a woman's war, photography, research

in memoriam: Fauzilla Tunnesa Bulu

Fauzilla Tunnesa Bulu, known to many as Bulu Khala, was born in 1919 in then-India. Fifty-two-years old when the Liberation War broke out, she is the oldest woman included in “A Woman’s War” from any country thus far.  Bulu Khala was a key driving force throughout the Liberation War, working to maintain the Kuchbihar refugee camp, as well as recruit and prepare mukti bahini (Bangladeshi guerrilla fighters) for battle. Last week, at the age of 93, living in rural Rangpur with her children and their families, Bulu Khala passed away.

When I met Bulu Khala in June 2011 at her home in Rangpur, in far northwest Bangladesh, she could barely speak – her family and friends provided much of this information on her behalf.  Though she found it difficult to move without assistance, just before we were leaving, she took my hand, kissed it, and quietly said I love you.  She then took my face and kissed it three times. Right, left, forehead. I love you.

She had barely known me for an hour.  I’ll never forget it.

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commentary, photography

Samira Ibrahim: her journey through Tahrir

On March 9, 25-year-old Samira Ibrahim was arrested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square while participating in a protest.  Along with 172 other demonstrators, including 17 women, she was forcefully removed from the protests and brought to the Egyptian Museum on the edge of the square, where she and the others were bound and tortured for seven hours before being loaded onto buses and eventually brought to Heikstep, a military detention center.

There, she and the other women were forced to break themselves into two groups: virgins and non-virgins. Continue reading

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commentary, research

the legacy of women in the liberation war, 40 years on

Tarfia Faizullah, a fellow Fulbrighter and beautiful poet who was based in Bangladesh for the past year, is working on a long-term project on women who were raped during the Liberation War.  Out of her project has emerged a series of poems, which she has so wonderfully agreed to share here today.

Following the end of Bangladesh’s Liberation War on 16 December 1971, forty years ago today, all women who were raped were given the honorific term birangona by the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  The term, which is often translated to war heroine, was meant to pay respect to the women for their sacrifices during wartime.  Yet it soon became a mark of shame, with many of the women rejected by their families and ostracized by their communities upon their learning of the assault; rape was, and largely still is, seen as an enormous source of shame in Bangladesh for the assaulted woman. Continue reading

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commentary, photography

women of the revolution: cairo, egypt

 

Back on the blogging train, and this time with a recent piece I did for GlobalPost.  The photographs were published here, the words are up only on this site.  This continues an exploration that I’ve been working on for the past few years, on the role and experience of women in conflict, previously done in Vietnam and Bangladesh, and now here in the United States.  This is the chapter from Egypt, centering on what Cairene women had to say on being female and immersed in the recent political uprisings in Egypt.  They spoke both to the events themselves, and to the representation of women in the revolution by the media; their responses were impassioned and highly varied – read on to learn more.

Women of the Revolution

The events of Tahrir Square in January and February 2011 have been hailed as everything from a boon to a bust for the women of Egypt, with countless reports covering and recovering retrospectives on women’s role in the continuing Egyptian revolution.  But what do the women themselves have to say, about their own stories? Continue reading

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9/11, commentary, research

lost memories

In November 2009, I spent a week with my head buried in textbooks as far as the eye can see.  Where can one do this?  At the one and only Georg Eckert Institute in Brunschweig, Germany, home to over 100,000 textbooks from scores of countries.

I was on a research trip collecting clippings, searching for retellings of 9/11 in history textbooks from all over the world.  It was a bit like a treasure hunt – and a coded one at that.  As I spoke painfully few of the languages in the books I was sifting through I found myself looking for clues – dates, names, catch words – to tip me off about the mention of the event.  But sometimes even these don’t jump out, especially for languages with non-Roman alphabets.

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commentary, photography

magnum expression award: yvonne venegas

A bit of old news, but just going through old files and came across this post, which I meant to put up quite a while ago.

The winner of Magnum’s Expression Award this year, announced a few months ago, is Yvonne Venegas, a photographer from California.  Her work that claimed the Expression Award, entitled Maria Elvia de Hank, is very quiet, very thoughtful – and very compelling.  She describes it as:

…a view into the life, family and environment of eccentric millionaire and former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rohn…a work that reflect[s] on identity and a way of thinking, a state of mind that the couple of Mr. and Mrs. Hank have created together.

One of the things that struck the most about her work was not the images itself, but rather the way she speaks about them.  Her entire artist statement is fascinating, but the words that struck me the most were these:

I understand that the intimate will consist only of the instants that I can locate behind those that are camera ready.

There are countless times that I’ve found myself, or other photographer friends have said that they’ve found themselves caught in a situation that seems far too cliched, to known to photograph. They can be varied in content, from formal wedding portraits, to a news conference, to even the release of Durga Puja statues into a river in Bangladesh, but they are similar in that they appear unoriginal, insincere – seen before.  As Venegas says, to be able to look beyond and underneath these photo-ready moments is the job of the photographer, to convey emotions and content that extend beyond the actual edge of the frame.

It’s wonderful that Magnum’s award, designed to allow for the creation of a body of work that is purely the expression of a photographer, went to a woman who does that so beautifully – a photographer who can not only find striking moments within timelines, but who can also articulate why they are so.  I hope to be able to take a few pointers from her.

For those interested, see more of Venegas’ work here.

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