Newcastle will next month witness the powerful story of Kalpana Chakma, a human rights fighter from Bangladesh believed to have been kidnapped by soldiers 21 years ago.
Her story will be told through the images of the highly seasoned photographer Shahidul Alam, also from Bangladesh, whose photo-exhibition on Kalpana’s life has been touring the world.
The thought-provoking exhibition is themed ‘Kalpana’s Warriors’ and is centred around Kalpana’s abduction from her own home, as she was fighting to liberate the indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts area of Bangladesh from military oppression.
On 12 June 1996, at one in the morning, her mother had to watch helplessly the forceful removal of her 23-year-old daughter, along with her two brothers, Kalicharan and Khudiram, by men she said wore military uniforms.
Kalpana’s abduction followed her public denouncement of the oppression suffered by her people at the hands of the military, the disregard for the fundamental human rights of the people of her hometown and the misuse of their land.
Her brothers later escaped, despite their hands and eyes being bound, and have since told how her cries of “brother help me” will always haunt them.
The Bangladesh government and military have denied having any involvement.
To tell this powerful story, photographer Shahidul Alam has created portraits by laser-etching images onto straw mats.
He says the use of laser is a reference the burning of Kalpana’s homeland, while the mats are very much like the ones she used to sleep on.
The exhibition has been brought to the region by the North East Photography Network (NEPN), part of Sunderland University’s Northern Centre of Photography, in collaboration with Breeze Creatives, which runs galleries in Bamburgh House arts centre in Newcastle.
Amanda Ritson, programme manager for NEPN, said: “With all that is going on in today’s society, with racism, political conflicts and neglect of fundamental human rights, it’s important to get the story out internationally.”
The exhibition is also part of the Freedom City Festival, marking the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King receiving an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle.
‘Kalpana’s Warriors’ runs from December 1 to January 11, at Level II Gallery, Bamburgh House, Market Street East, Newcastle. Entry is free and on December 8 Shahidul Alam will give a talk, starting at 6pm.