|Volume 6 | Issue 11 | November 2012 ||
A Riot of Life
A Photo Feature by Claudio Cambon
Bangladesh is a country of exceedingly rich cultural traditions and immense diversity, and its festivals testify to this considerable wealth. They bear witness to the long histories of the many ethnic, religious and linguistic communities who make up present day Bangladesh, and to the ways in which these various groups have influenced each other and borrowed from one another for centuries, if not millennia. Their largely harmonious co-presence and occasional convergence are evidence of the beautiful and intricately woven cultural fabric which is Bangladeshi identity. Single jute fibres may break with a tug, but if spun into twine, they become harder to tear, and when braided together into rope, they are almost unbreakable.
Throughout the academic year 2011-2012, I documented festivals across the country in an attempt to valorise not only what is often celebrated, but also what is sometimes overlooked, if not at risk of disappearing. I undertook this project as part of a group effort that has involved both my students at the Asian University for Women and many other photographers from across Bangladesh also interested in this subject matter. Diversity in representation matters to me as much as the diversity we as a loosely knit network of individuals seek to show.
I attempted to consider both old and new, mainstream and eccentric, central and local in the belief that each element is equally significant to understanding Bangladesh. I aspired not so much to a factual or objective totality, in and of itself impossible, but to a different sense of accuracy, a spirit of truthfulness in beauty.
I have also done so in order to consider a more fundamental notion. Festivals exalt the everyday substance of our lives. They are extraordinary expressions of the ordinary, of an ever present sacred. At such moments we commemorate what we have always known, perhaps in ways that no longer make logical sense, but which nevertheless hold their resonance for us. In fact, it may matter less whether we are able to explain such rituals than to recall their purpose. Festivals tie us to who we have always been and who we are becoming; they are a present wherein we remember our past and dream our future -- in relation to one another, the natural world that surrounds us, the universe, ourselves. Through the historic to the mythic, we thus arrive at the elemental.
The dhul drum sounds, a mystic claps, devotees chant; we celebrate to feel the pulse of our own ancient heart, to know at once how old and young we are, to feel life itself coursing through and around us all, powerfully, joyfully, beautifully, riotously.
Claudio Cambon has been a documentary photographer for over 20 years, photographing life around the world, including Europe, Mexico and the American West. In the academic year 2011-2012, he began a long-term project about religious festivals in Bangladesh under the auspices of a Fulbright fellowship.
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