INNATE IDENTITIES : Lives of hermaphrodites captured through lens

Cultural Correspondent

Quarter, one of the photogrphs on display at the exhibition.

Quarter, one of the photogrphs on display at the exhibition.

Academics call them hermaphrodites. Commoners call them transsexuals or ‘hijras’. What is perhaps hard to digest is the stigma that the society attaches to these terms to refer to the hermaphrodite population of the country. Usually, they are overlooked and ignored by the society. The 18,000 or so hermaphrodite community in Bangladesh were only recently granted the right to vote in the general elections. The ‘ever neglected’ and ‘never understood’ group only get noticed as subjects of studies on marginalized communities.
There are only a very few people in the society who have braved against the social prejudices to get through to the hermaphrodites. Gazi Nafis Ahmed, an internationally acclaimed photographer from Dhaka, is one of those very few people. Ahmed’s lenses have captured the human being that hides under the term ‘hermaphrodite’. With the aid of his camera, he has arrested rare moments of several hermaphrodites, where they have truly bared their emotions. A photography exhibition titled Innate Identities at the Bengal Shilpalaya at Dhanmondi in the capital, showcases 134 such photos by Gazi Nafis Ahmed.
Even though the hermaphrodites are deprived from being accounted in the mainstream, they do yearn for love, acceptance and care like any other citizen of the society. They often have no other option than finding love among themselves.
Nafis has delved in-depth in the lives of these individuals who are generally feared and thus avoided by ordinary people. The photographer has depicted day to day moments, portraits, belongings, households and relationship of hermaphrodites through his images.
Quarter, one of his photos on display, captured four hermaphrodites hanging out on a bed in a small sized room. The four people in the photo reveal a wide range of emotions. One wears a hardened look, which is perhaps from the years of oppression that hermaphrodites are subjected to. Another in the image refuses to look towards the camera, while the two others in the photo sport shy smiles.
The exhibition holds a number of single portraits and also photos of hermaphrodite couples who are captured giving rare poses that give the viewers a deeper glimpse into their lives and relationships.
Ahmed, who was educated in London, has been featured in many international photo exhibitions. His photos have been published by The New York Times, The Guardian, Businessweek and other international popular media.
Inaugurated on May 10, the exhibition will remain open from 12:00 to 8:00pm for everybody till tomorrow.

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