What symbolises the grief of a lost home? What signifies the hope of returning to your country once you are forced to leave it? How does it feel when the place that was once yours does not belong to you anymore? A border that used to act as your boundary now throws you out of it.
Curated by Diana Campbell, the idea of borders and the melancholy of being borderless that persists in the Rohingya community have been portrayed by Munem Wasif in Dhaka Art Summit 2020.
His installation consists of memories, belongings and the grief of the homeless Rohingyas. The works were presented under different series – "Spring song 2017-2019" is a series of 27 archival pigment prints, "Sutra" is a series of silkscreen and pigment prints on archival paper, "Kala Pani 2019" is a series of 14 archival pigment prints and ambush text prints on archival paper, and "The Documents 2017-19" is a compilation of photographs, texts, footages and archival material of varying sizes.
Munem Wasif has been working on the concept of borders for a long time. He started working with the Rohingya community in 2009 with the same concept.
Wasif's works compel people to ponder on what borders can mean for people – even for those who do not regularly come across borders as a creative concept. By displaying their belongings, he captured the essence of homelessness and the grief of the Rohingya community.
Money, legal papers, plastic water bottles, soil, some cigarettes, rotten mushrooms, tobacco leaves and many more – everything he framed has its own story to tell and a lot more to express about its owners. Perhaps these objects were the objects of desire – the desire to eat, play, acquire basic human rights, and in that sense, they have become evidence of a yearning to go back home.
Those who brought back legal papers while fleeing their homeland must still be hoping to go back home. Such an enigma of hope and sorrow is heartbreaking – these emotions are aptly represented in Wasif's photographs that he paired with texts.
Kala Pani (Dark Water) series presents the Rohingya community's escape through the waterway. It is a series of black and white photographs that upholds the idea of an empty sea with mass of water. It stands for the struggle of the refugees who had to escape torture in their native land and eventually, the land itself.
The series of seven framed texts descibe the way they passed through forests and walked on slippery roads with torn sandals and reached the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh.
With rhyme and rhythm, Wasif made the prose sound surreal. No one can escape the feeling of an emotional turbulance once they go through them line by line. The artist tries to examine, or rather re-examine, the concept of borders and their formation.
In one corner of the installation, there is a silkcreened British colonial map which shows the distorted typography of the word "Rohingya". Perhaps by looking at this piece, one would realise that someday the word Rohingya might vanish from official discourse.