ISSUE 3: CREATIVE RESISTANCE | NOVEMBER 2022 | | Samosa packets against human rights abuses


Samosa packets against human rights abuses

Sofia Karim, an architect, artist, writer and activist living in London, UK first produced ‘Samosa Packets’ in 2018 for a campaign to protest the arrest of Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam. They went on to become the artistic expression of a solidarity movement against widespread human rights violations in India and Bangladesh. The movement, called ‘Turbine Bagh’, continues its campaign, especially for journalists and political prisoners who are deprived of their freedom of expression.

Samosa Packets campaign, 2022 || Courtesy of Sofia Karim

Samosa Packets campaign, 2022 || Courtesy of Sofia Karim

Samosa Packets campaign, 2022 || Courtesy of Sofia Karim

The story of samosa packets’ transformation into a nonviolent protest against human rights violations in South Asia begins in 2018. That’s when Shahidul Alam, a photojournalist, human rights activist, teacher and Time magazine’s Person of the Year, was jailed for 107 days for allegedly ‘spreading propaganda’ by criticising the Bangladeshi government in an interview with Al-Jazeera. Alam’s activist niece Sofia Karim, a London-based artist and architect, began making Samosa Packets, telling stories of the ‘Free Shahidul’ campaign, and simultaneously staged two exhibitions with Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall to protest his unjust arrest. They laid prints of Alam’s Crossfire series on extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh over the Turbine Hall floor. Family members in Dhaka gave news of the exhibition to Alam and, through the prison bars, he smiled.

A few months before Alam’s arrest, Karim had bought a packet of samosas (the savoury pastry widely consumed across South Asia) on the streets of Dhaka outside Alam’s picture agency. Whilst eating, she noticed that the paper receptacle happened to be made from recycled lists of the state’s court cases against citizens. The artist realised that there were so many of these court cases in authoritarian regimes that the paperwork was now being used as disposable packaging. This prompted her to reimagine the packets for the campaign to release Alam. 


Spreading resistance with Samosa Packets

The Samosa Packets campaign, led by Karim, continued in 2020, spreading within an international artistic movement called ‘Turbine Bagh’ that had started in London against human rights violations perpetrated by the authoritarian regimes of India and Bangladesh. UK-based ‘Turbine Bagh’ sought to draw attention to the sit-in protests led by Muslim women, which had begun in the New Delhi district of Shaheen Bagh in December 2019 and were to have culminated with a protest at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in March 2020, before it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of people, mostly women, joined the Shaheen Bagh protests against the police crackdown on citizens and students demonstrating against an amendment to India’s Citizenship Act that eased the way for religious minorities from countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to obtain citizenship, while excluding Muslims. This peaceful resistance ended on 23 March 2020, due to restrictions introduced to curb the pandemic; those who persisted after this date were either arrested or forcibly ejected from the area.

Referencing the Shaheen Bagh protests, the Turbine Bagh movement drew attention to restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms under oppressive regimes in India and Bangladesh. Turbine Bagh continued on social media during the pandemic and became an international movement joined by artists, writers, poets and intellectuals. Among its contributors were Anish Kapoor, Sharon Stone, the Nepal Picture Library, Amitav Ghosh, Zehra Doğan and Arundhati Roy, gaining Samosa Packets wide visibility, including in Nepal, Lebanon, the UK, the United States, Singapore, Mexico, Bangladesh and India.

The Turbine Bagh movement continues its campaign, especially for journalists and political prisoners who are deprived of their freedom of expression in India and Bangladesh, and against authoritarian regimes that perpetuate human rights abuses across the world. In Sofia Karim’s words, ‘Turbine Bagh exists to raise awareness of what we face in India and Bangladesh today and to enact change. Our artistic endeavour extends to include the UK, Europe and beyond, addressing racism, social injustice, imperialism and arms profiteering. We need to think, to challenge and to contest.’


Translation by Ayla Jean Yackley