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WELCOME TO THE PROJECT

The Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre (RCMC) is a community space and interactive gallery, digital archive, website, and international touring exhibition. It tells the story of the Rohingya people through a comprehensive collection of cultural artefacts and artworks researched and produced by Rohingya refugee artists, artisans and cultural practitioners living in the camps and informal settlements of Cox`s Bazar, Bangladesh. By showcasing the depth, beauty and uniqueness of Rohingya experiences, our mission is to empower the Rohingya community, promote their healing, ensure the continuity of their cultural heritage for future generations, and create a powerful tool for self-advocacy.
 
The RCMC collection is currently accessible to the public through the website and online gallery. The centre is being developed and will launch as an integrated multi-service complex in Camp 18, fully managed by the refugee community. The complex will include exhibition spaces, artist workshop, office, outdoor auditorium and play area, as well as dedicated spaces for women and children. 
 
A project of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), a UN agency offering life-saving services to nearly one million Rohingya refugees in the Cox`s Bazar camps, the RCMC delivers mental health and psychosocial support and healing through art therapy, protection and livelihood activities led by IOM creative practitioners and mental health officers. By providing this displaced community with the tools and platform to tell their own story in their own voices, the RCMC addresses the ´identity crisis` named by three-quarters of the refugees as a key factor in their loss of wellbeing.
 
The RCMC is the first-ever attempt to comprehensively document and preserve the heritage of the Rohingya. The collection is a pointillist portrait of a culture reflecting on its past, present and uncertain future, exploring the tensions between tradition and innovation, imagination and memory, displacement and belonging. It combines objects of tangible and intangible heritage, ranging from traditional architectural models to embroidery, pottery, basketry, woodwork, visual arts, music, storytelling, poetry, and much more.
The Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre is a multidisciplinary project following a research-to-production methodology. Our approach combines extensive field research conducted by a team of camp-based Rohingya cultural agents working with IOM staff, with arts and crafts production, oral history, archival documentation, and audiovisual storytelling. Our research methods include exploratory excursions, focus group discussions, community workshops, and interviews with key informants. These efforts have resulted in an exhaustive cultural heritage map, driving the production of an exhaustive, ever-expanding collection of items. For our production stream, the RCMC identifies skilled Rohingya artisans and cultural practitioners - from engineers to embroidery artists to poets to potters and more - and equips them with tools and resources to produce objects of Rohingya heritage, identity, memory, and imagination, which comprise the RCMC collection. 
 
Research efforts have centered on identifying a lexicon of traditional culture which defines the Rohingya past. However, cultures do not stand still for their portraits: Rohingya people in displacement are continually adapting their practices to their current living situation. Thus, RCMC artists-in-residence have sought to capture the spirit of a culture in flux by making available new technical skills and materials, and exposing Rohingya artisans and artists to global ideas. The resulting collection ranges from the songs of ancient Rohingya troubadours to contemporary poetry written by Rohingya youth; simple farming and fishing tools to a fantastical menagerie of toy animals woven from cane and bamboo; needlework tapestries juxtaposing scenes from contemporary camp life with memories from life in Myanmar to models of traditional Rohingya houses, and much much more...
 
This approach both conserves tradition and opens new outlets for imaginative expression by the creative and curious Rohingya men, women and children engaged by the RCMC.
Identity
The Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre creates a space for the Rohingya people to self-define their identity by bringing together Rohingya knowledge, resources (including oral traditions, collective and individual memories, indigenous practices, etc.), and people (including knowledge practitioners and artists) into one collaborative space. The Rohingya "walk-through" experience, an interactive exhibit spanning different areas of Rohingya life, is a key outcome of the project.

Heritage
The RCMC ensures the continuity of Rohingya heritage for future generations by collecting, documenting and (re)producing Rohingya cultural practices and artefacts. Collection items serve as prototypes for the production of a wide range of items that might otherwise be lost. RCMC productions such as the Visual Dictionary of Rohingya Culture, the animation series Our Rohingya Adventures, recordings of Rohingya music, posters, books, etc., also serve as learning tools and discussion prompts. Moreover, by establishing a Rohingya cultural archive, the RCMC fosters pride in the Rohingya past.

Livelihoods 
All artisans and researchers involved in RCMC activities receive proper remuneration and acknowledgment for their work. Additionally, the RCMC's conservation-to-innovation production pathway allows them to explore new processes and materials, innovating their crafts and creating future livelihood possibilities. For our work in camp, the RCMC identifies key individuals to lead arts and crafts workshops and participate in knowledge-sharing activities. A dedicated Rohingya team is being trained to operate and manage the RCMC and its educational programs. In addition, an artist-in-residence program has been established to provide Rohingya artists and artisans with access to short-term specific skill workshops led by key local, national and international artists. 

Self-advocacy
The RCMC website, digital archive, publications and exhibitions offer a platform for the Rohingya people to tell their stories in their own voices and share them with global audiences. By expressing the beauty and complexity of the Rohingya heritage and spotlighting Rohingya artists, the RCMC challenges existing perceptions of the Rohingya and asks the world to consider the Rohingya people in the fullness of their being.

We have wings but not feathers, 

we have minds but not hope.

This opportunity has given us both.
- Soidul Islam, RCMC Rohingya artisan


The collection of artworks presented by the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre is framed on one side by the endurance of the Rohingya refugee community in Bangladesh and, on the other, by memories of their beloved homeland of Arakan; these continue to shape the Rohingya experience and their collective heritage.


Under bamboo and tarpaulin shelters, memories are woven into the fabric shaping the content of the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre. In this pursuit, the centre stands as a unique repository of Rohingya arts and culture: A creative platform that provides the Rohingya community with the space and tools so they can be known for their art and creativity, not just their marginalization.


In the case of refugees, artists and cultural institutions play an increasingly important role in raising public awareness of global injustices and effecting positive change. Through this creative platform, Rohingya artisans and artists share the things they struggle with, the way life confounds their expectations and desires, and the efforts they make to find meaning in their existence. In the words of Al-Kindi, father of Arab philosophy: "For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself."


Above all, the arts and crafts of the Rohingya people seek to illuminate their human condition which, fuelled by imagination, allows them to grow and stretch beyond their physical boundaries into the imaginary realm, a place of contemplation, self-care, hope and celebration.


Rohingya arts matter because the Rohingya people matter.

 

David Palazón

The Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre has been a labour of love. Its focus on art and culture as an integral part of creating sustainable futures for refugees makes it unique within the world of emergency response. We are grateful to all the organizations and individuals who dared to believe in this unusual endeavour and helped give it life.
 
IOM-Bangladesh conceived of and championed this unique project through many challenges. The bold vision set by the RCMC project manager and curator drove the project team to imagine a future in which the Rohingya would be known for their art and creativity and not just their marginalization. By successfully realizing this vision, we hope to spark a radical change in the world's attitude toward the Rohingya people.
 
IOM's technical teams coordination in Manila, Geneva and Cox's Bazar have made the launch of the digital collection and website possible. IOM's MHPSS, Site Management, Shelter, CwC and Protection teams offered valuable support and collaboration.
 
The RCMC would not exist without the support of the Government of Bangladesh, now generously hosting over one million Rohingya people. Special thanks to the office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner.
 
Thank you to our generous donors: the Swedish International Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and the Government of the Netherlands.
 
Most of all, thanks to all in the Rohingya community who have offered their stories, support, and extraordinary talents.
 
Manager & Editor
Shahirah Majumdar
 
Curator 
David Palazón

Special Advisor
Manuel Marques Pereira
 
Cultural Studies Consultant 
Lurdes Macedo
 
Field Coordination 
Rezaul Karim 
 
Photography & Videography
David Palazón
Hossain Ahammod Masum
Mirza Inty
 
Archive Management
Lurdes Macedo
Rahul Karim
Rezaul Karim
Verity Marques
 
Architecture & Design
Khwaja Fatmi
Rizvi Hassan

Contributing Writers
Aman Ullah
Fouzia Reza
Lurdes Macedo
Rahul Karim
Rezaul Karim
Shahirah Majumdar
Sophie Danielson
Tazrian Rahman
Verity Marques
Zeeshan Khan
 
Artists-in-Residence 
Asif Imteaz Tanu
Asma Hossain
Farzana Ahmed Urmi
Fawzia Bhuiyan
Khwaja Fatmi
Rowson Akter
Sadya Mizan
Saleha Akter Urmi
Shaila Siraj
Shwettaj Jahan Tithi
 
Rohingya Cultural Agents
Asmoth Ullah
Enayet Khan
Kefayat Ullah
Kurshida
Lucky
Md. Azad
Md. Aziz Korim
Md. Kader
Md. Sahat (Zia)
Md. Shibbili
Md. Yakub
Md. Yousuf
Nurul Amin
Omal Khair
Ro Sawyeddollah
Shahida Win
Shofiqul Islam
 
Rohingya Musicians
Abdul Majid
Ahmed Hossen
Ali Akbor
Amir Ali
Ashraf Meah
Liakat Ali
Md. Taher
Mohammad Salam 
Mohammad Selim
Mohammed Aiyub
Mohammed Hosssen
Mohammed Noor
Mohammed Salam 
Mojaffor Mia
Mostafa Khatun
Muhammed Yousuf
Nurul Amin
Nurul Hoque
Patan Ali
Rohim Ullah
Sayedul Islam
Sirajul Islam
Syed Hossain
 
Rohingya Artisans
 
Embroidery Artists
Ajida
Asmida
Dildar
Fatema Begum ( Camp -10)
Fatema Begum ( Camp -18)
Hamida Begum
Hosne Ara
Jannat Ara
Jannat Ara
Khotiza
Lala begum
Minara
Mohsena
Morijan
Morium
Mustafa
Rokeya Begum
Roshida
Salema
Sara Khatun
Setara Begum
Shamsunahar
Shobika
Shomsida
Shonjida
Showmima Begum
Somuda Begum
Umme Habiba
Yesmin
Zaheda Begum

Carpenters
Abu Taher
Ambia Khatun
Foisal
Hairul Amin
Md. Faruk
Mohammad Ekram
Mohammad Rafiq
Mohammed Hossein
Mohammed Nur
Muhammad Zaber
Noor Ali
Noor Jahan
Roshid
Shomsul Alam

Basketmakers
Ambia Khatun
Imam Hossein
Md. Aiyub
Nur Alom
Nurul Haque
Nurul Islam
Roshid
Rozina bibi
Shafuddin

Potters
Kalu Rudro
Kulsuma Khatun
Maloti Rudro
Niranjan Rudra
Shuvash Rudra
Zawkir Ahmed

Tailors
Khurshida
Nur Nahar
Shekufa

Artists & Painters
Asun
Dil Kayas
Enayet Khan
Mayyu Khan
Rayhan
Rubiya
Sukkur

Macrame Artist
Ali Zohar

Weaver
Nurusaba

Chefs
Kefayet
Mahadu
Mohammad Shaker
Noor Kayda

Blacksmiths
Hazi Rahman
Zubayer Abdul

Calligraphers
Kwari Ershad Hossain
Soidul Islam

Musical Instrument Craftsmen
Dholu Hossein
Lukman Hakim
Nozim Ullah
This database is a work-in-progress. We welcome outside contributions and input, including corrections to historical, ethnographic and linguistic data. 
 
Documenting an oral culture in a state of displacement poses a unique set of challenges, including: lack of a standard Rohingya orthography; lack of written Rohingya histories, ethnographies and literatures; difficulties of connecting with Rohingya scholars; differences in opinion of different segments of the community, and the logistical limitations of working out of a temporary refugee camp; the Covid-19 pandemic, internet shutdowns, etc.

We should also note that, as among any people, Rohingya terminology, food, beliefs, traditions, material culture, etc. may vary according to location, education, socioeconomics, and other factors. Thus two Rohingya people may have different words for the same object, and both words may be correct. Where this has occurred, we have tried to choose the most commonly used word. All RCMC data is verified through workshops and consultations at the field level.
 
Please write to us if you have comments, concerns, or additional data. We consider this site to be a starting point, not a final compendium, and hope it will be used as a platform upon which future scholars and practitioners of Rohingya culture, history and art will continue to build.