Professor Dina M. Siddiqi, Faculty of Liberal Studies, New York University, writes:
This powerful exhibition offers an unvarnished view of life in the many Rohingya camps that dot Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. Mostly black and white, the photographs convey – without pathologizing – the precarity and sheer material fragility of every day camp life. For the so-called lost generation, as for adults, survival means learning to navigate flash floods, devastating fires, and crumbling infrastructure, along with the soul-crushing demands of hard physical labor in place of any kind of education. Surveillance, policing, and the deprivations of a fearful ‘host’ state hang heavy over all Rohingya lives, young and old. These images do not tell a story of despair, however. The exhibition’s greatest strength lies in its auto-ethnographic sensibility.
The Rohingya photographers gathered here offer a revisioning of sorts, a counternarrative to existing tropes of their community as uber-victims. Instead, we get glimpses of what it means to ‘live with’ such infrastructures of statelessness, to see what we might otherwise miss. We are invited into the lives of young men and women who take pleasure in international sports victories, who offer solidarity to Myanmar activists across the border, who aspire to transmit remembered practices to a new generation. Together, these photographs (and captions) force us to think in new ways about an international system that allows for shelter but prohibits employment or education, effectively offering incarceration as salvation. What does it mean to be human, to belong, when all possible futures are foreclosed? More than anything, though, the exhibition is a claim to belonging – a reminder to a forgetful world that Rohingya are still here.
Professor Dina M. Siddiqi spoke at the Free Rohingya Coalition Genocide Memorial Event on 25 August 2021.