Ways by Omar Chowdhury at 4A

There’s a really heart-breaking moment in one of the films by Omar Chowdhury, currently showing at Sydney’s 4A Gallery. The film shows a young child (maybe 7-10 years old), begging, crawling along a busy street in Bangladesh. He obviously has a physical disability of some kind and so his movement is painfully slow and deliberate. As he crawls along, people drop coins in a bucket of money he’s pushing ahead of him.

Then all of a sudden there’s a commotion, and the crowd begins to part, as a large group of men come running towards him. As he makes his way towards the side of the footpath, a woman comes out from nowhere and takes away the bucket of money, putting it to the side for him. I still wonder if she was a kind stranger, or perhaps his mother. As the crowd comes through, our attention becomes focussed on them. He disappears from the film.

At first I couldn’t work out what the crowd coming down the street was all about. After thinking it might have been a protest, I soon realised there was a religious element to it all, as the crowd made their way indoors. I’ve never been to an Islamic religious service, so I don’t know if it was typical of what occurs. I noticed, however, it seemed to have some of the elements and theatricality of Christian Pentecostal services. :)

I was the only one at the exhibition when I visited today, and so it was really great to have the time and space to sit in the dark and to really take in this and other films. Other films by Chowdhury were more “day to day”: there’s a woman plucking some of the hairs from her forehead, there’s a couple of boys fooling around on a bike/cart. Cinematically, the films were visually really impressive, but they also had the informality of a home video. The shot in the religious service was wonderful, because the proximity of the camera allowed you to feel simultaneously both a participant and an observer.

I spent an hour or so looking at the works today, but I’m sure to go back and spend a few more hours there, as there’s lots more to see and absorb. The exhibition closes on August 2.


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