A photo shows 10-year-old Faisal standing between two paddy fields wearing a Superman costume. There is no indication in the photograph that there is something wrong with him. But Faisal has leukaemia. Even with such a deadly disease, he wants to fly like Superman – that is seemingly the message in the photograph. Farhana Satu, who is the photographer, took a series of photos that attempt to capture the stories of leukaemia affected kids like Faisal.
These photos are currently being exhibited in a solo exhibition event titled 'Ongkur' at the Asiatic Centre. Organised by the Mangaldeep Foundation, and curated by Sarker Protick, the exhibition began on 20 November and is scheduled to end on 3 December.
About three lakh children are diagnosed with blood or bone marrow cancer every year in our country, out of which only 20 percent of children can achieve recovery. The exhibition titled 'Ongkur' has been organised to raise awareness.
The photographer has tried to highlight the dreams and visions of affected children through the photos, which hauntingly allude to the dreams cherished by those children.
Farhana Satu is a London University graduate in Law. After coming back to Bangladesh in 2015 she practised law only for six months, before beginning to get increasingly engaged in photography. She took foundation photography courses at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. But when she decided to change career and make photography her profession, as she enrolled in a three-year photography course, she found herself fighting against the wishes of her family.
"When I decided to pursue photography as my career, my family told me to leave the home. Then one day I really got out of my family's house, with my camera, clothes, my pet cat and some money," said Satu.
It was not easy for her and she struggled a lot. She lived in a tiny room at one of her friend's apartment. Many days, she went to her photography classes by walking from Mirpur to Dhanmondi, when she couldn't afford the commuting fare.
But things began to change. As a student, opportunities started to come her way and Satu got photography works around the country. Her family seemingly acknowledged that photography can be a profession. Satu moved back to her home.
Now she is one of the finest documentary photographers of the country and an inspiration for many women photographers. She is an official consultant photographer of Unicef.
Work for the current 'Ongkur' exhibition began back in 2016, and it is still ongoing. In 2008, Setu's five-year-old cousin was diagnosed with leukaemia. At that time, Satu spent a long time in the hospital with her sister. Then she met many other children suffering from leukaemia there and she began to develop relationships with them.
The work is challenging and can be difficult psychologically. Among the kids documented, only two are still alive.
"When I was staying with my cousin at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Medical University Hospital, I had the opportunity to come very close to many children with this disease. Almost all the children were between 5-12 years old. But they didn't really understand that they were suffering from such a serious disease," Satu said.
"I didn't want to portray their suffering in my story. I tried to portray their dreams and how they feel about themselves. The concept of the project spurred from a rather simple question. I had asked the children suffering from acute leukaemia what they wanted to be if they had magical powers," she added.
Curator for the exhibition Sarker Protick said that Satu brought out the inner voices of the children. "I have been personally familiar with this work for a long time since Satu was my student. Usually, pictures of children show them playing or laughing or crying. But Satu has brought out the inner voices of children in a fantastical way," Protick said.
The exhibition is open for all till 3 December.
TBS Picks: A selection of photographs from the show with descriptions from the photographer.
"I went to see the chariot fair with my father once where I saw a magician. He showed many kinds of magic, since then I also want to show magic." -Mahin
"Shishu Park is far from our house and the road is not good. I can't go there easily, if I could be Superman, I would fly away and it would cost me nothing." -Faisal
"I saw a picture of a fairy in a story book. Since then I just wanted to be like a fairy. If I could become a fairy once, then there would be no more trouble."-Rupok
"The school is not far away, it can be seen from the window of the house. I will go to school again when I get a little better." -Fatema