To showcase rare and never before seen images by veteran French photographer Anne de Henning — shot during her visits to Bangladesh in 1971 to 1972 — Samdani Art Foundation and Centre for Research and Information (CRI) have arranged an exhibition in Dhaka.
The exhibition titled ‘Witnessing History in the Making: Photographs by Anne de Henning’ will celebrate the photographer’s visit to Bangladesh after 50 years.
The exhibition at Dhaka’s Liberation War Museum will be held from December 15 to December 24. Anne de Henning will be present at the opening ceremony and give a special tour through her exhibition. She will also revisit some of the places she had been in during her 1971 and 1972 visits.
Between 1971 and 1972, the photojournalist captured the birth of the nation and her remarkable private archive of unseen photographs is a unique record of the pivotal years which saw East Pakistan transformed into Bangladesh.
The earliest set of photographs from 1971 cover Anne’s first visit to the country at the age of 25.
During the early days of conflict in April, the Pakistani authorities were obstructing foreign journalists to keep them from reporting on the atrocities on the civilian population after Operation Searchlight on March 26, 1971.
This encouraged Anne to secretly travel to East Pakistan along with her colleagues.
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Recalling her first encounter with the Mukti Bahini, she said, “I saw a handful of young Mukti Bahinis stepping out of their makeshift observation post flanked by a tall bamboo pole flying the green, red and yellow Bangladesh flag. They greeted me by saying with broad smiles: ‘You are now in free Bangladesh!’”
Traveling through the country during the Liberation War, her photographs captured life in the war zone – from freedom fighters to men, women and children boarding refugee trains and fleeing from their villages.
On her second visit to the country, Anne’s photographs from 1972 feature Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who, all his life, worked to decolonise the nation from British and Pakistani rule and move towards democracy and freedom.
“There's a leader from the subcontinent who led his country to independence based on very progressive ideals of a secular, equal country for all,” said Radwan Mujib Siddiq, grandson of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and trustee of CRI, expressing his views about the photographs.
“The whole of Bangladesh got behind him, they fought a war against all odds, and Bangladesh emerged independent,” he said.
Anne captured Bangabandhu giving a speech at the first Council Meeting of Awami League after the independence of Bangladesh. “I came specifically from Calcutta to photograph the event,” she said. Although at the time Anne favoured shooting in black and white, she chose to capture this event in colour because of the vibrant blue, white and red stripes of the shamiyana — ceremonial tent — that housed the event.
Images of Bangabandhu were systematically destroyed after the coup of 1975 and Anne’s surviving colour photographs are among the few known to still exist.