Our Songs from the Forest
3 - 18 December 2019
Venue: Siem Reap Riverside
Our Songs from the Forest is a tender solicitation by photographer Uma Bista into the hills of Achham, where we meet a chorus of young women coming of age in a fast-changing society. These young women are learning how to navigate severely oppressive cultural practices alongside new aspirations of equality. Little by little, they are beginning to ask questions and push boundaries.
Without a doubt, life in Achham is not easy, and the patriarchy unabashedly cruel. Women are considered impure while they menstruate, and are banished to a rudimentary shed – the infamous chhau-goth – for 7 whole days of every month. For 7 days of every month, these young women are deemed untouchable.
It is believed that the gods are angered if women break the rules of chhaupadi: Deuta risauchan. The women are then held responsible for all possible ills that might befall the family – especially the menfolk – including accidents, illnesses, deaths, poor harvests, failures in school exams: anything that may bring hardship, sorrow or shame to the family.
Despite new laws that criminalize these practices, fear runs deep: fear of angering the gods, fear of being labeled immoral, fear of being ostracized by the community, fear of change.
Can such fears be replaced by the fear of legal consequences? Will destroying the chhau-goth free us of the traditions associated with it? How to push for freedom from the everyday Chhaupadi?
Uma Bista takes us into the forests around Oligaun, where our young friends seek freedom from the daily oppression. In the forest, the skies are open. In the forest, they feel no fear. In the forest, they sing and laugh as loudly as they wish.
May their fearless songs forever resonate louder.
Uma Bista is a photographer based in Kathmandu. She works on visual narratives that focus on women’s issues, which are close to her heart. She is a graduate of the International Photography Program run by Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Uma is currently working as a Deputy Photo Editor at Annapurna Post, a leading daily newspaper in Nepal.