10 highlights from Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography 2017, Dhaka

Art Radar takes a look at some of the works exhibited in this year’s festival.

Held biennially since 2000, the ninth edition of the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography is shaped around the theme of transition.

Cristina de Middel, 'The Afronauts', 2012. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Cristina de Middel, ‘The Afronauts’, 2012, digital photography, digital pigment print, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

From 3 to 16 February 2017, the Chobi Mela IX International Festival of Photography will be held at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and a number of venues in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This ninth edition of the festival has the theme ‘Transition’ and is the product of a team of curators. The festival invites 27 artists from across 16 different countries. Along with the exhibition programme, the festival also includes workshops, portfolio reviews and artist talks. The mobile exhibitions on rickshaw vans, a trademark of the festival, will return to travel throughout Dhaka city, taking the exhibitions from door to door.

In addition, this is the first year the festival has commissioned ten Bangladeshi artists as Chobi Mela Fellows to produce site-specific artworks. The fellows are Abir Shome, Arfun Ahmed, Golam Moshiur Rahman, Minhaz Marzu, Molla Sagar, Najmun Nahar Keya, Reetu Sattar, Salma Abedin Prithi, Sarker Protick and Suvra Kanti Das.

Stanley Greene, 'Open Wound', June 2000, Sleptovsk-Sputnik refugee camp. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Stanley Greene, from the series “Open Wound”, 1994-2000, digital pigment print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

The artists have been invited to work in close collaboration with the curatorial team over several months and the produced work take an interdisciplinary and transversal approach. The fellows are trained in a wide range of artistic disciplines, such as performance, sound and video art, painting, drawing, animation, sculpture, installation and photography.

In an article about the programme, curatorial team member Mahbubur Rahman observes:

In terms of practice, photography is a flexible medium that presents many opportunities. It gives access to art forms such as kinetic objects, collages, graffiti and countless others… As curators of a photography festival we have to keep an open mind and dare to have a cross-media approach. The fellowship project helps us to challenge photography and to show how far the medium can go.

Below are a selection of artists from the festival.

Bruno Boudjelal, 'Algeria, Scrapbooks', 1993-2003. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Bruno Boudjelal, ‘Algeria, Scrapbooks’, 1993-2003. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

1. Bruno Boudjelal

Bruno Boudjelal, a French-born artist of Algerian heritage, presents the work Algeria, Scrapbooks. From 1993 to 2003 he kept diaries of his regular visits to Algeria. The result is a series of booklets that lie between travelogues and personal accounts. The work explores the intersections between Boudjelal’s individual path and the history of the complex nation of Algeria, touching upon the impact of French colonialism as well as Boudjelal’s family history. The threads of personal and identities, and cultural memory are a recurring theme in Boudjelal’s work.

Gohar Dashti, 'Iran, Untitled, 2013. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Gohar Dashti, ‘Untitled’ from the series “Iran, Untitled”, 2013, non-archival digital pigment print, 120 x 80 cm. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

2. Gohar Dashti

Gohar Dashti is an Iranian photographer and video artist who currently lives in Tehran. In her series of photographs Iran, Untitled (2013) Dashti creates a poetic musing on the deserts in Iran, taking inspiration from the 1,000-kilometre stretch of land between Tehran and her family home in Mashhad. The works create a sense of the vast nature of the country.

Dashi emphasises the balance of people and nature in the work. She explains that

In this series I tried to show a harmonic balance with nature, instead of stage objects. What is important is the formal form of the works. These photos are like haikus, which explore the relationship between form and content…meaning should not necessarily be understood, but could be absorbed aesthetically.

Pushpamala N, 'Native Women of South India Manners and Customs', 2000-2004. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Pushpamala N in collaboration with Clare Arni, ‘Lakshmi’ from the series “ Native Women of South India~ Manners and Customs” , 2000-2004, digital pigment print, 22 x 14.8 inches. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

3. Pushpamala N

Indian photographer and visual artist Pushpamala N presents the work Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs (2000-2004). Made in collaboration with Clare Arni, the project rethinks popular images of south Indian women by recreating well-known images. The artists made a fantasy old-fashioned photo studio with painted sets and props. The whole project consisted of more than 250 photographs across four series. Indian scholar and women’s rights activist Susie Tharu highlighted the relevance of the work when she observed that “The artists create a virtual population explosion that mimics the mood, energy and genius of the visual vernacular in contemporary India.”

Susanta Mandal, 'Scrutiny', 2011. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Susanta Mandal, from the series “Scrutiny”, 2011, iron, steel, glass, lens, screen, slides, and candle, 36 X 46 X 48 inches. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

4. Susanta Mandal

Conceptual installation artist Susanta Mandal, another Indian artist included in the festival, presents Scrutiny (2011), a work that was produced during a residency in Nagaland. Drawing from Mandal’s long-held fascination with the magnifying glass as well as his previous work on the concept of surveillance, Scrutiny looks for layers of human presence throughout the city. The work maps the city without taking images of people, but rather looks for their impact through the traces they leave behind. Another work Naukar Ki Kameez (The Servant’s Shirt), also engages with overlapping images, turning the real world into static images. Mandal then plays these images through his kinetic structures.

Robert Zhao, 'A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World'. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Robert Zhao, from the series “A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World”, 2013, digital pigment print, 121 x 84 cm. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

5. Robert Zhao Renhui

Singapore’s multidisciplinary artist Robert Zhao Renhui presents A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World at this year’s Chobi Mela Photo Festival. The project involves documenting 55 animals, plants and environments that are manipulated by men although they do not appear to be. In an interview with Art Asia Pacific, Zhao, a self-professed admirer of natural history, explains his creative process stating:

I’m trying my best to make people aware of how they read or consume photographs, how they react to even just information. The way I have chosen to do this is through my photos but also through borrowing the language of science in the texts accompanying the work.

In this work Zhao documents the ways in which humankind has altered this planet, observing that through the domination of humans the survival of a number of other species is threatened.

Yoshikatsu Fujii, 'Red String'. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Yoshikatsu Fujii, from the series “Red String” (original hand-made edition), Publication: July 2014, Book Size: 16.5 x 22.5 cm, Page: 35 pages × 2 books, Design: Yoshikatsu Fujii, Yumi Goto, Jan Rosseel, Ediorst: Yoshikatsu Fujii, Yumi Goto, Jan Rosseel hand-bound with the author Text: Japanese and English. Limited Edition of 35 copies, numbered and signed. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

6. Yoshikatsu Fujii

Japanese artist Yoshikatsu Fujii’s work Red String is an exploration of her relationship with her parents and the relationship between the family. The work was prompted by her parents’ divorce. Although not surprised, when she heard the news she began to wonder about the connections within families. As she explains,

In Japan, legend has it that a man and woman who are predestined to meet have been tied at the little finger by an invisible red string since birth. The red string tying my parents together came undone, broke, or perhaps was never even tied to begin with.

In her compositional photos, Yoshikatsu Fujii explores how this red string might connect parent and child, as well as how it might hold a family together through shared history.

Shahria Sharmin, 'Call Me Heena', series beginning 2012. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Shahria Sharmin, from the series “Call Me Heena”, 2015, digital pigment print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

7. Shahria Sharmin

In this year’s festival Bangladeshi photographer Shahria Sharmin presents Call Me Heena, a work that explores the lives of hijras in Bangladesh and India. Hijra is a South Asian term for people designated as male or intersex at birth who adopt a feminine gender identity.

In the past, they have had a semi-sacred status and were often invited to bless married couples or newborns. Sharmin got to know the hijra community through Heena who introduced the artist to individuals and their daily lives. As Sharmin states, “Call Me Heena is my attempt to show the beauty in hijra lives, despite the challenges and discrimination they face.”

Taufiqur Rahman Anik, 'du.o.logue'. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Taufiqur Rahman Anik, from the series “du·o·logue”, 2015, digital pigment print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

8. Taufiqur Rahman Anik

For the Chobi Mela Photo Festival, Bangladeshi photographer Taufiqur Rahman Anik presents du·o·logue, abstract photos that explore chemical processes. Taufiqur Rahman Anik first studied dentistry before gaining a diploma in photography and he now merges these two influences through his artistic practice. Often portraying teeth in his work, the images take on a mystical and surreal atmosphere.

Nasir Ali Mamun, 'The Poet with The Camera, photographs of Nasir Ali Mamun, Photoseum 1972- 1982. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Nasir Ali Mamun, from the series “The Poet with The Camera”, 1972-1982, digital pigment print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

9. Nasir Ali Mamun

Nasir Ali Mamun is a well-know portrait photographer from Bangladesh who has been practicing since the 1960s. In an interview with The Daily Star, Nasir Ali Mamun explains his approach to photography:

In 1972, I introduced portrait photography in Bangladesh. I work with famous people from different backgrounds. I try to capture their mood, personality, characteristics and feelings in my camera.

Debashish Chakrabarty, 'Stardust'. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

Debashish Chakrabarty, from the series “Stardust”, 2014, non-archival digital pigment print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the artist.

10. Debashish Chakrabarty

A photographer based in Dhaka, Debashish Chakrabarty explores the plasticity of the human mind. In Stardust, he uses abstract images filled with coloured light to explore the physicality of surfaces and the passage of time. He turns his attention to the skies to ponder the wandering stars.

Claire Wilson

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Related topics: Bangladeshi artists, photography, art and the community, political art, festivals, events in Dhaka,

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