Women in Photography 2017 Exhibition
Close Distance | Jannatul Mawa

Traditionally, domestic maids worked fulltime in better-off households in eastern Bengal for food and lodging; no cash wages were given. Even now, the work of housemaids is unregulated by the government; neither their working hours nor their minimum wages are legally fixed. Such cheap labor, $15/month, is rare in the world.

Since domestic work is gendered, housemaids are overwhelmingly female. In Bengali culture, women perform domestic work, meaning housewives too perform chores. However, class belonging matters; it leads to the creation of essentially insurmountable distances between wife and help. Maidservants make the bed and dust the sofa, but socially they are not expected to sit or sleep on it.

I believe in the reformist strength of photography, I believe it can aid us in envisioning more humane intimacies. I have taken portraits of housewives and housemaids together, attempting to create an equalizing intimacy, which does not actually exist in their daily lives. My approach to photography binds them together for a small duration. It’s true this fleeting moment will not change existing class inequalities, but hopefully it will act as a prop in helping us imagine better futures.

Although my work is not an ethnographic study, even a quick look at many of the photographs can’t help but expose stark classed differences in body and comportment, gestures, outfits and appearances. These real life photographs, staged to break cultural taboos, also hint at the dilemma confronting the women. While they look different, and are different in terms of their respective social and economic statuses, simultaneously, they are closely connected since the domestic realm in a patriarchal society is the women’s sphere. The maids are ‘close’ to the housewives but ‘distant’ at the same time. As a documentary-photographer, I invade the private spaces of homes; I work from a ‘close distance’.

About Jannatul Mawa 
Jannatul Mawa turned to professional photography after years of working as a social and gender activist. She believes in the medium’s potential to combat discrimination. Mawa holds an MA in Bengali Literature. Later she completed Graduation from Pathshala -South Asian Media Institute of Photography, and joined Pathshala as a Teacher. Mawa began her photographic career with UNICEF.

Mawa covered stories from diverse fields. Her works have been showcased globally in various forums and places, including: Emory University in USA, Drik Gallery, Dhaka Art Summit, Asian Women Photographers’ Showcase, Obscure Photo Festival, Delhi Photo Festival, Oxford University, Guatephoto2015, Bangladeshi American Creative Collective (BACC), Photoquai 2015 in Paris and Chobi Mela International Photo Festival.

Mawa’s work ‘Finding Neverland’ was published in the book ‘Under the Banyan Tree’ by Pathshala and other works were published in Le Monde, The Guardian, etc. She received several awards, including: The Daily Star, ACI-Persona, KLPA, Guizhou Festival, UNICEF & PIB awards.


Women in Film & Photography Showcase Programme
:: Women in Photography Exhibition: 13 Oct to 19 Nov
:: Guided photographer & curator tour: 13 Oct, Fri, 230pm to 330pm

:: Panel Discussion – Woman Photographer: 13 Oct, Fri, 730pm to 9pm
:: Artist talks: 14 Oct, Sat, 2pm to 430pm
:: Slideshow Projection featuring Asian Women Photographers’ Showcase: 15 Nov, Wed, 730pm to 830pm
:: Women in Film 2017 (19 to 28 Oct)