Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 6, Issue 03, Tuesday, January 18, 2011




Left Photo: Karen Knorr, Right Photo: Ali Akbar Shirjian

Chobi Mela VI

Photo: Tomas Dezso

An exhibition of photographs has the power to tell stories in a manner that words cannot. The medium, being entirely visual, can deliver messages across clearly and succinctly, leaving memorable images in our mind.

Chobi Mela VI will be held from January 21 to February 3 in Dhaka and will feature artists from thirty countries. This instalment of the festival has 'Dreams' as its theme, designed to be a birthplace of ideas and a crossover melting pot for many artists.

“In a world ravaged by war, to turn to 'Dreams' after 'Differences', 'Exclusion', 'Resistance', 'Boundaries' and 'Freedom' is to return to what holds us together in the face of all our obstacles, the focus of all our longings. In a vastly unequal world, it is our insistence on justice and our ability to ride the waves, which still keeps us dreaming,” says Shahidul Alam, Festival Director and Managing Director of Drik. “I dream that Chobi Mela will play a role in re-writing the history of photography, and correcting the extremely Eurocentric version of history that is currently propagated.”

The unique festival will be launched on the 21 January, 2011 at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Parallel exhibitions will be held at Alliance Francaise, The Asiatic Gallery of Fine Arts, The British Council, Drik Gallery, The Goethe-Institut and the Lichutola at Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University. In congruence with the exhibitions there will be 8 workshops, 2 portfolio reviews and week-long discussions, seminars and lectures at Goethe-Institut Auditorium that will initiate debates and discussions on issues central to contemporary photographic practice.

Ensuring the general public's access is an important part of the festival and admission for the festival is free. Mobile exhibitions on rickshaw vans are also a trademark of the Chobi Mela festivals.

See also:
chobimela.org, chobimela.wordpress.com


Behind the lens

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever. It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything”- Aaron Siskind.

They say, 'Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder' and what if everything was as beautiful as a photographer shows it? The beauty they capture in a simple flower or a bird in the sky. I often wonder, is it really that beautiful? Is the world really that picturesque?

Not many have the power to embrace beauty in everything they see. Not many have the minds to make the best out of nothing at all. And those who do are those who know, who know the real art hidden within everything that is or was. Let us, for once and for all, find out…what really goes on in the mind behind the lens.

Saltwater tears

Munem Wasif

“A family needs about six pitchers of water a day, and they have to walk seven miles to get it -- ignoring knee-deep mud in the rainy season, and braving biting cold in winter. In seventeen sub-districts of southwestern Bangladesh, the normal flow of water has been ripped to shreds by the knife of 'development'.

“The whole story is about the damage wrought by saltwater in areas such as Sathkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat. Fifteen to twenty years ago, the area was full of shrimp farms, as the ocean was close by, and shrimp farming was such a lucrative business.

“This salt water badly affected other ponds which were a source of water and food for many people. Now, the people of the region have no drinking water, there are no green trees since the soil is dry and farmers cannot reap harvests because the land is barren.

“This photograph taken at Sathkhira is symbolic because a boat is supposed to be on a pond or a river, but here it is sitting on a piece of dry, arid land.” Munem Wasif

Dhaka -- My Dreams, My Reality

Debasish Shom

“The story is about forgotten events and feelings unearthed from memory. The sharp edges of the events overtook the numbness of my feelings.

“During my early teen years, I arrived in the big city Dhaka straight from my village where my childhood was spent. The maddening crowds of this city overpower me. I am filled with emptiness and a sense of alienation that I am unfamiliar with.

This is my story where nothing else mattered but the feeling of lightness that could carry me away from the weight of the city like the falling of leaves from trees in my childhood village.

“This photo, I think captures the loneliness of city existence.” Debashish Shom.

Life and Struggle of Garment Workers

Taslima Akhter

“I wanted to be an artist by drawing and making handicrafts but my dream is now ruined under the needle of machines”- Lija, one of those pictured.

“After national sectors like paper, jute and other such industries collapsed, the garment industry became the largest industry of the country. The six-billion-dollar industry functions with near about 3 million workers, 80 percent of whom are women.

“Surrounding the garment industries, large workers' barracks have grown in Bangladesh. Workers have toiled from dawn to dusk for a minimum wage of Tk1662.50 a month (less than $25) from 2006 till July 2011. The new declared gross salary of Tk3000 is not sufficient for them and has not been implemented properly yet.

“This picture was taken at dawn inside one of the barracks. A joint family resides there. Garments workers are the most important contributors to our economic growth, but they endure some of the harshest standards of living. I've tried to portray the contrast between the dreams and realities of these millions of workers, especially the women.” Taslima Akhter

Land of the Free

Shumon Ahmed

Mubarak Hussain Bin Abul Hashem is the only Bangladeshi to have returned from Guantanamo Bay after five years of imprisonment. While under US Army custody, he was known as “Enemy Combatant Number 151”.

“This photo tries to interpret the horrific experience he had in Guantanamo Bay. The man pictured is not Mubarak Hussain but I've undertaken the project with his permission.

“The whole story of Guantanamo Bay prison camp emerges as a traumatic experience. The terrorist suspects were given numbers by which they were addressed instead of their own names. In this tormenting place they became guinea pigs in a vast experiment of methods to crack the human soul.

“If I had to describe this picture in one word, I would say it is 'voyeurism', taking pleasure in other people's pain. This is a kind of torture that we take pleasure from. We live in a world where we might see horrific images of death and suffering on the TV, but soon change the channel to watch or listen to rock music and be entertained. I want this picture to have a jolting effect on viewers, and remain with them for a while, rather than tickle their senses with aesthetic beauty.” Shumon Ahmed

My City of Unheard Prayers

Sayed Asif Mahmud

“My quick transition from the suburban life to the urban race triggered the realisation of the differences. I severely felt the hopelessness and loneliness in my life even when I was amidst a crowd. The naive child in me that once saw the glitter of hope in the city was slowly backing up- scared to run in the rushing race where the entire world was indeed an extravagant stage and I barely knew my part. “This photo, a self portrait, is an expression of a mental state, that of isolation. There is a lure of this mysterious place that keeps me from going back. I found a hope that taught me to reincarnate those dreams in the apparent concrete of this city.

“It is a perception… an experience… and it's still continuing in my life.” Sayed Asif Mahmud


Beauty Boarding and Restaurant

Every culture has its hub, a melting pot for individuals from all walks to meet and exchange ideas. These are venues that shape great minds, who in turn shape our existence. Now, with an urban life devoid of inspiration, we have to look back to the pre-liberation for such an environment. From the beginning of the Pakistan era, one small restaurant at Srish Das Lane helped shape our literary identity. Focusing on Dhaka lifestyle of the Pakistan era, we zero in on Beauty Boarding

Beauty Boarding and Restaurant was possibly founded in the late 1940s or early 1950s. However, there is a consensus that it was originally the office of Shonar Bangla, a literary magazine of considerable repute at that time.

The restaurant was accidentally 'discovered' by prominent poet Shaheed Quadri, who introduced Syed Shamsul Haq to this haven for idle chat. Over the years, as more and more emerging giants of literature were brought to this restaurant, Beauty Lodging and Restaurant became a melting pot of the who's who of Dhaka's literary circle.

“Proladh Chandra Shaha, the proprietor, never said no to us” says Imrul Chowdhury, renowned news-caster of Radio Pakistan and noted poet. “As we relished the savouries at the restaurant, raising a storm over a cup of tea, Proladh Babu would sit in the counter, enjoying our company.”

“Beautians” -- frequent visitors of Beauty Boarding - all agree that if it wasn't for the friendly nature of the owner, chatting and gossiping at the Lodge, often from 9 am to 9 pm, would never have been possible.

In those days, Old Dhaka, as we now know it, was the centre of the cultural movement and a hub for the literary circle. The 'adda,' chatting sessions, were initiated by Shaheed Quadri and the fame of the place soon reached the literary buffs of the city.

Abdul Jabbar Khan, of Mukh O Mukhosh fame, was a frequent visitor of the restaurant as was Khan Ataur Rahman, Zahir Raihan, Shumita Debi and other film activists of the 1950s. A great portion of the first film made in East Pakistan was penned at the premises.

Not only screenplays of films, many of the greatest poetries of that time were actually written at Beauty Boarding.

By the 1960s Beauty Boarding had become a hub of the cultural movement. “Ruchira, at Koltabazaar, was also a popular hangout of that time. But it had a different crowd. As it was more centred on the cultural arena, we never faced any problems with the vigilant Pakistani spies of that time” says Imrul Chowdhury. Nevertheless, political figures like Kazi Zafar and Oli Ahad were often seen at the restaurant.

On 28 March, 1971 Proladh Chandra Shaha, along with 16 others were killed by the Pakistani forces. Helpless, the Shaha family left the country only to return in 1972, after receiving words of assurance from some of the more renowned Beautians. Up to 1978, the lodging was run by Pratibha Shaha, widow of Proladh and since 1980, has been managed by son Tarak Shaha.

“We faced a lot of problems initially from some of our neighbours who tried to evict us and put us out of business. The fight still continues and we still receive threats from some section of the powerful people” said Tarak.

With a goal to preserve this historical site, in 1996, Tarak invited some friends of his father Proladh. Over 200 people attended, and under the leadership of Imrul Chowdhury “Beauty Boarding Shudhi Shonggho” was formed, which by 2005 was given the shape of a trust.

Every year, Beautians meet at the lodge to walk down memory lanes, to honour their peers with accolades for their lifetime achievements in the field of literature and art. Recipients of this award include Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Haq, Shaheed Quadri, Debdash Chakraborty and others.

For Beautians, the place brings back nostalgic memories; for the younger generation it is a site that once shaped the literary scene of East Pakistan. “Business, these days is not good. But we have plans to re-open the restaurant” says Tarak.

Beauty Boarding deserves to be preserved as a heritage site not only for those who fondly associate their youth with it, but for the generations yet to come.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed



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