Random Harvests – Photography Exhibition
Random Harvests – Photography Exhibition
photography, videos and memorabilia from G. M. M. E. Karim Archives
4 to 8 pm
9 September to 15 October 2022
Open everyday except on Tuesdays
Quamrul Hassan Exhibition Hall, Level 1
Bengal Shilpalay . House 42 . Road 27
Sheikh Kamal Sarani . Dhanmondi, Dhaka
As an avid photographer G. M. M. E. Karim was a witness to his time. An author, he was and is a presence. By being able to share Karim’s photographic and videographic material, we intend for the audience to be transcended beyond the present and be taken to the author’s time.
Photography and its recent accessibility, in digital and analogue forms, mediates questions of identity, creating a space for personal inquiry and experimentation. Endlessly fascinating in its capacity to give form to memory and capture time, photography is a tool to assert identity and give evidence of existence. But like most inventions, it has been available to only certain sections of people throughout history.
Partitioned into India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (subsequently Bangladesh), British India has had a complex afterlife, both culturally and conceptually. After the political end of colonial rule in 1947, notwithstanding the trauma of Partition which led to one of the largest refugee crises in human history, the newly formed nation-states imagined themselves as progressive and egalitarian. G. M. M. E. Karim grew up as a colonial subject and was taking photographs in an era that immediately followed the Partition, when fractured societies were struggling with aspects of an emerging modernity. The slow, conscious and rigorous unfolding of decolonisation cast its long shadow throughout the twentieth century. Keeping in mind Karim’s time, his place and position in society, his visual records of landscapes, people, places, were at times sites of exoticized beauty. By casting a certain gaze, he memorialised postures of the native jute and tea workers, agriculturists, boatsmen, and tribal communities. The industrial growth of the fifties in Bangladesh (then the newly independent eastern wing of Pakistan) also found a place in his repertoire. Karim’s indefatigable delight in sports, dance and musical soirees, wildlife expeditions, family weddings, and Hollywood, are material traces of a complex, compelling and indubitable reality. As we nurse the scars and reflect on 75 years of Partition, Karim’s photographs and videos take on a new meaning in being direct testimonies, vital in firsthand authenticity. The bits of videography by G. M. M. E. Karim that are available today are novel in their trajectories through several sites, employing several modes of travel, and witnessing the transformation of the collectivist socio-cultural milieu of the fifties. Therefore, it is not through the lens of any dominant narrative that would close the understanding of a complex picture, but through slices of an extended family’s travels, social orientations, outings, and personal interactions, that reveal new meanings of identities, both new and old, at the cusp of Partition.
The photographs in G. M. M. E. Karim’s archives were shot in his Rolleiflex camera, from the late forties (the earliest in the album being marked 1947) until well into the sixties. Karim had carefully arranged the photographs in an album and labelled them with handwritten notes. The home-videos currently in the archives were shot in 8 mm film footage, between 1946 and 1964. Although the received clips are disparate, they fleetingly capture family outings, forest expeditions, train and boat journeys, social events, as well as heart-warming family moments. G. M. M. E. Karim’s extraordinary visual repertoire is an important way of retelling and renegotiating with our pasts.
The exhibition is curated by Samsul Alam Helal.
The book ‘A Photographic – Random Harvests’ by G. M. M. E. Karim (published by Iftikharul Karim) was launched at 5 pm, Friday 9 September 2022. The following guests spoke at the launch –
Bengal Arts Programme is grateful to Iftikharul Karim and Rubina Karim for lending memorabilia and allowing us to use G. M. M. E. Karim’s photographs and films in the exhibition. All photographs and video material used in the exhibition are the copyright of Iftikharul Karim.
Bengal Arts Programme
G. M. M. E. Karim was an explorer who photographed his journeys in Bangladesh and parts of India, from the late 1940s to the 60s. He was one of the pioneers of tourism through his role in initiating the Directorate of Tourism in Dhaka in 1961. An essential team member of the only two wildlife expeditions in Pakistan conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1966 and 1967, he was made an Honorary Consultant of WWF in Bangladesh in 1973. Karim was a founding member of the Wildlife & Nature Conservation Society of Bangladesh, and an active member of IUCN. He was an official of Pakistan’s Shooting contingent in the Tokyo Olympics (1964) and was involved in establishing the National Shooting Federation of Bangladesh (NSF). His contribution in popularising the sport was recognised by NSF when it dedicated a hall in his name at the NSF Complex in Dhaka. Karim collaborated in the filming of the award-winning Hollywood movie ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ (1956) in selected locations in Sreemangal, Sylhet and Barabkunda, Chattogram, in 1955.
Born in 1919, G. M. M. E. Karim was the youngest son of Khan Bahadur Md. Fazlul Karim, District Magistrate and Collector, of Abul Hasnat Road, Dhaka, and Ulfatunnessa Chowdhury, of Haturia, Shariatpur. He studied in Armanitola School and Dhaka Collegiate School, and later received a Bachelor in Arts from the University of Dhaka. Karim was married to Zaibunnessa Ahmed, youngest daughter of Dr. Major (Retd) Dabiruddin Ahmed (IMS) OBE, of Kolkata. They had five children, three boys and two daughters. G. M. M. E. Karim passed away in 1999 in Dhaka at the age of eighty..
Random Harvests is G. M. M. E. Karim’s visual diary where he chronicles his life and travels across Bangladesh and parts of undivided India, in the early fifties and sixties. The show is named after a photo-album put together by G. M. M. E. Karim.
The range of subjects in G. M. M. E. Karim’s archives has been key to conceptualising the exhibition. While Karim’s photographs of family, friends, and acquaintances offer an introduction to the personal, his architectural and urban landscapes, as well as images of Dhaka’s emerging urban culture are evidence of the transformations in public life that were taking place in Bangladesh in the fifties and sixties. They also offer a glimpse of the social, political and cultural ethos of the times. The images of people’s livelihoods and occupations, in rural areas and in the Hill Tracts, including two linear stories on tea and jute production, speak of Karim’s connection with the country’s heartland. The central schematic in the exhibition maps the photographer’s journeys. This we hope, will convey a sense of the many patterns of travelling and settling that was possible in those days. A slide-show projection has been incorporated in the exhibition to offer visitors an immersive experience.
G. M. M. E. Karim’s archives comprising photographs and 8 mm film footage, resonate with a certain harmony, which gives us the opportunity to experience a continuum in time.
Samsul Alam Helal