The largest photography festival in Asia, Chobi Mela, is set to turn the capital into a colossal art gallery from today as it kicks off at seven venues across the city. The seventh edition of the biennial festival will feature the works of 34 photographers from 24 countries in a display of diversity of thought, expression and form.
The launching ceremony will take place at Shilpakala Academy with parallel exhibitions at Alliance Francaise de Dhaka, The Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, Chobir Haat, Dhaka Art Centre, Drik Gallery and the Faculty of Fine Arts at Dhaka University.
Starting in 1997, the festival has grown on every occasion and is now one of the most respected and biggest photo festivals in the world.
Shahidul Alam, director of the festival, said the idea behind initiating Chobi Mela began with the realisation that all major photography festivals take place in the West.
It is impossible for most local photographers to participate in the festivals despite their talent and passion, he said. “That is why instead of taking our photographers to the world, we thought we would bring the world to our photographers.”
Through the theme of “Fragility” this year, photo artists will explore and interpret the fragile existence of man in a multicultural, war-ridden and globalised world. The director observed that the theme was chosen in a participatory manner as people voted for it online from a list of suggestions from last season's participants.
He continued, “I think one of the reasons people chose the theme is that it reflects the state we are in – wars are ravaging the planet, the environment is being damaged, economic conditions are making people feel fragile and vulnerable.”
The festival promises to stimulate the mind and the senses with a diverse array of print exhibitions, digital presentations, workshops, portfolio reviews, discussions, seminars, review of image-related publications, film screenings and video conferences.
“What we have done,” said the veteran photographer, “is ensure that the artistic practice is not limited to traditional forms of repertoire; and we are featuring a wide and eclectic group of artists and art practices.”
Apart from holding seminars for international audiences, the festival will stage mobile exhibitions in non-conventional places, enabling a wide range of people to enjoy the art works.
In keeping with the character of Drik and the organisations that have grown with it, the festival has a core belief in social justice and equality, opined Shahidul, adding many of the exhibits and discussions have an underlying political message.
Shahidul hoped that school students would take part in the festival this time in huge numbers, as he had reached out to 80 schools across the country.
The festival will exhibit the works of celebrated artists, such as Eugene Richards, Gideon Mendel, Okhai Ojeikere, Lu Guang, Muge and Zhang Hai, Graciela Iturbide, Max Pam and Pablo Bartholomew.
There will be five presentations, each highlighting a specific region in the world. Eight workshops will be conducted by some illustrious photographers, including Morten Krogvold, Chris Riley, Chris Rainier and Gaël Turine.
The festival will highlight, in addition to international artists, seven promising Bangladeshi photographers.
The festival ends on February 7.