A cluster of ethereal Black & White photographs, some intimate objects and the video conversations of the close ones, Munem Wasif connects these pieces together to inquire the riskiest subject-matters; religion, identity and personal belongings. These are often risky, because people have strong faiths and opinions, and the overlaps are often overlooked. Wasif’s search starts from a simple, immediate experience. There are two realities Wasif faces simultaneously. Islam weaves relationship with his childhood, upbringing, close ones and the neighborhood; it has stayed close to his memory and intimate surroundings. And his second reality is his own international identity as a bearded Muslim guy, which haunts him every time he travels to Europe, maybe in a small moment when people stare at his bag in a metro of Paris.
Post 9/11 world suspects his appearance as a threat, which stimulates him to look back to his cultural roots. To search Islam in Bangladesh, Wasif relied on multiple folds and voices to overcome a single-layered, stereotypical story. Terrorism, fundamentalism, veil, bomb, Taliban, Jihadi, militant, fanatic- these are words most associated by mainstream media with Islam. But the reality of the Islam Wasif grew up with is far more complex than these words. Islam in Bangladesh is like the multiple colours of a mirror under the sun: veil and lipsticks, verses and adhans (call to prayer), jeans and beard, altogether. This work is about the little fragments, which we do not see in the headlines of newspapers.
The work has certainly become a complex commentary, and Wasif’s photographs, taken in last 7 to 8 years, seem not to contain the complexities alone. Wasif expanded his mediums and made some objects as the reminiscence of memory with Islam. These objects dissent from cliché Islamic symbols and contain personal memories. He adds a video conversation of three of his close ones; his father, sister and wife. Shot in a classic, Flemish portraiture style, the interviews were taken separately but the three-channel projections creates a triptych, and eventually sets up a conversation between each other and projects differing faiths.
Wasif’s video, photographs and objects traces parallel realities and the religious atrocities, minority attacks, blogger killings, secular movements are often embraced and overlapped. His evident humanistic approach also explores the other side; compassion, submissions and tolerance by the believers. Wasif’s personal investigation questions an identity, searches grey lines in a black and white palette; and finally takes him to the same inquiry, what defines ‘who we are’?
By Tanzim Wahab