Seeds Shall Set Us Free

Seeds Shall Set Us Free

Cyanotype prints on acid free paper
9 – 13.5 inch
2016-2017 (ongoing)

 Munem Wasif’s cyanotype prints of dripping seeds create variable forms, wounded, conciliated and resilient. Rice and cultural lifecycles in the post-agricultural society of Bangladesh were always intrinsic to the spirit of its people. The Deity of Harvest, Parvati was often remembered, as the brides gave a leaf – plate full of pounded rice to the grooms in wedding ceremonies, and the seasons too were connected to the seeds in an eclectic manner. Three major seeds, Aman, Aus and Boro are harvested in three different seasons, and people celebrate Nabanna as the largest harvest festival on every Agrahayan (a Bangla month).

The seeds simultaneously inhabit an alternate reality. Their dual journey, from celebration to colonial oppression became a testimony in Bijon Bhattacharya’s famous play ‘Nabanna’. The wounds of the seeds in Bengal stem from colonization. 1944’s famine under the British regime resulted in countless deaths as food grains were hoarded by the rulers. Rice was considered gold in Bengal and it became a lethal, political weapon for international powers. Thirty years later in 1974, famine struck again with the blockade from 2.2 million tons of foreign food supply for finding no strategic value of a newly independent nation, Bangladesh. Moreover, the struggle fuelled the resistance, and the hands of farmers replaced seeds with armaments. It became a battle against the purging of local knowledge.

Can we call the microcosm of a species when it contains the nascent form of life within itself? This purity is disrupted by genetically engineered seeds and western pesticides. Current ecology is disconnected from diversity, indigenous knowledge and environmental health. Wasif adds a pseudo-microscope to investigate the seed’s genealogy, which includes other related elements in nature- plants, soil, birds, earthworms, cow-dung, flies, flowers, corn, silk etc. Wasif photographs a variety of lives as a visual archive and traces their formal qualities. It gradually became important to archive and remember the diversity of seeds with local names- Tulsi Mala, Tuli Diga, Shimuli, Locha, Ponkho Raj, Dulalai, Hosum Kini, Shaheb Giza, Sonaka, Bata, Kamini Shali, Bhojon, Chonmoti, etc.

Wasif’s compositions often borrow motifs of Alpana (hand-painted designs with the paint from paste of rice) and their arrangements imitate the modern idea of categorizing knowledge. Cyanotype is a nearly obsolete printing technique with a vernacular quality and that adds a blue subliminal tone in darkroom processing. It is a fragile process where the artist often loses control and each print becomes unique with the accidental presence of dusts, scratches and tonal casts. The duality of picturesque abstraction and a careful typological study spawn purposelessness and force us to search for meaning beyond the mere picture.

by Tanzim Wahab

This project would have not been possible without the help of Mustain Zahir and the relentless efforts of the farmers of Nayakrishi Andolan all over Bangladesh to protect and preserve biodiversity and fight for reclaiming sovereign control over their land and livelihoods. Special thanks to Farhad Mazhar whose vision has led the way and made it possible. Thanks to Rabiul Islam Chunnu, Razab Ali, Borkot Hossain who opened the seed repository and introduced me to a variety of seeds. Thanks to Debasish Shom who made the darkroom a living space again and helped me print all cyanotypes. Thanks to Dilshad Munmun, Tanvir Murad Topu, Toukir Ahmed Tanvee, Enamul Hasan, Sadia Marium Rupa, Asmita Parelkar, Sheikh Motiar Rahman, Nasirul Islam, Md. Shakil Khan, Ruhul Amin and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute.