EMOTIONS TO GENERATE CHANGE
by Lia G. Beltrami and Asaf Ud Daula
Every year, we used to go on an August picnic in a beautiful wood near our home: a fragrant pine forest, a carpet of moss, undergrowth of blueberries and mushrooms, a deep blue sky, the view of the Brenta Dolomites. It was the most luxurious “restaurant” in the world. One year, we brought Her Excellency Evelyn Stokes Hayford, Ambassador of Ghana. Once we got to dessert – raspberries with fresh cream from the alpine pastures – she said she had never eaten in a more beautiful place.
Today, that place no longer exists: on an ominous night in late October 2018, a terrible storm, called “Vaia”, turned it into an expanse of fallen trees. Only desolation all around.
Last year, while searching for traces of the ancient secret garden, I saw a tiny newborn pine tree. I was immediately reminded of the powerful force of the encyclical Laudato Si’: the need to take care of creation, of our common home, “zeal for His house”… In those pages, I finally saw woman and man as part of creation, to be taken care of along with the rest. The seven days of Creation are immersed in the present moment and find their centre in the heart of Jesus. So I timidly looked for an art form that could arouse emotions, emotions that were not an end in themselves, but a catalyst for change. Generative emotions. Emotions to generate change.
For this adventure, I found a partner in Bangladesh, a land battered by the floods of climate change, by the waste of an invasive industry and by difficult social situations. But it is a land that offers glimpses of rare beauty and a wealth of soul-stirring views.
I met the young Asaf Ud Daula on the occasion of the photo exhibition at the Holy See Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015, where I was in charge of the exhibition. The ‘photographic wave’ consisted of 177 shots by artists from all over the world. His Eminence Cardinal Ravasi greatly appreciated the first photograph, ‘Eyes of a man in the street’, taken by Asaf, who was then 21 years old. He had borrowed the camera, an old Nippon, from his father, Md. Shamsul Azam!
I curated his first solo exhibition in Italy, during Religion Today Film Festival. With the proceeds of the photos sold, Asaf bought his own new equipment. He soon received international recognition from National Geographic and major green magazines all over the world, up to the Agora Award in 2020, as ‘Best Green Photographer in the World’.
“I was a kid, with great enthusiasm and passion for photography. I took my first pictures in 2008 with a Nokia 5300 phone… I met Lia six years ago. Lia was in Bangladesh for the Dhaka International Film Festival. Her commit- ment to film and art is intertwined with inter-religious dialogue, and I was immediately immersed. I am Muslim, I believe strongly, I try to live my life as best as I can. At the same time, I grow in confrontation with other religions. In particular, with Lia, I have delved into the path of Pope Francis and I think his commitment is extraordinary.
As a photographer, my essential aim is to capture life’s moments and give them meaning by making them static in time. A photo exists independently of time and space; it is immune to passing time. Consequently, a photo captures the beauty found in a single moment and with it captures the wonder and artistry of that moment”.
Lia: We worked together for a year to interpret Laudato Si’ and ‘translate’ it with intense subjects. The team of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development chose the sentences of Pope Francis which – like rays of the sun – warm up and drive those who know how to observe the world around them.
The supports – made by the Autonomous Province of Trento, Central Construction Site of the Employment Support and Environmental Enhancement Service – were made from wood felled by the Vaia storm, donated by the Magnifica Comunità di Fiemme. They are here as a sign of rebirth and new hope.