Welcome to Emergency Jaruri জরুরী, a digital exhibition across web and twitter, presenting Bangladeshi artists working with a focus on the complexities of the climate emergency. Emergency Jaruri জরুরী includes compelling performance art by Sumana Akter, Gidree Bawlee working with communities to create innovative site specific sculpture and performance, and the films of Molla Sagar telling urgent stories about communities living in precarious conditions caused by the climate disaster.
This curatorial project was conceived by Sara Mia, an independent curator who is British/Bengali, as a reaction to her frames of reference about the environmental issues that Bangladesh faces, being dominated by voices from the global north.
I wanted to change this narrative by championing the work of pioneering artists who are making projects about this complex and emotional topic. Nature has influenced Bengali culture historically and continues to do so in the contemporary art scene.
I’ve lived with the disaster narrative surrounding the country that I was born in my whole life. Floods, cyclones, pollution and rising sea levels continue to make countless people homeless, contaminate drinking water and destroy farmland.
Consuming negative imagery and news about Bangladesh can feel hopeless. By curating this project of authentic voices, preconceived ideas about how Bengali people position themselves in the face of huge challenges are questioned.
On 28 Nov 1985 a leaked Shell report showed that they were aware global heating was real, caused by fossil fuels, and that global temperatures and sea levels were rising and would rise further, all predicted with an alarming level of accuracy. Shell subsequently sponsored biased studies to undermine public acceptance and understanding of these ideas for decades. Neoliberalism is a violent act on our imaginations. We are told that it is the only way until the end of time. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In 1988, in a primary school assembly in Birmingham, a teacher presented overhead projections about Bangladesh. The 10 year old me was horrified to be told that the country that I was from, that I hoped to visit, that my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents lived in would probably be underwater in 50 years time. When I told my parents they were not surprised. My parents talked about the hundreds of different types of birds and fish in the Hoars (internationally recognised and threatened wetlands found in North Eastern Bangladesh) and how there were a fraction left. My Parents knew this from lived experience, now scientific research backs this up. Most of the large mammals that my grandparents would have seen are now extinct (Great One-Horned Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer, Wild Buffalo).
The memory of the assembly haunts me and I feel the loss of the birds, the fish and the land that are my construct, that form the idea of who I am and where I am from. Like most of the diaspora in the UK, I am from a rural family in Sylhet; my family worked with the land. My great uncle built houseboats that meandered the wetlands. Nature informed how my late parents lived, what sustained them, and what brought them joy. Their collective memory echoes in mine.