Freelance photographer Samsul Alam Helal’s ongoing exhibition at British Council Library premises on Fuller Road brings together a layer of retraces, including the submerged palace of the Chakma king and a set of staged photgraphs of people whose lives changed radically after the construction of the Kaptai Dam.
The dam displaced an entire community from the valley, which is now Kaptai lake in Rangamati. Helal sets his lens to unveil how development of mega projects leaves in their wake some permanent footprints and he does so by resorting to story-telling. In his articulation, the reality of the displaced ethnic minorities and disappearance of their tradition and cultures overlap with imagination.
The exhibition features 26 works comprising two 3-D models, eight light boxes, 15 photographs and a video installation.
Pen International general secretary Mohammad Moheuddin and artist Dhali Al Mamoon, among others, were present as guests at the inaugural ceremony of the exhibition on May 18.
Samsul Alam Helal completed his graduation in photography from Pathshala South Asian Media Institute.
He was one of the winners of The World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in 2016 and participated in various group shows like Kunsthalle Zurich, Speak Local 2017, Colombo Art Biennale 2016, Dhaka Art Summit 2016, Chobi Mela Photo festival 2012, Bronx Museum, New York 2015, etc. Helal was also one of the visiting artists in the Fellowship Program at Harvard University in 2018.
The exhibition, titled ‘Disappearing Roots’, gives the viewers a glimpse into the plights of displaced ethnic minorities and disappearance of their tradition and cultures, informed Helal.
‘The exhibition portrays the displacement of the ethnic minorities in Rangamati due to development projects. When the Kaptai Dam was built in 1962 over one lakh ethnic minority people became homeless and around 20,000-30,000 local people moved to India. As the water level gradually rose, the palace of the Chakma king slowly disappeared in the lake,’ Helal said .
‘Through the exhibition I want to appeal to the authorities to prioritise the safety of local population during development works,’ Helal added.
An untitled 3D model symbolically portrays the palace of the Chakma king, which disappeared in the Kaptai lake.
One particular photograph shows a fancy chair, a reference to the throne of the Chakma king, placed amidst shrubs and trees, while another shows a local man standing behind an empty chair with face covered with aluminium foil.
Though the photographs evoke strangeness, they simultaneously make the viewers think of the lost land and lore.
One particular photograph, in a symbolic gesture, shows a red cloth on fire against a landscape, perhaps to refer to the unresolved issues that still trouble the region.
The exhibition will end on May 30.