Last month, I had the honor of being one of the contributing artists in Eyes on Bangladesh, a harrowing exhibition that portrayed the beauty of Bangladesh and its people. The week long exhibition took place at the Atlier Yann Artrus Bertrand in Paris, France and showcased the work of six artists and photographers who were passionate about the country. A poverty stricken nation, Bangladesh is beset by numerous issues. Not only does it have one of the densest populations in the world, but each year it’s people are victims of natural disasters that make it nearly impossible for families earn a stable living.
If every person on the planet was put into the United States, it still wouldn’t be enough to equal the population density in Bangladesh. More than 150 million people live in this small country and more than 46 million earn below $2 a day. Each year the country gets even smaller as annual floods swallow up land and force the inhabitants to migrate in search of a better future.
The exhibition was sponsored by the Engie Foundation, and presented in collaboration with world renowned photographer Yann Artrus Bertrand, and the non profit Friendship. Yann had worked together with Runa Kahan and Friendship for years, documenting the beauty and trials of Bangladesh in a moving documentary. Put aptly into words by Yann Artrus-Bertrand, the problems in Bangladesh are not just a national problem, but a human one that we can all learn from:
“Bangladesh is the key to a better understanding of the real challenges to come. With millions of inhabitants, with 80% of the population living in rural areas on a low altitude territory… Under the monsoon influence, in a weather sensitive area, this country will reveal how humans have to struggle for their everyday life. Joy and kindness has not disappeared however, seeing how mankind is also able to overpass major challenges, to adapt or to face trouble.”
Gilles Bonugli Kali (www.gbk.photos), a veteran photographer of 20 years, was one of the featured artists at the event:
” I consider this type of work to be the most noble task for a photographer : using your eyes and work as tools to witness what is happening on this planet. This exhibition is particularly close to my heart given the current state of the country, and the fact that I have never shown those pictures before. “
I worked with Gilles to create three unique pieces that were displayed during the exhibit. Out of the many moving photographs he had taken during his trip to Bangladesh, I chose my favorites and digitally transferred these to sewing patterns for a cape, kurta, and scoodie. With the help of a sewing simulation software that permitted me to simulate the behavior of fabric on a 3D mannequin, I positioned and arranged the photos on the patterns. The photos were then printed on high quality fabric and I cut the patterns and fabricated the garments as I usually would.
The photo of the young Bengali girl wearing a hijab was not only aesthetically pleasing, but stood out to me because it challenged the traditional representation of Muslim women as powerless and opressed as portrayed by mainstrem stream western media. On the contrary, this young girl looks at you with confidence and strength. There is no sign of timidity or weakness in her gaze.
This photograph and the garment created from it are a symbol of the strength of women in Bangladesh. Despite challenging conditions, they persevere and prove themselves to be resilient against all odds. I thought it would be interesting to make a men’s garment out of this photo. By donning this kurta, the wearer shows his support of the Bengali female. Intended to be a sign of empowerment, the kurta featuring this young girl says, “Yes, I acknowledge your strength and I stand behind you.”
Constructed of fabric that featured photos taken by GBK.Photos in an orphanage and factory in Dhaka, the scoodie I designed for the Eyes on Bangladesh exhibit was a statement against fast fashion. 98% of clothing we wear is made by women and children in developing countries, working in sweatshop factories with terrible conditions and far too little pay. This colorful scoodie is a protest against these conditions, a glimpse into the lives of the men, women, and children who spend their days creating the cheap clothes that we take for granted. Fashion is a tool we use to communicate who we are and what we believe in- but we should never forget about the millions of human lives affected by our clothing.
Eyes on Bangladesh also featured adorable doudous fashioned by Marion Tiers. Each doudou was handcrafted by Marion from scraps of fabric, and named after one of the kids Tom AB had worked with at the orphanage in Dhaka.
“I have been deeply moved by the living conditions of children in Bangladesh. I tried to bring a piece of their soul here, in Paris, through a strong symbol of childhood : the comforter.”
All proceeds of the Eyes on Bangladesh exhibit benefited Friendship, a non-profit founded by Runa Khan that provides aid to people in the most remote and inaccessible areas of Bangladesh. Established in 2002, Friendship aids more than 500,000 Bangladeshis each month, most notably through their floating hospitals which provide much needed medical services to river communities whose lives are devastated by unpredictable floods. Friendship has progressively expanded it’s reach to include education, disaster management and infrastructure development, good governance, sustainable economic development and cultural preservation.
The opening night of Eyes on Bangladesh was a huge success with more than 200 visitors, including notable guests such as the French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve and his Excellency Mr. Shahidul Islam, Ambassador of Bangladesh. Traditional Bangladeshi drinks and food were served throughout the night. The various artistic projects were displayed in the gallery on two floors and downstairs guests could watch Yann Artrus Bertrand’s film on Bangladesh.
If you’re interested in purchasing any of the artwork from the Eyes on Bangladesh exhibit, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for garment inquiries.
To find out more about Bangladesh, watch Yann Artrus- Bertand’s moving documentary on YouTube: