In a country where being homosexual is illegal there's people that fight together against exclusion and violence. The “Cinderellas” of Dacca, shown in the images of Annalisa Natali Murri, make themselves pretty and go out into the streets with the most powerful weapon, self-irony
Being transgender in Bangladesh
by Silvia Criara
“The strength of an image lies in the sensations that it pulls out of each of us, it's made of mystery and of what isn't said” says Annalisa Natali Murri, “you have to recognize yourself in it, it must make you relive those experiences and those universal emotions like fear and solitude that every one of us has felt in our life”. Her Cinderellas are the hijras, transgender women from Bangladesh, who fight everyday standing tall to be recognized. A story of diversity and exclusion that speaks to the heart through intense and delicate photos. It reminds us that a world without prejudice is possible and that we must come together to build it.
How was the project Cinderellas born? I was organizing a trip to Bangladesh and I was looking for an interesting story to tell. Surfing the web I came upon a picture of a group of trans women dressed in traditional clothing, they were hijras. I started to do research to understand who they were and how they could be accepted in an ultra conservative society that is mostly muslim. I looked for contacts on location and discovered that the hijras organize themselves in small communities guided by a leader, so I went to meet one in the suburbs of Dacca. When they come out they're almost always left on the streets because it's a stain to have a transgender person in the house, so they are welcomed by these new “families”. They live together, ostracized by society, without a recognized identity, obligated to prostitution, but their energy, their desire to talk about their lives, their stories overtook me from the start.
Why do you call them Cinderellas? I wanted a title that gave the idea of the beauty they carry inside, I didn't want it to be a dramatic work. Black and white has a very strong emotional impact, but in the photographs I tried to show the intimacy and femininity.
Has it always been like this for them? Once they were an elected part of the social structure and were venerated in all the countries of the Indian subcontinent. Their “diversity” elevated them morally, they were perceived as demi-gods, halfway between the human and the divine. They were called to dance and sing during festivities, to bring on good luck and prosperity during weddings and when a child was born. Then the situation changed with the arrival of islamic fundamentalism and, paradoxically, the media. Once their type o entertaining fell out of use the society also lost the belief that they were illuminated beings and they were pushed away little by little. Nowadays they aren't recognized as the third gender even if there about 35 thousand of them, they can't have their female identity, humiliation is continuous and they are subject to bullying, aggression and murder.
“The situation of the hijras changed with the arrival of islamic fundamentalism and, paradoxically, the media”
What did you not expect? The strength, the pride and joy with which they face the day, even just to go to the supermarket to buy fruit and vegetables or to go to the mosque. I saw smiling people, that don't pity themselves and walk about with their heads high. They're fighting, coming together in associations to change things, and they're doing it. (In October Pinki Khatan was the first transgender person to be elected in the history of Bangladesh, now she's vice president of the municipal council in Kotchandpur, a town in the western part of the country, editor's note).
What struck you the most? Their gestures, the attention they have in fixing themselves up and their elegant manners. And then their lightness, they joke around a lot. They're strong people that don't step down in front of anything, self-irony is their shield to move forward.
How do you show psychological consequences in a photo? Knowing how to show intimate aspects lies in your ability to perceive them and to give them to the spectator. I like that whoever is looking at the image re-interprets it, there's always a halo of mystery and of unspoken words that then becomes the power of an image. You need to recognize yourself in it, even if we aren't hijras we need to relive those sensations and feelings, the discrimination, the fear, are emotions that each and every one of us has felt.
“I like that whoever is looking at the image re-interprets it, there's always a halo of mystery and of unspoken words that then becomes the power of an image”
Why do we need a Biennale of Female Photography? It's happened to me several times that people have told me “You know you shoot like a man?”. In the beginning I was even happy, I took it as a compliment, then I asked myself some questions I thought about how sexist these words were. I grew up with great references of documentary photography: Paolo Pellegrin, Alex Maioli, the Magnum photographers, all men. Now there are more opportunities but there's a need to encourage young people, it's important to show new reference models.
You studied construction engineering. How did you step over to photography? It was a slow process, my passion started when I was studying in Spain, I started following a photography and architecture course. Then there was a major step when I understood that I like shooting to show social emergencies, from that moment on I concentrated on documentary photography. At university I was a researcher and maybe this is the trait that ties the two professions together, the fact that you have to document yourself, that research is much more than half the job.
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Journalist, born in Milan. At the age of 5 she asked for a pool for her dolls as a present but she didn't receive one. So she had an idea, she took a wooden drawer from her dresser and filled it with water to put her Barbies in it. From that moment she has never stopped following her ideas and resolves herself to talk about people who bring on the bravest ideas to promote social rights, through contemporary art, photography, culture, and design. Stories of creative resistance that she discovers all around the world. She dreams often, even during the day.