Haven is Elsewhere | 2016 – 2018
Haven is Elsewhere
2016 – 2018
Dhaka Art Summit, 2018.
Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2018-19.
Concrete, Alserker Avenue, Dubai 2019.
Material – Collected discarded/worn clothes from migrants and Rohingya refugees.
Every year, thousands of Bangladeshis embark on perilous journeys across the sea by boat in search of a better life selling their ancestral lands – ‘home’, or whatever possession they have. Traffickers bait them with these golden dreams. Some die of starvation on the journey, some are detained by authorities after botched border crossings, some are forced into indentured servitude upon arrival, some face even worse fate falling into the hands of trans-border network of the human traffickers who hold them up for ransom and bury their golden dreams, with them in mass graves. Of those who succeed in entering their desired land, 60 percent cannot even find jobs. These illusive dreams that the traffickers sell to these people, the dream of the abundance of opportunity and a better life, turn into nightmares for most of them. The ones that are lucky, return losing everything they had or get lost into those illuminated cities, where harsh realities await.
During my travels around the coastal regions of Bangladesh to find these unfortunate souls and to trace their dreams, I have discovered stories after stories, of pain, loss, trauma and heartbreaks of illegally trafficked laborers and the families they have left behind. I met the family members of the missing; victims of illegal trafficking; friends of the missing who just got lucky to get back; deported men who are still dreaming of cities of gold. I talked to them day after day, documenting their stories, and asked for pieces of discarded clothes that they or their family members have worn out.
And then the Rohingya people began to come. It is the same part of Bangladesh from where our countrymen leave everything behind and get on a boat to find better future. And here were the Rohingya people, ousted from their land, fleeing for their lives. This project tells their stories too, through words and through the muddy, torn clothes they abandoned on the riverbank upon arrival.
All these collected garments were sewn together by the internal migrant community in Thakurgaon, who migrated from the southern part of the country to settle in Thakurgaon in the North; displaced for completely another reason – river erosion and environmental change. They stitched the clothes with traditional Bengali Kantha embroidery technique that culminated into multiple monumental quilts.
The quilts formed the projection surface of their stories that I collected through the interviews. This project is an exploration of several layers of migration – forced, illegal, internal… but in the end the search remains the same for all – a safe haven.