artist / participant
Kunsthal Rotterdam introduces Munem Wasif - a talented, young photographer from Bangladesh. With a keen eye for aesthetics he documents the ecological changes in the Bay of Bengal. In his native country tidal waves occur and coastal erosion is accelerating. Moreover, salty seawater invades the land causing it to become brackish, and hence barren. In the most densely populated land in the world, where every inch of usable land is at a premium, this is a source of great concern. Wasif’s impressive photographs in black and white portray the consequences this has for the inhabitants. Personal Stories Through personal stories Wasif illustrates the changes occurring in the far south-west of Bangladesh. He traversed the area on a motorcycle and took photographs of the inhabitants whom he encountered. From a distance, he portrayed two women waiting for their pitchers to be filled with fresh water from the only filters in the area. Another photograph shows a young woman covered with a blanket who sits in front of a loam hut, clearly feeling unwell. Elsewhere he portrayed three brothers pushing their boats, with only the jerrycans filled with fresh water they had collected inland as cargo, through low tide into the sea. The three boats etch a keel-trail in the squelchy, sterile mud. At the horizon, away from these three plodding men, the sun reflects in the only water present. Not explicitly but subtly instead, this photo series makes visible just how catastrophic flooding and the shortage of fresh drinking water influence daily life in this corner of Bangladesh.
Imbalance The imbalance of the ecosystem has an impact on not only the jobs of the Bengal people, but also on their health and their lives. Nobody knows the exact cause of the change in sea water levels. Only one single fact is measurable: the salinity levels in the water table are rising. This causes a chain reaction of events. Agriculture is no longer possible, simply because the old plants cannot grow in the salty soil. People are forced to look for new ways to earn money. Thus, shrimping is developing rapidly – a new industry which uses far fewer workers than agriculture and thus threatens the livelihood of many other people for whom no work is available. Shrimping in turn exposes more and more land to brackish water. Consequently, women have to go farther into the mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans national park in search for fresh drinking water. In this park they are exposed to many dangers, including attacks from sharks, crocodiles, king cobras and Bengal tigers.
Munem Wasif Munem Wasif (1983) lives and works in Bangladesh. He is a graduate of Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography. He started his photographic career as a feature photographer for the Daily Star, a leading English daily in Bangladesh. His photographs have been published in numerous national and international publications including Le Monde, Himal Southasian and Asian Geographic.
Salt Water Tears