Video by Sony Ramany
When most of the cultural wings operated by foreign missions in Bangladesh almost wound up their activities in the wake of the Holey Artisan Bakery massacre in Gulshan in 2016, Alliance Francaise de Dhaka did not.
Overcoming the horror created on minds of many foreigners living in Bangladesh at the death of Italian, Japanese, Indian and US citizens in the extremist attack, AFD director Bruno Plasse is still determined to continue routine activities, including the French Language teaching classes and holding workshops on various topics like music, art, photography and others.
‘Like many others, we were a bit worried in the aftermath of the terror attack and faced difficulties to resume activities. Still, we had no other option but to continue activities as Alliance Francaise does not get French government grants to pay local staffers,’ Bruno told New Age.
Under the leadership of Bruno Plasse, AFD resumed activities soon after the attack.
‘And we got immediate responses from the Bangladeshi students and aspiring artistes in our French language classes and workshops on music, painting, photography, interior design and robotics,’ Bruno looked upbeat.
Alliance Francaise promotes local visual and performing artistes by organising exhibitions and cultural shows at its Dhaka and Chittagong centres. ‘We also promote Bangladeshi artists and singers internationally,’ Bruno said.
Last year, he mentioned, they promoted Lalon singer Farida Parveen in France and Morocco.
She participated in the opening concert of the 10th Fès Festival of Sufi Culture in Morocco and also performed in three cities in France including Strasbourg, Lyon and Paris.
‘Ocora Radio France, a French label dedicated to the traditional forms of music, launched her album Chants de Lalon Shah, which got good reviews in France’, Bruno said.
‘France-based celebrated artists like Shahabuddin Ahmed and Partha Pratim Majumder work as the bridges between the two friendly nations,’ he continued.
Alliance Fancaise, Bruno says, also plays active roles in growing awareness on traditions and heritages in Bangladesh.
Alliance Française de Dhaka, Goethe-Institut Bangladesh and Urban Study Group in association with culture ministry and Dhaka South City Corporation organised ‘Illuminated Puran Dhaka – Heritage in Limelight’ project in October 2016 highlighting the endangered cultural heritage of Old Dhaka through video and light installations by French artist Christophe Bruyas and German artist Philipp Geist at the dilapidated building Devi Nibash at Farashganj.
The 19th century two-storey building Devi Nibash, is a picturesque riverfront palace right next to Sadarghat Terminal.
The two-day programme also featured dance and music presentations as well as an exhibition showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Old Dhaka.
‘We had some wonderful experiences from the project. We did not know that the heritage site was a restricted place. Even the neighbouring people, who were born and grew up in the neighbourhood, for the first time had access to enter the building,’ Bruno said.
‘Then we requested the culture ministry to introduce a heritage day in Bangladesh when people will have free access to all heritage sites in the country. In September, the government in France declares a date like this with the aim to grow awareness on the importance of preserving the heritage sites for protecting them for the future generation,’ Bruno related.
‘Actually, we the citizen in France are very conscious about protection of our heritage sites. Each and every stone associated with the history of the country is important to us,’ he said.
With the Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, AFD also initiated a ‘Jute and Composite, Tradition and Innovation’ project last year in Dhaka in order to develop innovative solutions to support new way of using historically significant jute fibre in Bangladesh, Bruno said.
With the support of Bangladesh-based NGO JuteLab, a design competition was arranged urging young artists and architects to submit a design proposal for creative furniture designs made of jute.
Bruno Plesse said AFD along with Goethe Instut and British Council were working together for implementing some projects in Bangladesh following the formation of European Union National Institutes for Culture Cluster in last July.
‘We will work together for developing the language training programmes in Bangladesh. The experts will train the language teachers of the three agencies to develop their skill and methodology. We also hope to work together with the education ministry for contributing to the language training programmes of the government,’ Bruno said.
The three agencies would also work together for protecting the heritage sites of Old Dhaka and with some major festivals organised in the country.
‘Cultural arena in Bangladesh is very vibrant. People here in Bangladesh have fascination for art and culture. In every show at AFD, we see presence of huge number of viewers. The way they love their language is rare in the world. We hope to contribute more to make the cultural arena even more vibrant,’ Bruno said.
Bruno Plasse had earlier served as the director of Alliance Française in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Chandigarh in India and Taolagnaro – Fianarantsoa in Madagascar.
He will join the Alliance Française in Chennai, India next month but he says he would always remember his Bangladeshi friends and culture.
With his departure, Bruno said, the policy of AFD would not change, rather his successor Olive Dintinger would work for strengthening cultural bonds of the two friendly countries stronger.