(b. 1974, Dhaka; lives and works in Dhaka)

Rana Plaza, 2013–2018
Archival inkjet prints (exhibition copies), dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist

Taslima Akhter’s 2013 photo Final Embrace directed the attention of the mass media to working conditions in South Asian sweatshops. It was awarded third place at the World Press Photo competition and named one of the ten most important photos of the year by Time magazine. Unlike many professional photographers, Akhter participates in the struggle of those she photographs. She is the president of the political movement Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity and has been involved in the fight for workers’ rights since the mid-2000s, through media publications and the organization of rallies and protests. Work in such factories is a difficult and poorly paid. The minimum wage is 5,300 taka per month, around 4,000 rubles. For many women this is the only alternative to domestic work, and there is no implication of weekends or free time. Final Embrace is tragic evidence of a structural crisis in textile production. The photo was made on April 24, 2013, after the collapse of a building in which four floors were occupied by workshops producing fast fashion items for European brands and retailers (Benetton, Mango, El Corte Ingles, and others). Managers urged the workers to stay at work and threatened them with dismissal even after a crack opened up in the building, which was not constructed to withstand the vibrations of the heavy machines. The owner of the factory, Sohel Rana, is close to the ruling party of Bangladesh. He is currently in prison for submitting a false tax return. The trial date for the disaster at Rana Plaza has not yet been set. One of Akhter’s goals is to keep alive the memory of the collapse, which claimed the lives of 1,134 people. In her most recent photos, one can see a canvas with portraits of victims embroidered by their relatives. This canvas was shown in 2018, the fifth anniversary of the disaster, on the square in front of Rana Plaza. Thanks to Akhter, a policy of memory is developing in Bangladesh that is close to European in terms of meaning but stems from the political opposition and grassroots initiatives.

Valentin Diaconov