Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar -The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Center for Peace Studies (CPS) of the South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance (SIPG) of North South University (NSU) have organized a weeklong exhibition of 100 cultural objects and artworks representing key aspects of Rohingya memory, experience, and aspiration from this September 19 to September 25.
An inaugural ceremony of the exhibition was held on 19 September at NSU where the collection is being displayed.
Rohingya artisans of IOM’s Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre (RCMC) prepared the cultural objects and artworks, with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands. The exhibiting collection — handmade by the camp-living refugees in Cox’s Bazar — is a part of an ongoing effort by the RCMC to help comprehensively document and preserve the heritage of the Rohingya people.
IOM Bangladesh’s Chief of Mission Giorgi Gigauri said, “By showcasing the beauty and complexity of the Rohingya heritage and people, the exhibition aims to empower the community and ensure the continuity of its cultural heritage for future generations. The RCMC offers a platform for the Rohingya people to share and build their stories with a global audience and to connect with the diaspora.”
Of the exhibiting collection, the triptych of tapestries titles ‘Myanmar Life,’ ‘Camp Life’ and ‘Future Life’ depicts the past, present, and future of Rohingya community while scale models of traditional houses, boats and furniture conjure daily life in Arakan [present name Rakhine]. Farming, fishing, and domestic tools showcase traditional livelihoods and craft skills while videos from camp tell the stories of the artisans.
Rohingya Artisan Soidul Islam said, “We have wings but not feathers, we have minds but not hope. This opportunity has given us both to uphold our culture and heritage.” “My dream is to bring to light all that is hidden of our Rohingya culture and history,” said Md Shibbili, another RCMC Cultural Agent.
According to Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, “Ultimately, the biggest possible achievement of the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre and similar endeavors to preserve Rohingya heritage, both tangible and intangible, would be to ensure the continuity of cultural identity for Rohingya adolescents and children, strengthening ties to their homeland.”
Ambassador Anne Gerard van Leeuwen of Embassy of Netherlands highlighted that “Cultural expression is a way to reflect, and to heal and nurture the mind. The opportunity to engage in arts, crafts and other cultural practices should be accessible to all, especially to those who have lost their homes and remain forcibly displaced. By preserving the cultural heritage and identity of the Rohingya, the RCMC creates hope and strengthens mental wellbeing. Through organizing this exhibition first in Dhaka and then in Amsterdam, I hope that the plight of the Rohingya and the hospitality of Bangladesh will find increased recognition throughout the world.”
The exhibition at the photo gallery of NSU will be open for all from 9:00am to 5:00pm. After this exhibition, the collection will then travel to the Netherlands for another exhibition at the University of Amsterdam. A capsule collection will remain at NSU for their Rohingya studies programme.
Professor Atiqul Islam, Vice-Chancellor of North South University, said, “Organizing an exhibition of the artefacts of the Rohingya community is indeed a great initiative. It indicates how Bangladesh shows respect to the preservation of culture of the Rohingya. It also strengthens the relations between NSU and IOM as both have jointly initiated this event.” “The Center for Peace Studies of NSU has been significantly contributing to producing and disseminating knowledge on the Rohingya issue through research and organizing relevant events,” he added.
Currently nearly a million Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar camps, inhabiting challenging settlements with limited avenues for expression. The RCMC offers psychosocial support through art therapy, protection and skills development activities led by IOM practitioners and mental health officers.