Vol. 5 Num 1014 Sun. April 08, 2007  

The Lovers and the Leavers
Photos and text by Abeer Hoque

Who are we, he asked
Lovers, she said
to his wrinkling nose
It's not enough, he replied
Not even close...

-- Now Stay

Abeer Hoque's ongoing exhibition at Drik Gallery does not deal with a grim theme. It's not photo-journalism by any means; not even investigative. But then again labels are often overrated, unnecessary and incomprehensive.

If the brand-obsessed photo-enthusiast must, the exhibition titled The Lovers and the Leavers -- featuring photos and text -- can perhaps be considered an expression free of formality.

Abeer is a Bangladeshi American writer. She was born in Enugu, Nigeria, and lived in the small university town of Nsukka (where her parents were both teaching) until she was 13. Her family then moved to the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she completed high school. She considers Philadelphia her first real home in the US. She did business undergrad and grad school there. However, San Francisco, where she lived from 2001 to 2005 and did her writing degree, is her favourite city.

In summer 2005, she left US for Bangkok; the initial plan was to travel for a year (which has now turned into two). She spent autumn '05 in Bangkok, winter in Bangladesh, and spring '06 in Barcelona. In fall '06, she returned to Bangladesh on a Fulbright scholarship. The Fulbright is funding her to live in Bangladesh and India for 9 months to research and create a collection of stories, poems, and photographs that centre on perspective. She is still in awe that they are paying her to do what she would have done anyway.

The nitty-gritty: The Lovers and the Leavers is a collection of stories and images from the subcontinent. Narratives -- visual and textual -- highlight the beautiful paradox that is the subcontinent. It's like a labyrinth, where one goes away only to realise he/she has moved closer.

The stories are not always conjunctive, but it is this trait that validates the central theme. Tales unfold through Abeer's poems, stories and photos: they could be familiar to the viewer, relatable to someone they know.

Not just the "you and I", inanimate objects often become lovers. Take rickshaws kissing under sodium light in Dhaka, a crazy old door in Sonargaon, quilts drying in the sun in Feni, green peppers and an orange pitcher in Madras or bus on bus in Dhaka, for instance.

Among us, a brown boy in Barcelona grows up to have a traditional Tamilian wedding. A mother of a visionary child in a Bangladeshi village finds herself the centre of urban attention. Ex-lovers meet in Bombay, as told by her, and then again years later in Kolkata, as told by him. Two women in Madh Island look suspiciously at a curious photographer and girls in Dhaka, totally oblivious of being photographed, whisper away in each other's ears.

The exhibition will continue till April 10. Go ahead, indulge.

Clockwise (from top-left): Bombay: Now go, Dhaka: Girls whisper, Madras: Green peppers, orange pitcher and Sonargaon: Crazy old door