Let’s Talk with Anne de Henning: Memories of Bangladesh in War and Peace

Let’s Talk with Anne de Henning: Memories of Bangladesh in War and Peace

CRI and Samdani Art Foundation jointly organized a discussion event ‘Let’s Talk with Anne de Henning: Memories of Bangladesh in War and Peace’ on 17 December 2022, at Liberation War Museum, Dhaka. Over 120 participants including freedom fighters, family of martyred intellectuals, young photographers, artists, journalists and art enthusiasts joined the conversation. Development professional Asif Munier moderated the event.

Who is Anne de Henning

Anne de Henning is a veteran French photojournalist. She was born in 1945. Her career as a photo reporter began in the late 1960s. She had worked in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Philippines and Borneo. She has had exhibitions of her work over the years in Paris, Arab Peninsula, the Middle East and Italy.

In 1971, she was working in Nepal. She heard about Bangladesh’s Liberation War and decided to enter Bangladesh. She wanted to witness history in the making. She entered Bangladesh in early April 1971. During a brief stay, she photographed the Pakistani Army’s genocide campaign, the devastation caused by the war, the freedom fighters and the immeasurable sufferings of the people. Anne’s second visit to Bangladesh was in 1972 when she photographed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the first council meeting of Awami League.

Witnessing History in the Making, Photographs by Anne De Henning: Bangladesh 1971-1972

To celebrate the golden jubilee of Bangladesh, Samdani Art Foundation and CRI co-produced an exhibition titled “Witnessing History in the Making: Photographs by Anne De Henning Bangladesh 1971-1972”. The first iteration of the exhibition was held in Dhaka from 10 December, 2021 to 31 March, 2022. It is currently showing at the Guimet Museum in Paris.

The Let’s Talk

“Let’s Talk with Anne de Henning: Memories of Bangladesh in War and Peace” began with a brief bio of Anne de Henning, and introductory information on her two visits to Bangladesh in 1971 and 1972, presented by moderator Asif Munier.

The main discussion began with Anne de Henning describing how she started her career as a photo reporter. Later, she went on describing how she entered into Bangladesh in 1971. When the Pakistani army launched the all-out genocide against the people of Bangladesh, she was in Nepal. She went to Kolkata, teamed up with three members from the press. After several failed attempts, she entered Bangladesh through Jashore in April 1971. She visited Pangsha of Kushtia district, Chuadanga and Rajbari.

“I was in Nepal. I read a dispatch from AFP. That’s how I found about what was going on in Bangladesh. And that Pakistani authorities had closed the country to the press and obviously when you close a country to the press it is because you have something to hide. So, I decided immediately to come to Calcutta and see how to get into the country.”— Anne de Henning

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She recalled the moment when she met some freedom fighters for the first time, and how they welcomed her. She described how less-equipped they were in terms of ammunitions and yet they were highly spirited to liberate the country. Wherever they went, they encountered crowd urging for modern war equipment and foreign help.

On her second visit in post-war Bangladesh, she said that when she learnt that Bangladesh has become liberated, she wanted to see the independent Bangladesh and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of its independence.

“I wanted to see the newly independent country and of course I wanted to see the man who led the country to independence. I was awestruck by his charisma, by the vigor, the delivery of the speech and by the way he could change mood, he would sit down.”— Anne de Henning

In the concluding segment, Anne de Henning responded to some questions from the participants regarding her photographic journey in Bangladesh in 1971 and 1972.