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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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At the midnight of the 21st, Emran Sohel, requested all the participants of the workshop to gather near the gate. Clad in white Emran without sharing a glance with anyone he distributed black ribbons, a white flower and some written text. The text explained the background to the declaration of 21st February as the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO in 1999. Interestingly the last line of text requested the participants to not to ask questions or clap.

Emran got his blood removed through a syringe and then with the same, on a blank white sheet of paper drew the map of Bangladesh. Taking out some blood in his left palm, he drew five forms with his blood on a paper pinned to the wall; and wiped the hands on his white kurta, which now looked intensely blood-stained.

He handed, a piece of paper and a bud to the people around. The volunteers requested the participants to write what ever came to their mind on witnessing this – not in any language but their mother tongue. What added to the seriousness of the performance was that Emran took his blood in his palms and made the participants dip the buds in it and write on the pieces of paper. Later he and all the other members humbly placed the respective paper pieces and the white flowers under the five forms Emran had drawn. After a moment of pause he walked to his room.

That very morning at 7:30 am, while Krishnaswamy was preparing for his performance at the crematory, I got a chance to have a word with Emran. We sat on the steps, of the banks of the river, and asked him if he really considered the act as an intensely personal expression or a performance; and he agreed that it was the prior. Further he said that Emran the day meant a lot to him, not just in terms of its importance but in terms of its close and inseparable relevance to every individual. While speaking about the factual happenings of the numerous killings of the people in Bangladesh who were fighting for Bengali to the national language, from its formation till 1971, Emran had a deep sense of reverence for them. He mentioned that the five forms drawn were of the four university students who were the only ones identified amongst all the other who were killed, when police opened fire on the protestors on 21st of February 1952, and the central one of Bangladesh – as a country, as a mother. The four students were – Salam, Rafiq, Zabbar and Barkat. What drew the expression to a high level of gravity was – the absolute silence.