2023 Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar features Rohingya photographers Omal Khair, Dil Kayas, Azimul Hasson  

(DOHA, March 16, 2023)—The photography of three ethnic-Rohingya refugee artists and genocide survivors from Myanmar are being featured at a major art exhibition in Doha, Qatar, said Fortify Rights today. The 2023 Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar is showing the award-winning photography of Omal KhairDil Kayas, and Azimul Hasson, authors of A Chance to Breathe, a new book of exclusive photography and poetry published by FotoEvidence with the support of Doha Debates and Fortify Rights.
The Tasweer exhibition, also called “A Chance to Breathe,” opened March 15 at M7, Qatar’s epicenter for innovation and entrepreneurship in design, fashion, and technology. The show will run through May 20, 2023.

“This exhibition is a testament to the authors’ powerful and inspiring art,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “The authors not only survived genocide in Myanmar but continue to face human rights violations in Bangladesh, and despite that, they’re creating impactful art and reaching global audiences.”

©Doha Debates, 2023

“Omal, Azimul and Dil’s photos and videos are captivating and deeply moving,” said Amjad Atallah, managing director of Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates. “Doha Debates is honored and pleased to team up with Fortify Rights and Qatar Museums to present the world premiere of this powerful photography exhibition.”

The Tasweer exhibition features the three authors’ original poems and photographs of the daily lives of Rohingya confined to sprawling refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh. By telling visual stories of life and resilience and the Rohingya struggle for survival, the exhibition helps reframe dominant narratives of death and victimhood often associated with the Rohingya people.

From 2018 to 2022, the three authors were Media Fellows at Fortify Rights and Doha Debates, receiving training and support in photography and storytelling.

As part of the exhibition in Doha, Tasweer extended the fellowship of Omal Khair, Dil Kayas, and Azimul Hasson for a unique collaboration with Doha Fashion Fridays. From Ramadan to Eid, the trio will work with Doha Fashion Fridays photographers and Tasweer curators to photograph fashion and style in their community. Their photographs will be featured as pop-up exhibits alongside the exhibition at M7 in Doha.

Speaking from Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, Omal Khair said:

As a Rohingya refugee, I use photography to share the stories of my people and document their lives. Photography is a powerful medium that allows me to capture the daily struggles of refugees and convey their experiences to the world. I am excited about the Tasweer fellowship because it will enable me to further develop my skills as a photographer and tell more impactful stories.

Also speaking from Cox’s Bazar District, Azimul Hasson said:

I work as a photographer for my Rohingya people. My photos tell what I see with my eyes, and I want to tell the world the situation of my people in the refugee camps. . . . [T]here is no future in the refugee camps. It has already been over five years now. How many more years do we have to live in the refugee camps? All we want is to go back home and live in harmony and peace like other minorities in Myanmar.

Azimul Hasson hopes to pursue higher education and work as a professional journalist.

Dil Kayas added: “I focus on children going to the schools and want to help our children and support their education. . . I can upload pictures on Instagram to show our current situation and what we need.”

 ©Doha Debates, 2023

The photographers could not attend the exhibition in person; however, Omal Khair and Azimul Hasson interacted live with VIP guests at the opening in Doha through an innovative immersive portal provided by Shared Studios, enabling live full-body interactions between the photographers in Bangladesh and VIP guests at the event.
In 2016 and 2017, the Myanmar military razed hundreds of Rohingya villages in Rakhine State and killed and rapedmasses of men, women, and children, forcing more than 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh. In March 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar to be an ongoing genocide. In 2019, the Republic of the Gambia filed a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice in The Hague for genocide against the Rohingya people.
Omal Khair, Dil Kayas, and Azimul Hasson survived the genocide and were forced from their homes and into Bangladesh in 2017.
In 2018, Fortify Rights and Doha Debates began providing on-the-ground photography and social-media training for Omal Khair, Dil Kayas, and Azimul Hasson in Bangladesh. Equipped with smartphones, the photographers started documenting Rohingya life in the camps, amassing followings on Instagram.
In 2020, the three authors, Fortify Rights, and Doha Debates won a Shorty Award for the project; in 2021, the project won a Communitas Award; and in 2022, it won an Anthem Award.
The Rohingya authors were also featured in the 2021 film “Exodus,” produced by Fortify Rights and Doha Debates and directed by former Fortify Rights Senior Multimedia Specialist Taimoor Sobhan. The film, also featured at the exhibition in Doha, follows the three photographers through their training and offers a look into their lives in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.

 ©Doha Debates, 2023

The 2023 Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar marks the first international event showing the Rohingya authors’ work on a global stage.
Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, attended the photo exhibition opening in Doha. Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith presented her with a copy of the book, A Chance To Breathe, and in an Instagram post on the same day, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani wrote:

I was also amazed to witness the strength and hope of the Rohingya community and viewing the faces of resilience in the A Chance To Breathe Exhibition at M7. Their visual stories of life gave the world an inside look at their lives, and have certainly touched my heart.

The book A Chance to Breathe (FotoEvidence, 2022) is available on Amazon and through FotoEvidence.

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