Chobi Mela III Festival of Photography in Bangladesh

January 2005 -

The Chobi Mela international festival of photography opened its doors on 6 December 2004 in Dacca, Bangladesh. A stunning festival was organised in difficult circumstances, with more than 30 exhibitions (at 7 different locations) of works by photographers from 17 countries. In addition, the public could sample the delights of multimedia presentations, film showings, readings and workshops.


Exhibition in open air. Photo: Geerte Wachter

This third Chobi Mela had to overcome setbacks. For instance, a week before the festival, the galleries controlled by the government withdrew, which meant that organiser DRIK had to hurriedly find alternative sites. One of the make-shift solutions turned out to be an excellent choice: located in the middle of a large fallow piece of land in the centre of Dacca, a tent was set up within which a number of Asian photographers exhibited their work. Thanks to the accessible nature of this exhibition area, this exhibition was very well visited by all sections of the local population. It appears that the sites in the Goethe Institute, the British Council and the Alliance Française were less accessible to most Bengalis.

The festival’s guests, who included Pedro Meyer from Mexico, Morton Krogveld from Norway, Parthiv Shah from India, Tarek Al Ghoussein from Palestine/Arab Emirates and Shaidi Gadirian from Iran, gave the festival a really international flavour. Works by Shaidi Gadirian grace the cover of this month’s Amnesty International ‘Wordt Vervolgd’ magazine too. They show veiled women whose faces are covered by utensils that from a traditional point of view are seen as typically female, such as a pan or iron. The Dacca public gave these photos an enthusiastic reception.

During its opening ceremony, the festival handed out four lifetime achievement awards to Bengali photographers. One of the four so honoured, Amanul Haque, made a speech in which he referred to the development of photography in his country. There is an active Association of Bangladesh Photographers, several of whose members exhibited work. Bangladesh’s newspapers and magazines set aside a lot of space for photojournalistic works.

The Prince Claus Fund supported the participation of non-Western photographers in the festival.

Geerte Wachter is Policy Officer Prince Claus Fund