• Thursday, Jan 21, 2021
  • Last Update : 08:58 pm

An artistic respite at a Rohingya camp

  • Published at 01:00 am March 25th, 2019
Art can help heal
Art can help heal / COURTESY

Art is the best method to bring out the unspoken and unheard


The Rohingya issue is stagnant at the moment. There is no sign of repatriation. And that is because Myanmar has not opened up Rakhine for a thorough inspection to ensure that people will actually be going back to safety and not further repression. 

While the Rohingya crisis seems to be at an impasse, efforts to disseminate the fortitude of the most persecuted people in the world continues. 

Just a few weeks ago, UNHCR’s special envoy and renowned actor, Angelina Jolie, came to the Rohingya Camps, spent time interacting with the children, and then made an impassioned appeal to the world to come forward and do the essential to help the unfortunate people. 

Just recently, there was another event at the Rohingya camps, one which did not involve the oppressed to only relate their horrific experiences of suffering and oppression. 

A Belgian artist called Fabienne Francotte along with Farzana Ahmed Urmi arranged a workshop for creative expressions at the Ukhiya camp in Cox’s Bazaar. The aim was to give the children a chance to escape the monotony of camp life and engage in creative pursuit involving fun, imagination plus excitement. 

Only a few weeks ago there was another much welcome distraction at the camp -- a match between a Dhaka based football club and a team of Rohingya. 

Entertainment and creativity in camps

While Bangladesh is trying to create a global opinion to eke out systematic repatriation of the Rohingyas, the reality is that they simply cannot go back because Myanmar resorts to a variety of shenanigans to prevent any peaceful return. 

The pseudo civil administration in Burma has not even acknowledged that crimes were committed against the Rohingyas. On top of that, their leader Aung San Suu Kyi has shown how the stonewalling of a humanitarian catastrophe can be done over a long period of time with brazen indifference. 

Anyway, more than one and a half years on, the real picture states that the Rohingya are here and since they will possibly remain for some time, it’s a humane move to add uplifting diversions to their lives. 

The five-day art workshop at camp 4 in Ukhiya was aimed to give the children a chance to relegate the banality of camp life and plunge into artistic freedom. 

Amazingly, most of the artwork represents hope, laughter, fun, and joy -- an indication that, despite memories of violence and torture, children harbour a desire for a better day ahead. In some of the works, the dark lingering images lurking in the subconscious mind came out on the canvas -- a woman running with a child to flee the marauding military, or a child reflecting on an uncertain future during a long trek into Bangladesh. 

Sometimes, children open up their inner insecurities, preferences, plus pains when given a chance to paint, feels Masuda Akter, a visitor of the exhibition of artworks done at the camp. 

To bring out suppressed thoughts, art is the best medium, added Tahsin Mahbub, a teacher. Colour always drowns sorrow and despondence, adds Takir Hossain, a famed art critic working for the Daily Observer. 

Takir goes on to say: “Such an initiative is laudable; a development organization can arrange drawing schools at all the camps, select works and then make special diaries or calendars to be sold in all first world countries.” 

The money is not the main objective here; when artwork by Rohingya children featured in diaries, calendars, or wall decorations are sold in other countries, the suffering of the Rohingya will not slide into oblivion, he comments. 

The exhibition in Dhaka

The artist, Fabienne Francotte, also used her profound interaction with the Rohingya as inspiration to paint a series of moving abstract and semi-abstract pieces. The exhibition was arranged under the aegis of the European Delegation in Bangladesh and provided a touching glimpse into the Rohingya psyche. 

While the entire Rohingya imbroglio has underlined the trauma, there should be more events that celebrate the stoicism of the people, their undying tenacity to carry on with life despite huge odds. At the same time, the workshop by Fabienne should work as an example for others to follow. It does not have to be art or drawing sessions only. 

There can be theatre classes, a short drama written and performed by the Rohingya people to highlight their desire to retain their identity and music bands to allow the artistic talents among the people in the camps to flourish. 

Finding gems among the resilient can be an apt title for a comprehensive programme involving arts, theatre, music, sport, dance, and acting. The European Union deserves kudos for arranging the show which can work to inspire others. 

Using creative fields to send out messages from the Rohingya has two advantages: The people at the camps will be able to add some diversity to their lives and the world will be able to see the latent talent among a persecuted community. 

Perhaps, a collection of drawings by Rohingya children should be sent to Myanmar with the message: Despite the relentless repression, the artistic impulses are still vibrant. 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor for Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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