation says that if we continuously defy our dependency on nature, the natural disaster will affect our very essential need. And, one day the rats will climb on the mound that is we will be overwhelmed by the disasters and ultimately we shall perish," he adds.
In fact, Shadhin with his installation marvellously depicted the importance of biodiversity and ecological conservation with his artistic ethos and his deep knowledge on Santal culture. The entrance to his installation was marked by a set of arrows pinned to the ground which is the Santalic symbol of surrender. However, with this emblem of submission, Shadhin recognised the fact that human's fight to conquer nature is over. Now it is time for the nature to reclaim its place.
Shadhin depicted the vengeance of nature by intelligently assembling thousands of earthen rats all over the gallery. With optical effects, the rats were presented in such a way that audiences would feel thousands of rats were running to and fro all over the place. "In the history of human civilisation rats are considered as the carrier of plague and an omen of famine. Here, rats are capturing the rice mound, our food source. The message of environmental conservation has been conveyed very clearly, artistically," says Ashraful Huq, a student of Dhaka University visiting the artwork of Shadhin.
"Besides, we have gotten to know a lot of unknown facts about rich cultural heritages of the Santals, one of our largest indigenous communities. It is really a mind-blowing artwork", he adds.
Kamruzzaman Shadhin has been working for fifteen years with the Santals on this installation art project. He is also the founder of Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts, an art movement that has been creating a common working space for the indigenous, folk and urban artists. His artworks and initiative focus on the most important issue of the current world that is sustainable coexistence of nature and humans for the sake of humanity.