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Book Review: Belonging


Book Review Belonging By Munem Wasif Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson After first paging through Belonging I, as a reviewer, was overcome with a deep sense of intimidation. Rarely do we find ourselves in the presence of something that exudes such excellence and love. Love? Yes, absolutely love; these photographs thrust one into a place, a time, a community in a way in which I am at a loss for words to draw comparison.

Belonging. By Munem Wasif.
éditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013.
 
Belonging
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

Belonging
By Munem Wasif

$65.00
éditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013. 160 pp., 69 duotone illustrations, 9¼x6¾". 

After first paging through Belonging I, as a reviewer, was overcome with a deep sense of intimidation. Rarely do we find ourselves in the presence of something that exudes such excellence and love. Love? Yes, absolutely love; these photographs thrust one into a place, a time, a community in a way in which I am at a loss for words to draw comparison. The tenacious realness of these images, made somehow surreal through black and white, is more akin to the vivid nature of dreams. Once you have engaged with Belonging and walked away it seems less like a collection of photographs and more like a memory that eludes full recollection, or as if you fell asleep in the passenger seat of a car as it passed through a foreign city, waking every so often, stealing an image, a scene here and there and then submerging them in the elusive waters of dreaming.

Belonging. By Munem Wasiféditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013.

Belonging is Munem Wasif's photography of the capitol city of Dhaka in Bangladesh. The images don’t present anything definable; this is not a people series or a city series, rather the images speak to Dhaka as a living organism; a place fulfilled by individuals, crowds, celebrations, commerce, architecture, and time with its continual building and wearing down. The expansive view of Dhaka becomes something like a hymn, it reaches outwards by looking in, a sort of ecstatic experience of place, interaction, and tradition and, remarkably, Belonging is devoid of sadness. Always there is joy. Even amidst the rundown buildings, the desolate places, the poor domiciles, joy pervades.

Belonging. By Munem Wasiféditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013.

The choice Wasif made in shooting these images in black and white adds to a sense of narrative. We feel that we are engaging with a place trapped in time like an insect in amber. These images resist time, they exist with a poignant urgency and represent an eternal moment: a courtyard conversation between neighbors, an afternoon nap amidst the day’s work, a funeral, a gathering of fishermen. Simple themes find their way to the forefront and are captured in their honesty and their continual necessity.

Belonging. By Munem Wasiféditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013.

Infrequently does a book contain as much power as Belonging does. It is a book that pulls you in, that places you among its subjects. You cannot engage with it without becoming a witness to it, a participant of its daily joys. This is a book so real in its feeling that Wasif seems always to want to remind the viewer that we are engaging with photographs. Figures frequently appear as ghost, blurred in their steps, the eyes of a dog are white with the camera’s flash, edges bleed, but never is there a sense of sloppiness. Instead Wasif taps us on the shoulder to simply remind us that we are only viewers, we’re only looking into a record of “Old Dhaka.”

Belonging. By Munem Wasiféditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013.

The book itself is a work of art. Cloth-bound, expertly designed and laid-out, Belonging runs the risk of rising to the level of art itself, of abstracting from a presentation of Wasif’s work into a work in-of-itself. Rarely do we engage with a book that feels as nice, flows as tastefully, and gives so much or speaks, as it does, to so many.

Belonging. By Munem Wasiféditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013.

Belonging reminds me, more than any other thing, of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, that long poem that celebrates all, finds joy in all experience, and seeks to repel none. It’s a community conversation, a social engagement that seeks to show people as a social animal, as occupants, and fauna to the urban flora of markets, harbor fronts, and apartment buildings. “Belonging” as it is meant here, would mean excluding nothing. Wasif leaves nothing out, and everything in is in by love.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON

Selected as a Best Book of 2013 by:
Manik Katyal

CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON is originally from Madison Wisconsin. He came to Santa Fe in 2002 and graduated from the College of Santa Fe majoring in English with an emphasis in poetry. He is a freelance writer and reporter.

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