Lost Shadows 2021
Digital video 14’20”
Commissioned for Rethinking Nature
Courtesy of the artists
Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts was established by artist Kamruzzaman Shadhin in 2001 in an area of northwest Bangladesh with a rich hybrid culture of indigenous traditions imparted by waves of settlers displaced historically by colonization, the privatisation of land and today also climate change. Gidree Bawlee’s practice is rooted in the local community and nourished by experimental processes merging ancient cultural heritage with contemporary concerns. Addressing environment issues in this area of marginal agricultural land under pressure from climate refugees and others they use craft workshops often with young people, and experimental forms of puppetry. The video Lost Shadows brings to life histories and tales from the past, like ghosts returning to watch over the living. A procession of shadows crosses the screen, that were once part of the regular life in the village and are now lost and forgotten. They dance to the melancholic tune of departure. Not so long ago, the land was thickly forested and various species of animals, birds and other supernatural beings lived alongside humans. With time, the jungles were cleared, and the big trees cut down to make way for industrial agriculture. As the humans encroached on every possible corner of land, the non-human beings that had been central to the life of the village slowly disappeared. The dancing tells mute stories full of melancholic loss that evoke disappearing animals and plants, pushed out by the advancing industrial monoculture that erases ancestral knowledge and non-human beings.
This is a story of a village where almost everyone is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. With the advent of industrial agricultural methods which freed us of the seasonal famine (Monga) – the so called ‘green revolution’ of the 1980s which introduced hybrid crops and fertilizers to increase production – the indigenous seeds disappeared, as did traditional agricultural knowledge, as well as the animals and other spirits that were part of our lives before. Farmers have to buy everything now – seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, hormones – and the costs increase every year, the agricultural companies grow larger and the farmers stay poor. All the while these agricultural methods are contaminating the water and soil. Due to the requirement of using large volumes of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the soil has lost its fertility and the rivers, ponds and ditches have lost the numerous local varieties of fishes once found in abundance. The birds and bees have been driven away or killed by the pesticides, and many local plants have become extinct due to the large-scale use of herbicides. The effects of climate change are also being felt, rivers are drying up and farmers depend on groundwater more and more, but the groundwater level is declining every year due to excessive use. Slowly and silently, the non-humans surrounding us have left. Drawing on the traditional music and shadow puppetry of the community, this performance is a portal through which we try to connect with all those lost beings. The disappeared are still here as shadows, as if returned from the past to tell the stories of loss. But they are mute, we are unable to hear them.