The Mother Mountain Institute  (2017-ongoing)


The Mountain speaks

Your home is everywhere
The Sun Rays are shining equally on you as on the others
The Universe is here for you
You may live the way the birds live

The first chapter (2017) of the project focused on the story of a South Korean mother. The new chapter tells the story of a mother from Bangladesh (2020).

For the Dhaka Art Summit Sara Sejin Chang has interviewed a Bangladesh mother, whose child was stolen in 1975 for adoption by Terre des Hommes, The Netherlands. Like many mothers in the Tongi neighborhood she assumed she brought her child to a day care centre. But in stead the day she brought her child, that was the last day she had seen her child. Her son and thousands of other children were sold to adoptive parents in The Netherlands.

The interests of the (birth) mothers are overlooked within the matrix of stakeholders in transnational and interracial adoptions. This project brings together testimonies of women who are often found in precarious social and economic situations. Faced with pressure from the state, missionary organizations, and criminal traffickers, patriarchal society has denied them their natural right to motherhood.

Legacies of imperialism and colonialism can be read through the lens of transnational adoptions from the Global South with the Global North. Geopolitics has shaped a situation in which a child can be removed from its mother and home country to support economic, military and political ends.

Despite the fact that Bangladesh has not rectified the The Hague Convention, people from the Global North are still adopting Bangladeshi children. Today, when you Google: adoption + Bangladesh, you will find several ‘agencies’ who offer ways to fulfill the western wish for a child.

A wooden box acts as an enlarged 19th century orrery: a table model of the universe. Two spheres, representing the sun and moon, and the mother and child, orbit within. The red and the yellow ball have their own speed, now and then they meet.

Mother and Mountain
Two figures are evoked: the Mother and the Mountain, who both speak. Bangladeshi singer Mehreen is narrating the story of the mother. Alternating, the mountain speaks, narrated by Moktadir Dewan. After separation, the respective desires of the mother and child to find one another again remain. Like celestial bodies pulled by gravity they circle around each other. Besides the political, economic, cultural and historical context provided by, for example academics, about the why, the how and the when, no sufficient answers are provided that can heal the inner wound of being separated from one’s child.

In South Korea and Bangladesh the mountain is seen as a spiritual figure. It is evoked in this project both as a shelter, a site for meditative walks, and as a spiritual entity that might provide answers to questions that transcend rational thought.

The drawings are made over the years during walks at several mountains known for their spiritual qualities in Poland, India, South Korea, Lebanon and Bangladesh.

Voice mother: Mehreen 
Voice mountain: Moktadir Dewan
Words mountain written by: Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide); Agnieszka Polska, Kumgang Sunim the head monk of the Seon Monastry of Mihwangsa, South Korea; Park, Jin Yeo, the woman who can see the future and the past, South Korea; Jeonhwan Cho; Dario Escobar, hermit Qadisha Valley, Lebanon, Nabil Rahman

This work could not have been made without the help of Mrs. Sayrun and the field workers of Dutch Foundation Shapla Community. Shapla Community helps in reuniting Bangladeshi families with their lost children. Shapla Community asks the Bangladeshi Government for help in uniting families by opening their archives for involved parties.

Special thanks to:
Nabil Rahman, Ahesha Sultana, Diana Campbell Betancourt, the entire DAS team and especially

Lynelle Long, InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV); Christof Bex; Hari Prasad Adhikari Sacré; Carla Jungsung Beijsens, Chiara Candaele, Mark Thur, Katrien Reist, Henk Slager, Binna Choi, bak, Utrecht, The Netherlands; Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, Lebanon

Thanks to:

bak, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Carla Jungsung Beijsens, Dongyoung Lee, Kim Kyungman, Kim Sora
Kimura Byol

Kim Stoker

Global Overseas Adoptees' Link

Supported by the
Mondriaan Foundation


Chapter 2 Story of a Bangladeshi Mother 2020
Contemporary Transnational and Transracial adoption from Bangladesh

South Korea’s post war adoption practices with 200,000-300,000 children forced as adoptee migrants overseas have set an example for other countries such as China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Columbia, Ethiopia, Haiti and Kenya.

Now Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, and previously part of the British India, Bangladesh’s independence came on the back of a bloody Liberation War in 1971 with an estimated 300,000- 3000000 deaths and many war babies born, children of rape victims by the Pakistani militia. During the war, young women were abducted for sexual slavery. After they had given birth the traumatized and scandalized mothers could not keep their ‘unwanted’ children, stories reminiscent to unwanted Korean and Vietnam war babies, fathered by white and black American soldiers. Through missionary organizations such as Shishu Bhavan, Bangladeshi war babies were sent to Christian countries like Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and some European countries.

Despite the dwindling number of war babies remaining available for adoption, the demand from the Global North for children only increased. Due to the deadly 1974 cyclone and famine and floods, people fled from the countryside to the outskirts of Dhaka looking for work and better opportunities and refugee camps were created.

Through testimonies from parents in Tongi to Dr. Preger, it became clear that from 1972-1976 the Dutch chapter of Terre des Hommes became the centre of large-scale child trafficking by laundering criminal acts. Papers were falsified: women (who were not the mothers) were hired to testify in court that they were relinquishing their child. NGOs started to actively search for children to send for adoption. Mothers and fathers were told that they could bring their child for education, clothing, care and housing. To pressure the parents, they were told that they were incapable of taking care of their own children, and that they should bring their child to the daycare centre in Dhanmondi, and were told that they could always come and visit. Soon, they found out that their child was no longer in the orphanage. Sometimes the entire orphanage was empty and all the children were gone at once.

Whistleblower Dr. Jack Preger started to address the issues of alleged child trafficking by Terre des Hommes Netherlands at both the Bangladesh and Dutch Government, and the Royal Dutch Airlines, who transported the babies. He did not get the response he was hoping for, but also lost his residency permit and the license for his four clinics in Bangladesh.

In November 2016, The Council for Criminal Law and Youth Protection advised the Dutch Government to end transnational adoptions. They cited poverty as an illegal grounds, and recognized that international adoption gives rise to a "demand-driven market". The Council encouraged a shift in focus to improving youth care in countries from which the Netherlands still adopts. Also Terre des Hommes Netherlands has decided to end inter-country adoption.

Chapter 1 Story of a Korean mother
Transnational adoption from South Korea

The inception of a well-oiled adoption industry between South Korea, the United States of America and Western Europe is one of the darker chapters of South Korean post-war history. Since the end of the Korean War (1950-1953) between 200,000 and 300,000 Korean children have been sent overseas for international, and often interracial adoption.

In the post-war period, poverty, a high number of war orphans and abandoned children from mixed-race families, exacerbated by a non-existent social welfare system, lead to the first adoptions between South Korea and the U.S. The adoption industry turned out to be lucrative; U.S. economic investments were exchanged for the right to adopt. U.S. military presence in South Korea, and imperialistic entanglement in trade, economics and even spirituality (Christianity has become the largest religion in the country) has ensured that adoption practices between the two nations since the 1950s are entrenched and mutually protected.

Even though South Korea has become one of the wealthiest nations in the world, overseas adoptions continue to this day. The position of single mothers in South Korea is dire. Often they can no longer participate in society and their children are socially excluded. Instead of ending the interracial and international adoption program and investing in the improvement of the position of women and the single mothers, for instance through sex education and provision of child care, the government does nothing to check the trafficking of children.

Thus, the government plays a double role. By not providing a social welfare program for single mothers and their children there is no recourse but to bring abandoned and ‘found’ children to orphanages. These are run by commercial organizations with little regulation. Under government legislation, at the height of overseas adoption, children who were unclaimed after just two weeks in care could be sent for adoption. Several agencies have been found to have falsified birth documents and destroyed information in order to supply ‘orphans’ to the West.