Metal Graves

Chittagong in the Bay of Bengal marks journey’s end for many of the world’s ships. Having out-served their function as working vessels, they are disassembled by hundreds of hands to their basic element: steel. Steel is the metonym of modernity, the element that makes the entirety. The ship breaking yards in Chittagong mark Bangladesh’s progress in the modern world, as measured in urban growth and industrialization. Progress is insatiable, fueled by the profits to be made in the desire to reshape the future. Cheap, expendable labour and disregard for environmental contamination conspire to sustain a profitable industry and 90% of Bangladesh’s steel. Progress comes at a price.

The beached and broken ships at Chittagong are monuments to the globalized world they helped to create. They embody nostalgia for a lost past, journeys beyond the horizon, extending back beyond the life of any one vessel to the embryos of our modern world in Europe’s Age of Discovery, colonialism, conquest and commercial rivalry. Just as modernity transforms and remakes all that it touches, these ships in their metal graves, like all monuments, stand mute between the past and an uncertain future.

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