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Cause for effect

Works vying for international prize on display in the city as part of travelling exhibit, winner to get US $100,000 to aid the cause

art and culture Updated: May 21, 2011 15:55 IST
Shweta Mehta

After being displayed at prestigious venues in New York, Cairo, Harare and Afghanistan, the Freedom to Create exhibition is now on view in the city. The travelling exhibit, featuring select works of artists from all over the world, vying for the coveted Freedom to Create prize, contains mixed media installation art, sculptures, paintings and photographs covering a range of worldly issues.

“We support freedom of expression, and work in countries where people don’t have it. India is a democratic nation, where everyone is entitled to an opinion. Hopefully, looking at these works will enable people to generate a fruitful dialogue,” says spokesperson Priti Devi, adding, “The biggest challenge here, is to address apathy. The younger generation, which comes with far lesser baggage, must realise that by erasing social inequities, there’s great hope for tomorrow.”

The prize of US $ 100,000 will be awarded to the winning artist and their nominated advocacy organisation, to further the cause highlighted in their works. The jury consists of several luminaries like Fatima Bhutto, Mira Nair, Mariane Pearl and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Although no Indian artist is in the fray, the Bombay Flying Club- a team of independent photojournalists and multimedia producers, has put together a web documentary set in eastern India. The Danish trio, who focus on causes neglected by the mainstream media, have explored life in a village that has been severely impacted by underground coal fires in the vicinity.

Among the other topics that have been addressed by the participating artists, who hail from all over the world, are acid attacks in Bangladesh, public, massacres in Zimbabwe,illiteracy in Egypt and child imprisonment in Africa. Here’s a look at two of the standout entries for the prize, which are on display at the exhibit.

“They want to read their kids’ report cards, public transport signs and even their husbands’ text messages.” Laura Boushnak, Egypt, I read I write Main prize
Commended 2010

This Palestinian photographer, who freelances for AFP, has always wanted to influence the position of women in the Arab world, and the role we can play in improving their social conditions.

“I read in a UN report that over 50 per cent of Arab women cannot read or write. Egypt is among the ten worst countries in the world when it comes to illiteracy,” explains Boushnak, who worked on two trips to Cairo, which lasted a month each.

Her pictures feature women of all ages and the writing on each image is done by the subject, after she learned to write. And Boushnak is full of stories about the women’s motive to learn. “One wanted to be able to read signs for public transport because she gets lost. Another was accused by her in-laws of being ignorant. Yet another cited embarrassment due to her inability of her son’s school report card,” she recalls, adding, “The funniest was a woman, whose husband threatened to stop sending her to school because she could now read his text messages!”

Though her subjects are Egyptian, Boushnak believes the impact of her work is global. And while her focus is currently on the Arab countries, she doesn’t rule out the possibility of visiting India with the same agenda.

“They are fed up of talking to journalists because they know nothing will change.” Abir Abdullah, Bangladesh Shattered Faces Main Prize Commended 2011

His works portray women and children in Bangladesh, whose faces have been permanently disfigured as a consequence of men throwing acid on them. “The reasons are varied-ranging from rejection of sexual advances or marriage proposals to land disputes. Sadly, of late, men have taken to throwing acid simply as a means of taking revenge,” says Abdullah.

With his set of poignant pictures, the photographer hopes to not only raise awareness about the brutality of the attacks, but also to educate men against the extreme act.

Although the Bangladeshi government has enforced a law ordering capital punishment for the crime, Abdullah grouses that implementation and lack of monitoring are a problem. “Several politicians, social organisations and intellectuals have raised their voices, but evidently, nothing has come of it,” he says.

Convincing women to pose for him was one of Abdullah’s biggest challenges. “It is traumatic for them to relive the memory of the incident. They know that reconstructing their faces is not a feasible option and have no hopes of anything changing, so there’s no point in them repeating their story to every journalist who comes by,” he sighs.