Given the recent and traumatic history of the diaspora who created the artworks currently being exhibited at the EMK Centre in Dhaka, very few of the pieces dwell on the dark, or themes of loss. The collaborative pieces especially are full of vibrant colours and optimistic imagery featuring healthcare workers and their own close knit communities.
The joint effort by the EMK and Artolution is the first exhibition of Rohingya-made paintings created in the refugee camps, by the refugees, ever to be exhibited in the history of Bangladesh.
The themes of the Rohingya refugee artists were themselves, their lives, their hopes for the future and the relatives and homes they had to leave behind in Rakhine. Curated by co-founder of Artolution, Dr. Max Frieder, the entire exhibition is made up primarily of people currently situated in Bashanchor and Cox's Bazar areas.
The biggest artworks, a couple of which measure 18 feet long and 5 feet wide, are sewn into traditionally woven mats that are ubiquitous in Bangladeshi culture. The use of this medium is striking, as it reminds even a casual observer that the art was made in a raw and underdeveloped environment. A couple of the art pieces are depicted on raw food distribution bags, which immediately imparts a hint of sadness for the artists, as they had to use whatever was available to them.
Artolution provided the art materials and the teaching expertise to encourage the artists (majority of whom were between the ages of eight to18) to illuminate their feelings and desires in juxtaposition to their past.
30 Rohingya refugees and host community teaching artists developed collaborative artworks based on their perception of their community through a local grassroots level participatory approach. Up until this exhibition most artistic endeavours to illuminate the circumstances of the Rohingya refugees were simply relegated to photo-based documentarian approach. This exhibition is the first time the people involved in the subject matter had a hand in affecting the perception of their people.
This particular fact was a point of pride for Dr. Frieder, who said during the opening ceremony "This is the first time in the history of the Rohingya culture that true inclusion, true representation, is able to be embodied by the incredibly inspiring community of Bangladesh. The fact that Bangladesh saved the lives of over 1.2 million people is something that the whole world should be learning from."
When all the art pieces are taken in together, the real theme becomes self-evident, resilience. During a brief presentation at the inauguration ceremony, Dr. Frieder remarked that his experiences with the people living at Balukhali camp, did not reflect those of someone who had survived a genocide.
"The idea that education matters, that education is life saving. Education is not a choice, it is a way of life and I think we need to find ways to catalyse long-term systemic social change and I think humanisation is key to that," said Dr. Frieder.
The point of these organisations going out of their way to cultivate, transport and prop up exhibitions such as these is to further education on social awareness. The vast majority of us see the Rohingya refugees crisis as news items and have no way to empathise with the refugees.
The Renaissance of Rohingya Culture exhibition does just that, it allows visitors to educate themselves on the emotions and perspectives that come from the largest refugee camp in the history of humanity. The exhibition was supposed to conclude on 8 August but has been extended to run till the end of the month. If you live near Dhanmondi and are looking for a coffee spot to grumble about the hand life has dealt you, it behoves you to visit EMK Centre and see what others sharing the same land as you have done with the hands life has dealt them.