The Open program allows to review current phenomena in photography and to look at topics that interest photographers. From among 962 projects, the international jury selected works by seven artists, whose projects we will be able to see at exhibitions during the Fotofesiwal in 2022 (June 9-26, 2022). Here they are:
Millions of religious minorities migrated to India from East Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947. In this process, the upper caste and elites resettled to various parts of India. However, the lower-caste refugees were exiled to inhospitable camps in Dandakaranya. In 1977, the Left Front party won the election in West-Bengal with the promise to relocate the Namshudras (lower caste) to Marichjhapi, an island in the Sundarbans. Soon after, they reversed their promise and restricted the entry of the refugees to Bengal.
Thousands of refugees, nonetheless, defied the Government and moved to Marichjhapi. Within two years, they built embankments, roads, fisheries, a dispensary, and a school. In response, the State Government surrounded the island with police boats to isolate them economically. On 13th May 1979, they burned the entire settlement, persecuted thousands of villagers, and dumped their bodies in the Raimangal River, the actual number of casualties being unknown.
My work probes this massacre and traces the structure of violence linked with migration and resettlement back to the Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu epic. The Mahabharata has a distinct influence on the cultural imagination of the nation’s majoritarian religion. In this text, the upper-caste Pandava kings, aided by Krishna, conflagrated the Khandava forest and banished the indigenous Nagas and Mayas to build their kingdom’s capital, Indraprastha. Despite the contextual disparities, in these two events, there exists a dialogue to bring forth the systematic violence attending to geopolitical contestations.
I grew up listening to the stories of the trauma of displacement my ancestors faced. My project engages with the survivors of the Marichjhapi massacre and locates the current socio-political constitution of the Namshudras in Bengal and Odisha. This work revisits an ancient myth in the light of reality now and adds a new dimension to my project, universalizing the tales of human deprivation of a community.
Cemre Yeşil Gönenli
Hayal & Hakikat: A Handbook of Forgiveness & a Handbook of Punishment
The photographs in this work depict the hands of prisoners from the early 20th-century Turkey, drawn from the photograph albums of Abdul Hamid II, the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Hayal & Hakikat (translated as Dream & Fact), by Cemre Yeşil Gönenli, takes the form of two booklets — A Handbook of Forgiveness and A Handbook of Punishment — which can be viewed side by side. Abdul Hamid II utilised photography as a tool for documenting the modernisation of the Ottoman Empire at the start of the 20th century. A photography studio was built inside the Yıldız Palace, and albums were reproduced and sent across the world as a testimony to the progress of the Ottoman Empire. Abdul Hamid II himself rarely left Istanbul, but commissioned photographs so he could become acquainted with his own country, otherwise invisible to his eye. Amongst other things, Abdul Hamid II was obsessed with crime fiction and in the 25th year of his reign he ordered all murder convicts to be photographed with their hands visible, in preparation for a planned amnesty. He had been moved by pseudo-scientific information he read in a crime novel that “any criminal with a thumb joint longer than the index finger joint, is inclined to murder.” To this end, the photographs in this book show the subjects’ hands for the purpose of classification. They are presented in the book in categories – those chained with iron bracelets and those without such cuffs. The artist has cropped out the faces of the subjects, so their emotional state is ambiguous. The fate of the individual prisoners remains unknown, as there is no record of the verdict Abdul Hamid II gave after viewing the hands awaiting forgiveness. The book won the ‘Award for the Best Photography Book of the Year’ in the international category at PHotoESPAÑA 2021 Awards and was shortlisted for the ‘Photobook of the Year’ category in the 2020 Paris Photo Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards and the ‘Historical Book of the Year’ at The Rencontres d’Arles Book Awards.
The Nature of Things
Humans are the only living beings who are aware of the finality of life. We are bound to accept this fact with total vulnerability. How can the transient nature of our personality be acknowledged in an individualistic society? Three years ago, I set out to find an answer to this question in my photo series.
When I started to work on the project, my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. If our personality completely disappears at the moment of our death, then we can think of dementia as that frozen moment in which, day after day, we slowly drift away from ourselves. Her disease carries within it the starting point of my fears.
Ever so slowly, the original project turned into a collaborative effort with her. Photography and the time spent together helped us reconnect with each other in a new way. The last time I felt such an intense connection with my grandmother was when I was a child and she used to distract me with made-up stories during boring bus trips. Now she was the one in the role of a child, and I took her to places where one would not normally take a grandmother who is slow to move and suffers from dementia. These trips had a great impact on her and perhaps helped delay some of the worse symptoms of dementia.
While I’m watching my grandmother change both mentally and physically, I’m aiming to embrace acceptance, striving to experience the existing order in the world, in which the transience of life also plays a part.
This collaboration had a great impact on my grandmother, our relationship has also evolved. The reason why I started to record videos was to show this personal aspect of the project. Although I don’t regard these videos as a part of the series, in my opinion they are important to be shared.
Mathias de Lattre
Mathias de Lattre developed an interest in natural psychedelics, in particular psilocybin mushrooms. For ten years, he had the intuition that they might constitute an alternative to the psychiatric treatment of his mother. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder twenty years ago, and the drugs prescribed to her, paradoxically, degraded her health heavily. His research on psilocybin, a naturally occurring hallucinogen produced by around 180 species of fungus, led him through prehistoric times, mycology and medicine. From the painted caves in Southern France and traditional medicinal practices in the jungle of Peru, to the scientists researching psilocybin in London and Zürich, Mother’s Therapy unites science and humanity. With texts and images, the book provides context to the psilocybin-based cure given to his mother — apparently with some success. No militancy, he is simply submitting the relevant material to the record.
Mujeres de la Tierra
The Covid-19 pandemic has put into perspective that domestic life is a risky scenario for thousands of Mexican women. Five sisters behind the Mujeres de la Tierra (Women of the Land) collective have experienced this violence in their homes and know that if a woman does not have economic autonomy, she will be more limited in separating from her abuser. They cultivate ways of living without violence and with greater freedom for themselves and other women. This is the seed that germinated in the creation of this collective located in Milpa Alta, a rural area of Mexico City. How to create these new ways of being? Fighting with resistance to emancipate themselves, they have reappropriated their lives from their own territory, based on the “sisterhood community”. They sow their own corn with which they prepare typical Mexican products in their small workshop that they have built stone by stone. They distribute tamales, tlacoyos and gorditas via social networks, thanks to which they can gain economic independence. Facing the macho violence that exists in their environment, they make their milpa, their hill, their land grow: “They wanted to uproot us, but our roots are well planted”.
40 years ago, an escape into Polish wilderness was usually because of being an outlaw, a dissident of the communist regime, or an adventurer. Today, the fatigue of modern life and fears of humanity collapse push humans towards living life closer to nature. Lifestyle diseases might soon wake up this primal call of nature on a broad scale, which will push people again towards the wilderness. A lifestyle including elements of primal life has got a positive influence on our wellbeing. However, living close to nature is not a recipe for happiness. The body and soul also need solid relief there, as each of us is sometimes tempted by the darkness, regardless of the latitude. The difference is that instead of drinking a whiskey from a supermarket, you take a bath in an infusion made of a devil’s rib plant collected in a nearby forest.