On Saturday we had the great pleasure of meeting Taslima Akter, an activist and artist. Taslima is an internationally recognized photographer known mainly for her photos documenting the lives and struggles of garment workers. Her portfolio includes portraits of survivors of the Rana Plaza Factory collapse and images from the collapse itself. Her work is intimate, vivid, and powerful. We were thrilled to meet her. You can see her works here: http://www.taslimaakhter.com/
One of the most striking things about her is how unassuming she is. Rather than beginning our talk by showing us her work, she starts by showing us a book titled Outcries of a Thousand Souls, created by a collective of Bangladeshi artists, that includes incredible information, stories and art about the Rana Plaza Collapse. The collective states: “We couldn’t accept that so many lives (and deaths) would simply disappear into nothingness. We want to keep the political significance and memories of the cruelty of 24 April alive in everyone’s minds. We don’t want to let these people die, or become just numbers; we cannot let them disappear into nothingness, or get erased from our memories.”
The book is in Bengali (they are hoping to translate the book into English) and contains stories of a number of dead and missing persons, why they left their villages and migrated to Dhaka, how they got involved in the garment industry, how they lost their lives, what their dreams were. Most of these writings have been transcribed from interviews or statements of affected family members, or were written by family members themselves.
The book also contains essays by activists, writers and intellectuals, Facebook posts, Tazreen and Rana Plaza related plays, poems, songs, cartoons and maps. It also features news of struggles and protests by activist-organizer-artists from different platforms with different methods against the atrocities of Rana Plaza.
The work to put this book together was quite extensive. What stands out to us is the range and variety of its contents – both factual and creative. The combination of the two is particularly fitting and powerful.
The factual information helps us to see the individuals who died, rather than just a big number. The book includes a map of where all the dead came from in Bangladesh and a chart that shows the ages of the dead; 39 were between the ages of 13 and 17 but most were between 18 and 34. And most were women.
You can look at the collective’s facebook page about the book here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/24th-april-OutCries-of-a-Thousand-souls/1505876516332307
Taslima also showed us photos and video from an exhibition titled “1134 ‘lives not numbers,’ the exhibition,” which included photography, installations, performance and sculpture about the Collapse. The work was both powerful and beautiful.
Here is a link to some images:
“The story of our people is not about the poverty behind the crisis,” says Taslima. “We show our poverty and crisis and have a tendency to think we cannot solve our problems. I like to show the strength of the people.” Taslima’s artwork and activism beautifully show this.