Farhana Satu (@aronnika) likes to document people, stories, and moments that would otherwise be lost to the ebb and flow of time. Based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Satu is currently trying to memorialise the changing landscape of Bagerhat, her hometown. Bagerhat is a coastal district in south-western Bangladesh, and like most coastal districts in the surrounding area, it is insidiously impacted by climate change. Rising sea levels and soil salinity have placed the UNESCO World Heritage Site at serious risk of being submerged in water. It is this fading district, also known as the Old Mosque City, that Satu spends her time documenting. In addition to returning to her hometown for this endeavour, however, Satu peregrinates to Bagerhat for another ongoing project, Oblivion, which concerns this article.
Oblivion is not only about the intimate relationship that Satu shares with her grandmother. At a meta level, it conveys the solitude experienced by the elderly in Bangladesh who are left to their own devices in villages, as the younger generation migrates to cities in search of better opportunities. In an interview Satu expressed that the elderly become very lonely when left behind in this way, despite the fact that they have huge families. Satu's grandmother's generation lived collectively in large joint families. However, now, she said, 'time has changed and the cultural practice has shifted to accommodate the modern fast paced life.' She added that this was more common in Western countries, but that it is an entirely new thing in Bangladesh. Satu's grandmother witnessed this transition, and it is important to her that she shed light on the effects of this change by visually narrating the solitary story of one affected individual.
Solitude is certainly a theme that runs hauntingly through Satu's photographs. Objects and people both appear in either ones or twos. In most photographs in the series, Satu's grandmother is seen by herself, bathing, standing under an umbrella in the rain, in her garden, with her back to the camera. Alternatively, she is seen sitting, contemplating, staring into the distance, through windows - her kitchen window, her bedroom window, and a bus window. Objects too appear by themselves, as if left behind and having aged with time - one saree, one necklace, one coat, and one picture frame. If objects and persons do not convey the solitude experienced by Satu's grandmother, then this is conveyed by empty spaces - empty streets, empty fields, and empty rooms. Occasionally one spots Satu's grandmother in these empty spaces, lingering like a spectre, sharing her solitude with her surroundings.
In addition to solitude, Satu's project is an intimate exploration of ageing, urging one to consider what they have left in the later years of their life, and what they leave behind. As Satu's photographs convey, the ninetieth year of her grandmother's life is characterised by quiet contemplation, solitude, and oblivion, a fate experienced by many from her generation. Bed-ridden these days, Satu's grandmother can hardly move or speak, and Satu spends her time documenting and exploring what ageing means to her grandmother, through her eyes.
Farhana Satu is a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. For over six years, she has been working closely with various renowned photo agencies, international donor agencies, NGOs, and industrial establishments including DrikNews, Drik Picture Library, and UNICEF. Her photos have been widely published in various publications including Bridging the Naf, DOK19, New Era, and Women in Work. She has participated in various photo festivals including DOK19 (Norway), Angkor Photo Fest (Cambodia & Myanmar), Imagination5 (United Kingdom), Hijacking the Reality (Chobi Mela IX, Bangladesh), Bridging the Naf (Myanmar), and Dhaka Art Summit. Her latest solo exhibition 'Leukemia Fighters' was organized by World Child Cancer Organization. As a visual story-teller, she is fascinated by the political, social, and personal aspects of the significant activities that transpire around us every day and the stark implications they carry on our lives currently and eventually in the long run. Her work focusses on bringing these stories to light which otherwise might have been overlooked or taken for granted by the casual witness.