There’s Power in Photography: The Undying Resilience of Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival

Interview with Shahidul Alam by Daniel Boetker-Smith
Photojournalist and activist Shahidul Alam speaks out about the effects of his detainment on Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival, and how the event still plans to persevere for years to come.
SHAHIDUL ALAM Photo: Tom Hatlestad
The year 2018 is one that Shahidul Alam, and the wider international photographic community, will not forget so easily. In August last year, just hours after an interview on Al Jazeera where he openly criticized the Bangladesh government’s violent response to student protests, Alam was forcibly taken from his home by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police and arrested.
While remanded, Alam was interrogated and beaten. Following a significant outpouring of support and pressure from Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and other Bangladeshi and international organizations and notable figures, Alam was released after spending 107 days in prison.
As a widely respected activist, photojournalist and academic, Alam is most prominently known as founder of the Drik Picture Library, the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and the biannual Chobi Mela Photography Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which returns on February 28th of this year for its tenth edition.

In one of his first major interviews since the events of late last year, Alam talks to Daniel Boetker-Smith about the upcoming festival, the political power of photography, and the state of the medium in Bangladesh, South Asia and beyond.


Tunisia, from the series “Exodus from Libya”. Bangladeshi migrant labourers who have fled the unrest in Libya walking along a road from the border post at Ras Ajdir towards a refugee camp set up by UNHCR near the town of Ben Gardane in Tunisia. Tens of thousands of people have fled the unrest in Libya, which started on 17 February 2011 as a popular uprising against the 41-year rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. © Chris de Bode

DBS: Given recent events that we have all followed closely, how has planning for this Festival been different to previous years?

SA: The last few months have meant that this year’s festival is coming back to its roots. Chobi Mela began as a very small event, and over the past 20 years it grew significantly in stature. But this year, we are activating a diverse range of less formal exhibition venues around Dhaka. This shift is one of necessity, because Chobi Mela is not an organization that everyone in Bangladesh wants to work with at the moment—we are seen as dangerous. A lot of previous supporters and sponsors of the festival are businesses in Dhaka, and right now they are being tested. They know that their decisions are being monitored and that there is high level of government surveillance surrounding the event. Because of this, we have had to be more inventive, finding new ways to show work, utilizing different types of exhibition and event spaces for photographers and audiences. Some public venues and government-owned buildings are no longer available to us, and we are choosing to see this as an opportunity to move away from the traditional ‘white cube’ mode of presentation, to a much more raw and community-oriented festival. Continue reading “There’s Power in Photography: The Undying Resilience of Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival”

Chobi Mela beckons

 

This is the moment that art lovers have been waiting for. The most prestigious photography festival in Asia, Chobi Mela is about to begin. An exciting mix of exhibitions, workshops, artist talks and discussions involving participants from all the continents awaits you.

Given recent events, the staging of Chobi Mela itself was an act of defiance. The limitations forced us to be more creative, and in many ways, this edition promises to be the most exciting ever. You’ll regret missing it.

Whether you are an active supporter or just a casual visitor, this is the time when it all comes together. Welcome to all of you who have traveled across the globe to be here. Welcome too, to those who call Dhaka your home.

Key information about the events follow. As in all major festivals, there are last minute changes. Flights are missed, visas fail to come through, people get sick. So please look up the website for the latest updates at  http://www.chobimela.org/schedule/

Make friends, see great art, soak in Bangladesh, but above all, enjoy yourselves.

Shahidul Alam
Festival Director

Copyright © 2019, Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography, All rights reserved.

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Why I take photographs

Given the recent attempts, by authoritarian forces which I have been critical of, to undermine my credibility, I feel the reasons why I take photographs need to be tabled.

THE PLACE OF SHAHIDUL ALAM

First published in PIX

by Rahaab Allana

From A Struggle for Democracy, 1987–1990

No heaven, no hell, no everafter, do I care for when I’m gone
Peace here I seek, in this sand and soil, this place where I was born
As oceans deep, as deserts wide, as forests and fences loom
As children die, as lovers sigh, no cross, no epitaph, no tomb…

Place by Shahidul Alam, 2017* Continue reading “THE PLACE OF SHAHIDUL ALAM”

Lucie Awards Honoree Shahidul Alam for Humanitarian Award

Tribute video for 2018 Lucie Awards Honoree Shahidul Alam for the Humanitarian Award.

Presented at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Sunday October 28th 2018. Presented and Received by Gayatri Spivak.

2018 Lucie Awards Honoree: Shahidul Alam, Humanitarian Award from Lucie Foundation on Vimeo.

Justice for Shahidul Alam

By Mahfuz Anam: The Daily Star

Who is this man whose arrest has sparked outrage and condemnation from global bodies and media, including Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN International, SAMDEN (South Asia Media Defenders Network) and publications such as the Guardian, The Washington Post and many South Asian media?

Shahidul Alam. Photo Courtesy: Rahnuma Ahmed

He is one of the most respected photographers in the world. Very few Bangladeshi of his profession has reached his present global stature. His pictures have been published in almost all the global newspapers and magazines in the world. He is among that elite corps of global photographers who is regularly hired by the most renowned global publications to do assignments in various parts of the world. The Guardian (London) while carrying news of his arrest (Aug 6) wrote “his photographs have been published in every major western media outlet, including The New York Times, Time Magazine and National Geographic in a career that has spanned four decades.” Only those in the world of professional photography can really appreciate the honour and prestige of getting published in the media of such renown. Continue reading “Justice for Shahidul Alam”

Shifting the Lens

06 December 2018 The Caravan

The Drik gallery was host to South Asia’s first World Press Photo exhibition in 1993. The exhibition was opened jointly by the deputy leader of BNP Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury (later president of Bangladesh) and Mr Abdus Samad Chowdhury (later foreign minister). It was the only time these top leaders opened an event together/DRIK

On the night of 5 August, a couple of dozen men turned up at the photographer Shahidul Alam’s house in Dhaka. They dragged him from his apartment, bound and screaming, smashing surveillance cameras on the way out. Alam’s partner, Rahnuma Ahmed, was with a neighbour, so she could not react in time. By the time anyone fully realised what was going on, Alam had been thrown into a white van and driven off into the night’s darkness.

The following is an excerpt from “The Man Who Saw Too Much: Why the Bangladesh government fears Shahidul Alam,” by Kaamil Ahmed, published in The Caravan’s latest issue, alongside Alam’s visual account of Bangladesh’s extrajudicial killings. Subscribe now to read in full. Continue reading “Shifting the Lens”

Doing the Bhangra Down India Gate

Where’s your bicycle? The Uber driver asked me jokingly. Yes, I had been known in photography circles and it is true that I did know a few Nobel Laureates. Given that I am a public speaker, and wear several hats, I do also come across the odd head of state, or celebrity. I’d be overstating it if I said they all knew me well. I have featured prominently in a film produced by Sharon Stone, but the long conversation on the phone, after my release, was very much an exception. But now that I have Uber drivers recognizing me, and people stopping me in the streets for selfies, I need to be careful I don’t trip over my own ego. Maybe I should be thanking the same person that everyone else thanks for everything that ever happens in Bangladesh.

I flatly deny making payments to the Bangladesh government for running a media campaign on my behalf. Neither is it true that I deliberately planted the inconsistencies in their fake news, making it appear they can’t tell a Kaffiey from a tablecloth. Let’s not get too technical. It started with me being a Mossad agent and taking money from Israel. Now I’ve been placed in the Al Qaeda farm, and definitely anti Israel. Considering that Israel is the one country that my government does not have diplomatic relationships with, and the only country my passport is not valid for, being anti Israel should theoretically make me a pal. My enemy’s enemy is my friend and all that.

Screen shot of Arundhati Roy and Shahidul Alam in Blitz taken on December 19
Continue reading “Doing the Bhangra Down India Gate”

The Best Years of My Life

Best Years of My Life
Press release
German Foreign Office and Neue Galerie Berlin will present Shahidul Alam at Deutsche Welle?s Global Media Forum and at the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Berlin.
 
With the book publication and the exhibition ?The best years of my life. Bangladeshi Migrants in Malaysia? the international well-known photographer and activist Shahidul Alam will be present on Monday, June 19, 2017 through the Neue Galerie Berlin and with the support of the German Foreign Office on the Global Media Forum of the Deutsche Welle. After the end of the forum in Bonn, the exhibition will be on display at the German Foreign Office in Berlin from Thursday, June 23, 2017, and will be part of the Global Forum on Migration and Development from 28 to 30 June. The Finissage will be published on 30 June 2017 at the Federal Foreign Office with a greeting from the State Secretary Dr. Markus Ederer within the framework of the GFMD. The artist will be present in Bonn and Berlin and will be available for questions and interviews. Further information on the exhibition and the artist in the appendix.
 
As an additional digital component, the Neue Galerie Berlin, together with the technology partner snap2live, presents the newly developed image recognition app ?Neue Galerie Berlin?. All pictures of the Alam exhibition can be scanned with the app (tentatively available on Android). Behind the pictures
 
About
In 2016 Tanja von Unger founded the Neue Galerie Berlin (www.neuegalerieberlin.de).
To provide a relevant platform beyond photography the businessmodel
also collaborates with publishing groups and institutions and is known for its groundbreaking presentation of photographers and their works at economic conferences and events such as the Economic Summit of the Su?ddeutsche Zeitung, Falling Walls Conference, Rheingauer Economic Forum, Global Solutions G 20 Conference of the Dieter von Holtzbrinck publishers.
 
Snap2Life create apps for companies in the media, publishing, automotive, business, sports and advertising sectors. Most of these apps are equipped with our innovative image recognition functionality, which we also provide as an API for integration into other apps. In a fraction of seconds we connect the offline world with any kind of relevant content from the online world.
 
The Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF) is the Place Made for Minds, where decision makers and influencers from all over the world come together. It?s the global platform put on by Deutsche Welle and its partners and the place where you can connect and strengthen relations with over 2,000 inspiring representatives from the fields of journalism, digital media, politics, culture, business, development, academia and civil society. The conference provides a unique opportunity to network, get inspired and collaborate using a wide variety of state-of-the-art formats.
http://www.dw.com/en/global-media-forum/global-media-forum/s-101219
 
?Towards a Global Social Contract on Migration and Development?
Tenth Global Forum on Migration and Development Summit 28 to 30 June 2017, Berlin
Germany and Morocco have assumed the co-chairmanship of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) from 1 January 2017 until 31 December 2018. During this two-year period, the focus will be on the contribution of the GFMD to the United Nations? Global Compact on Migration. The Compact is intended to constitute a strong signal of the international community for an enhanced global migration policy, to be adopted by the community of states in 2018.
https://gfmd.org