Reflections on Chobi Mela VII

By Alakananda Nag


Chobi Mela, a biennale photography festival held in Dhaka, Bangladesh just completed its 7th edition in January 2013. Chobi Mela (literally, photo fair), started in 1999, is Asia’s largest photo festival. This year the theme was Fragility. Chobi Mela has earned its name as an egalitarian platform for any photographer. And one is surprised by the true diversity. Bangladeshi photographer and festival director, Shahidul Alam (also the founder of Drik agency and Bangladeshi photography school Pathshala) points out that major festivals are located in the west, driven by western concerns. It is very difficult for someone from outside to get in. Here, it is possible to see the work of a student alongside that of Eugene Richards (Eugene Richard’s War is Personal was showing at the festival).

Image from Eugene Richard's exhibition "War is personal"
Image from Eugene Richard’s exhibition “War is personal”

Dhaka was abuzz with the activities that were held in multiple venues spanning 2 weeks. It was packed from morning till evening with lectures, discussions, exhibition openings, and presentations. This year there was participation from 23 countries. One would be juggling between looking at the works of young photographers like Mahdieh Merhabibi, Leandro Viana de Paula, Maika Elan in the morning and roll over to the works of icons like Mexican photographer Garciela Iturbide, Australian photographer Max Pam in the evening; stride discussions with passionate Bangladeshi photographers, with photo editors from major publications the world over.


Patrick Witty, International Photo Editor, Time, was excited by the range of photographers. “There are Kurdish students here, there are Iranians here, Nii (a photographer from Ghana), I’ve never even met Nii. Would I meet Nii in Perpignon? No. Would I meet him here? Yes! That’s what’s cool about Chobi Mela.” One of the main reasons Witty went to Chobi Mela is because he wanted to meet a new set of professionals from the photography world. He continues to say this about Bangladeshi photographers: “I knew they are really good photographers, but the level of work is really strong…it’s a small country to have such a strong tradition of photography.”   Munem Wasif, Bangladeshi photographer and teacher at photography school Paatshala says “Chobi Mela is an interesting platform where the whole world comes to this part of the world. I photograph in Bangladesh, but I also show my work to a global audience. In that sense Chobi Mela & I have grown together.”   Veneta Bulen, Group photo Editor, The Guardian stresses this by saying that Chobi Mela brings together the amazing works of unsung photographers who would otherwise not have the opportunity.


Iranian photographer Mahdieh Merhabibi was an actress in her home country. But she got tired of being directed and decided to draw her own path. That’s when she took up photography after dealing with resistance from her family. She decided to leave Iran and traverse a broader geography to find out why and how people live with war.   Nayantara Gurung a Nepalese photographer started the National Photo Archive – an unique repository of Nepalese history through photographs. Gurung presented a slideshow of the inexhaustible work she and her team are doing in Nepal. “It stated as a DIY process” she says.  As a photographer she was always drawn to family photographs, and perhaps that is where a subconscious interest started. Gurung started going to Chobi Mela in 2009. It is an added advantage that it is so close to home and the chance to meet the best industry professionals from the world over as well as from the region. “In 2009 we met people from the Arab Image foundation, and their work really inspired us.”


“My mind is opening wider because I just understand the level of ignorance we have in terms of communication with each other. Maybe that’s what photography is allowing us to do; bridge these differences and to be able to see the common space between us. To see that really we are all in the same planet.” Said Ghanaian photographer Nii Obodai. Nii has also been working to take African photography to the world (he curated a slideshow with works of photographers from West Africa) says he draws his inspiration from Alam. “I’m happy” he says, “my world is becoming broader.”   And the world was becoming broader at Chobi Mela with its diversity. Whether its Hai Zhang, a Chinese photographer based in New York who was seeking inspiration from the range of work showing at the festival or Kurdish photographer Ari Jalal, who was there to just see and learn since such opportunities are still rare back in his country. It was a reflection of the truly global world we live in.   South African photographer Jodi Bieber was conducting a workshop, and gave a telling presentation of her phenomenal work. Iturbide was dividing her time between attending lectures, her own show opening, and merging in the fabric of Bangladesh taking photographs. The philosophy of Chobi Mela for Iturbide has been significant. She feels Alam is vital to the photography world because he made Chobi Mela from nothing.

Shahidul Alam at one of the evening sessions at Goethe Institut
Shahidul Alam at one of the evening sessions at Goethe Institut

“I’m not married to photography,” says Shahidul Alam. But is instead married to what he can do with photography. With the vibrant Chobi Mela VII Alam has more than proven that one can do so much with photography.

Chobi Mela talks

Some of the highlights of Chobi Mela VII presentations

Pablo Bartholomew (India) in conversation with Munem Wasif and Shahidul Alam Continue reading “Chobi Mela talks”

Wresting the Narrative From the West

As far as Shahidul Alam is concerned, he does not live in the third world or the developing world. While the photographer’s home is in Bangladesh, a decidedly poor country, he thinks of himself as residing in “the majority world.”

Boy playing with home made ball, in shelter built for earthquake victims in Pakistan. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Boy playing with home made ball, in shelter built for earthquake victims in Pakistan. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Most people today do not live in Europe or North America, or have white skin. Yet the world’s economy and media are dominated by a handful of Western countries, and the reporting on developing nations is not always done by people who know their subjects well. Continue reading “Wresting the Narrative From the West”

Launch of Shifting Gravity in Venice

Book Launch: Shifting Gravity A Discourse on Biennials

May 30, 2013, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal,
Crozzola Hall, Venice, Italy

Cover Image: Choi Jeong Hwa, Welcome! (2013). Installation at the Kimdaejung Convention Center, designed for World Biennial Forum N? 1

The Gwangju Biennale Foundation is pleased to invite you to the launch of the book?Shifting Gravity on the 30th of May at Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. This?book, published by the Gwangju Biennale Foundation and Hatje Cantz, presents the issues,?discourses, and practices that have been evolving over the past 20 years with the?development of biennials around the globe.
The catalyst for this publication was the World Biennial Forum No.1, an international forum?held in Gwangju, South Korea in October 2012. The forum and publication were organized?through the collaboration of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, the Biennial Foundation,?and the ifa (Institut f?r Auslandsbeziehungen). During the five-day forum, directors and?representatives of biennials and a number of professionals discussed a wide range of?issues regarding biennials and their meaning as a global cultural phenomenon.
Shifting Gravity is composed of three main essays on the theme of biennials and thirty-nine?essays on different biennials held around the globe. Ute Meta Bauer and Hou Hanru, the?directors of the forum, took on the role of editors for the publication of the book.
Chobi Mela is one of the biennales featured.
For RSVP please contact:?Serene Pac

The Vevey international photography 2013/2014 goes to Augustin Rebetez (1986, CH)

Augustin Rebetez gets main award, while Abir Abdullah gets Reportage award.

After two days of deliberation around?750 applications from 63 countries, a jury of international professionals composed of??Florian Ebner, curator at Folkwang Museum in Essen (Germany),?Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh & Rozenn Qu?r?, winners of the Vevey international photography award 2011/2012,?Erik Kessels, curator and editor at KesselsKramer in Amsterdam (The Netherlands),?Kathy Ryan, photo editor at New York Times Magazine (USA) and presided by French photographer?Bettina Rheimsdecided to award the young Swiss photographer?Augustin Rebetez.?
Continue reading “The Vevey international photography 2013/2014 goes to Augustin Rebetez (1986, CH)”

Positive Light book preview

Want to take a sneak preview of the contents of Positive Light? This preview shows the introduction plus the first five spreads of each section of the book. The original contest was broken down into Culture, History, Place and People.
DO NOT BUY THE BLURB COPY from the link above! We are only using Blurb for preview purposes.
Pledge to buy a copy (or copies!) of Positive Light

Don’t forget, up until 31 March 2013 you can pledge to purchase Positive Light at our pre-sales crowdfunding campaign at this link. Every little bit helps — and more importantly this campaign will help Drik continue its work in social justice in Bangladesh.

The war of '71 never ended

Ina Puri | March 9, 2013 The Times of India

A prominent voice of Bangladeshi identity, Shahidul Alam has garnered acclaim for documenting his nation?s many struggles. As an activist and photographer, he has distinguished himself in international art gatherings, winning accolades for his work that has sought to narrate the story of pain and hopelessness, of the need to fight for justice. He has also founded Majority World, a photo agency that looks to promote talent in Third World nations. TOI-Crest catches up with Alam at the Kochi Biennale. Continue reading “The war of '71 never ended”

Chobi Mela VII on Nafas

A project of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa, Germany) in cooperation with Universes in Universe

Chobi Mela VII
International Festival of Photography, Bangladesh, 2013
February 2013Since its inception in 2000, Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography has aimed at exploring the semiotics of present-day photographic practice in a broad international context, to bring about an understanding of the medium both within the industry and amongst the public at large.

The theme for Chobi Mela VII this year is Fragility, and it presented the creative work of established as well as hitherto unknown photographers. The multi-faceted festival was launched on 25 January 2013. The festival brought together print and digital presentations that challenge the traditional perceptions of art reaching out to the public through gallery, open-air/unconventional locations and mobile touring exhibitions. Parallel to the exhibitions there were workshops, discussions, seminars and lectures initiating debates and discussions on issues central to contemporary photographic practice.

In keeping with the ethos of Drik, Chobi Mela has always symbolised a struggle against hegemony and oppression. The past festivals, thematically addressed Differences, Exclusion, Resistance, Boundaries, Freedom and Dreams gave an opportunity to fine art photographers, conceptual artists and photo journalists, to explore social inequality, in its myriad forms.

The festival featured:
33 Solo Print Exhibitions
Digital presentations
Portfolio review
Presentations by Picture Libraries/Agencies
Review of image-related publications/Book launches
Publication ceremony
Film screenings
Video conferences
Lifetime Achievement award

Exhibition Venues: Alliance Française de Dhaka, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Bengal Gallery, Dhaka Art Center, Drik Gallery, Lichutola-Dhaka University.

>> Images
19 image pagesChobi Mela VII

International Festival of Photography
25 January – 7 February 2013
Theme: Fragility
Artists from 23 countries
Chobi Mela
Drik Picture Library Ltd.
House 58, Road 15A (New)
Dhanmondi Residential Area
Dhaka 1209
Website / Email
Founder and Director:
Shahidul Alam

Bangladesh: Articles
in Nafas Art MagazineBangladesh: Artists
in Nafas and UiU

See also:
Shahidul Alam
The man who has transformed the face of photography in Bangladesh. About his series Migrant Soul. By Fariha Karim, April 2009
Chobi Mela IV
International Festival of Photography, Bangladesh 2006, organized by Drik and partners. By Fariha Karim, November 2006
Chobi Mela III
International photofestival in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Organized by Drik Picture Library Ltd. and partners. By Haupt & Binder, December 2004
Socially committed organization: Photo agency, gallery, festivals, publications, educational work, etc. By Haupt & Binder, October 2003

Good bye! See You in 2015!

© Drik/Majority World

We would wish to thank all the exhibiting artists, event participants, workshop conductors, sponsors and everyone else who helped make this festival a success.

Sparks of Chobi Mela VII will linger on over the next couple of weeks – with certain workshops only having begun and the touring exhibitions still to be dispatched – but hopefully the Chobi Mela fire and passion for photography will sustain us until the next edition of the festival in 2015.

Over the past weeks we’ve come to understand that fragility need not be a weakness but can be a source of strength and that there is kindness not only in listening to other people’s opinions but great hope in empowering their stories. Now we just need to build on that.

Barbara AKA Shift ©Drik/Majority World

With the end of the festival my time in Bangladesh is slowly running its course… So, good bye for now and see you back in Dhaka for Chobi Mela VIII.

Let’s see if we can get 2 Rolls Royce for the opening rally in 2015.

Visit the Chobi Mela Blog

In a visual age, visionaries

Nii Obodai Photo by Chris Riley
Nii Obodai Photo by Chris Riley

by Chris Riley

From portraits of the men and women who made Bangladesh, to a poem to The Buriganga. From an intimate examination of the bond between two sisters and a rare skin disorder to the documentation of Chinese pollution. From Mexican magical realism to Iranian reality and the brutality of war. From students to mentors and beyond. The picture editors from Time, Geo andThe Guardian meet the Majority World as it finds both voice and vision. In among the teeming Dhaka Chobi Mela?s white background posters seem to be beacons of a new world: less depressed, less angry and newly empowered to write not only Bangladesh?s future but our own.

Ruth Eichhorn
Ruth Eichhorn from GEO magazines
Photo by Chris Riley

Last time I was here I loved the student show and this year was no different. Tutored, mentored and cajoled by Morten Krogvold a group of 25 students documented Dhaka?s human side and created a show in four days, including the shoots and the printed catalogue. Rather than descend into the depression of all of Dhaka?s problems the students plundered its substructures to elevate the fine and the fun. Idiosyncratic, profound and often simply cool, the show was a triumph of story-telling with a twist: stories told by young men and women about the goodness of the human spirit and its capacity to prevail. This work was not full of parental anger, it was full of a child?s delight. I loved it.

Continue reading “In a visual age, visionaries”