It was 12 June 1996, the day Kalpana Chakma was abducted at gunpoint from her home in Rangamati, Bangladesh.

Kalpana is still missing.

Kalpana, who belonged to the Chakma community, was a campaigner for the rights of the indigenous people living in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, an area that has witnessed human rights violations, violent conflict and military control. Witnesses claimed her captors were members of the Bangladesh army; there is no confirmation of this.

To break the silence surrounding Kalpana’s disappearance, Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam is bringing to India his Kalpana’s Warriors, which was first shown in Dhaka in 2015. The exhibition, which will open at the Art and Aesthetic gallery on 31 January, will include photographs of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and laser-etched portraits of people on straw mats.

“The portraits are of individuals who are doing their bit to find justice for Kalpana," says Ina Puri, the exhibition’s project head. They include Anu Muhammad, an economist and political activist, Sara Hossain, a human rights lawyer, and Manosh Chowdhury, an anthropology professor at Dhaka’s Jahangirnagar University.

The technique used in making the portraits is inspired by the circumstances of Kalpana’s life. While straw mats play a prominent role in the everyday lives of Chakmas, using a laser beam to create the images represents the incident before Kalpana’s disappearance, when the army set fire to several villages near her home.

How relevant is Kalpana’s Warriors in the Indian context? “India is different from other South Asian countries in that it has not had a military takeover. But state repression has been going on in India for a very long time," says Alam.

Puri adds: “Alam’s ‘campaign’ raises an issue that is not much talked about, not even in India. Women are abducted, especially in the North-East, while some disappear into thin air, but do you see people talking about them?"

The space between us

Bangladesh is also in focus at Shilpa Gupta’s solo show at the Vadehra Art Gallery. The Mumbai-based artist is presenting a series of installations that explore the lives of those settled along the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Her Untitled 2013 installation, for instance, focuses on the erstwhile chhitmahals (enclaves), which were a unique feature of the Bengal borderlands. Using incised photographs and drawings, Gupta highlights the sense of perpetual statelessness and entrapment the people in these enclaves experienced, living in a tract that belonged to one country but was surrounded by another. “The drawing of a line on a map immediately divides people who once shared lives as well as histories together," says Gupta, who started working on the project in January 2013.

She questions the concretization of divisions in Speaking Wall (2010), an interactive sound installation—the gallery visitor has to wear headphones while standing on a narrow row of bricks that abut one wall. A recorded voice directs the actions of the listener (“step a bit closer", “go back") while discussing the redrawing of borders and the arbitrary nature of identity.

The works have been shown at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, US, the Berlin Biennale 2013 and the Dhaka Art Summit 2014.

Master at play

“I make art when I’m in no mind," says Himmat Shah. The 83-year-old artist, who has been working with bronze and terracotta for 60 years, says none of his works are inspired by anything; “I did what I felt like". That highly individualistic approach comes across as one enters the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA).

Tracing Shah’s contribution to modern Indian art, the KNMA is presenting his retrospective, featuring over 300 works. Along with his well-known terracotta sculptures and bronze works, the retrospective, which will continue till June-end, includes his lesser-known mediums—burnt paper collages, drawings and silver paintings.

“Be it sculptures or drawings, Himmat’s body of work reflects an individualistic as well as modernistic vision which hasn’t been fully comprehended. This is why we decided to have this retrospective," says Roobina Karode, the director of KNMA and curator of the show.

Spanning over 60 years, the selection of work starts from burnt paper collages and moves to the seminal terracotta sculptures from his acclaimed Head series. Binding them together are his drawings. “Himmat has always been more popular for his sculptures and terracotta work. By making the drawings the anchor of the show (each work is connected to the other by a drawing), we wanted to highlight his lesser-known medium and extraordinary body of work," says Karode.

The show includes over 200 drawings made since 1957, when he was a student at the fine arts faculty of the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara, to his most recent, 2015, work. “There’s a freshness of vision; he sees the world through his drawings," adds Karode.

Kalpana’s Warriors will be on show from 31 January-5 March, 11am-7pm (Sundays closed), at Art and Aesthetic, F 213/A, Lado Sarai. Shilpa Gupta’s solo show is on till 22 February, 11am-7pm (Sundays closed), at Vadehra Art Gallery, D-53, Defence Colony. Himmat Shah: Hammer On The Square—A Retrospective (1957-2015) is on till 30 June, 10.30am-6.30pm (Mondays closed), at KNMA, DLF South Court Mall, Saket.

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