Gradually the nondescript woman is becoming an icon of protest among the progressive elements in Bangladesh. A protest against forced disappearances, abductions, tortures, extra-judicial killings and intimidations of the ethnic people of hill forest in the south-east Bangladesh.
Drik Gallery organised an exhibition based on the theme of the abduction of Kalpana Chakma by state actors. The innovative exhibition, designed and created by acclaimed photographer Dr Shahidul Alam, was held on June 13-17 at Dhanmondi, Dhaka.
The exceptional exhibition is of 23 or more warriors who are concerned about forced disappearances of the adivasi activist Kalpana, missing since 12 June 1996, incidentally the day of the 10th general election.
Kalpana was a political rights activist of the hill people in Chittagong Hill Tracts. She was organising secretary of CHT Hill Women's Federation. She was coming to Dhaka to join a new job and begin her career.
She was presumed to have been kidnapped by a military officer and lots of stories have been floating in the hill forests. Some said she was kidnapped by an officer and forcibly converted to Islam and got married. Some said she fled to the neighbouring Indian state of Tripura. Some said she went underground for her safety after receiving threats to her life.
The exhibition is strikingly different from conventional photo exhibitions. Visitors may presume that the Kalpana's Warriors exhibition will be depicting the life and struggle of the abducted victim Kalpana.
The exhibition has a speciality and Shahidul Alam has demonstrated a newly acquired technique of photo prints to exhibit their exhibits.
Despite Kalpana being in the visual theme, Drik has portrayed the warriors of Kalpana, who are outspoken regarding her forced abduction, while the authorities are deliberately disregarding the probe into her disappearance.
The room Kalpana lived in with her parents did not have any furniture and she slept on a straw mat on the floor.
These warriors are academics, writers, social justice activists, rights groups, intellectuals, NGO leaders and journalists. The warrior's portraits are displayed in the gallery.
The portraits are having not the usual photos in traditional frames. The photos are on straw mat. Rather thana print on conventional photographic media, Drik decided to make the straw mat as the canvas.
The prints on the straw mat were etched by laser beam to represent the rage of fire in the hill forest, the abode of the ethnic community.
The process involved in creating these images is rooted in the everyday realities of the hill people, the 'paharis'.
The laser beam consisted of a binary pulse, a binary present on our politics. In order to render the image, the images were converted in various ways. From RGB to Greyscale to Bitman, from 16 bit to 8 bit to 1 bit, to enable getting the deep dark tone on the mats.
Drik, to keep the detail in the skin tone despite the high contrast, knew the red channel needed to be enhanced. The resolution and intensity and duration of the laser beam needed to be brought down to levels that resulted in the straw being in selectively charred pixels.
This combination of lighting, digital rendering, printing technique and choice of medium, has led to the unique one off prints you see in this exhibition.
A tribute indeed to Kalpana Chakma, a unique woman who once walked among us.