War memory archived
Raihan's lens on '71
The photographer Abdul Hamid Raihan, on the eve of the war of independence, during the political upheaval following the Pakistani junta's unscrupulous scraping of the people's verdict in 1970 elections, began to document the nation's moments of awakening. That the nine-month-long war would subsequently make transparent the predatory nature of the occupying forces, many at that time would not have predicted, but Raihan realized that the Bengalis as a nation were determined to remap their collective destiny, sensing clearly that another history was in the making.
As a photographer, his first chance at making historical documentation presented itself during the historic speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was travelling the breadth and length of the country and was scheduled to address a rally in Raihan's own district Kustia. As part of his campaign to unite his countrymen against the hegemony, Mujib's rally was of crucial import, and it called for a photographer of Raihan's skill, who had already acquired a name for himself in his district, to capture this momentous event. From that point on, he kept using his lens as his political weapon documenting the unfolding historical narrative.
As the war broke following the carnages in Dhaka by the Pak army, on 25th March 1971, Raihan had to move his base to a village and was later forced to flee the country to save his family.
Three months into the war, he joined the Youth Camp on the border at Karimpur village, West Bengal, India, to prepare for frontline battles. It was here that he was offered to work as an official war photographer. The opportunity came when his childhood friend Amirul Islam, a District Council member turned organizer during the war, initiated the authorized Volunteer Core of the then provisional Mujib Nagar government. Raihan officially joined as a photographer on 15th September and spent the next three months documenting the plights and resilience of the Bengalis alongside the brave resistance put up by the freedom fighters. Encountering 'Raihan's 71', showcased at the Dhaka Art Centre (DAC), his 4rt solo exhibition, one witnesses a frame-by-frame interpretation of the photographer's first-hand experience of the volatile events and the people involved in them.
The black and white images, some made familiar by the mainstream media and some still underexposed, hinge on the power of intimation of the emotional engagement and the spirit of sacrifice that spurred a people to brave the oppression and organize a resistance that led to the emergence of Bangladesh. Curated by visual artist and son of Raihan, Abdul Halim Chanchal, these images of the 1971 War of Liberation is considered to make an important visual corpus of the history of our nation as they, together, collate the collective force of the struggles of the common people.
Born in 1932, Raihan's began courting the idea of becoming a photographer at the age of 14, and it was not until 1965, when he acquired his first fitting tool – which was a Lubido camera, that his professional venture really saw a start. Raihan's reputation as a photographer was sealed within a few years as the man kept enhancing on his acquired knowledge by establishing a dark room at home and sourcing technical knowledge from the books he used to bring from Kolkata.
Pictures taken by Raihan during the war were circulated through the international circuit and helped bring to focus the plights of a people fighting the tyranny of the Pak junta. The current exhibition showcases glimpses from the training as well as refugee camps along the borders, beside the ubiquitous elements of nature and people, a shared vocabulary of artists from all genres.
- DEPART DESK
'Raihan's War' was presented at Dhaka Art Center, 18-28 September 2012.