As we watch in horror at the scale of the event, several things come to mind. How events a thousand miles away can affect our lives in so many ways. How connected we are in our joys and our sorrow. I realise that Bangladesh was not as badly affected as our neighbours, and that we should take pride in our achievements, but Bangladeshi newspapers today gloated over the victory of the Bangladeshi cricket team over India in their headlines! While I fret over the fact that the media plays on the negative, to downplay a disaster of such proportions in favour of a cricket match said a lot about our sense of proportions. In 1991, when nearly a million people had gathered to demand the trial of a war criminal, the government had chosen to ignore the news and mentioned instead the man of the match in a cricket game in Shunamganj. I had hoped a free media would play a more responsible role.
As I watch BBC and CNN interview British and German tourists, and the director of Oxfam from her office in Oxford, I remember my experiences in the 1991 cyclone where one hundred and twenty thousand people died in Bangladesh. As I stumbled through the debris, trying to get a sense of what had happened on the night of the 29th April 2001, I kept asking “What happened that night?” The aid workers told me of the number of bags of wheat they had distributed. The government officials quoted the figure in dollars that would be needed for reconstruction, the engineers spoke of the force of the wind.
A young woman in Sandweep looked at me and said “The land became a sea, and the sea became a wave”.
I try to imagine the tsunamis hitting the coasts of India, and Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and remember her words. The thousands whose lives have been wrecked by the earthquake do not constitute the ‘experts’ that the media consider worth asking.
27th December 2004
Well, Chobi Mela III is coming to an end. One of the artists visiting Chobi Mela III was the celebrated Mexican photographer, Pedro Meyer. Pedro is also the editor of one of the most popular websites on photography <http://www.zonezero.com/> www.zonezero.com. It is apt that the editorial on zonezero today, the final day of Chobi Mela III, talks about his visit to the festival. Extracts from the editorial where Pedro talks both of his experience in Dhaka and his feelings about the festival follow. The full text is available at: http://www.zonezero.com/editorial/editorial.html Bangladesh is according to economists, one of the poorest countries in the world . However, statistics tend to also obscure other aspects of life that seem to get lost in such descriptions as "among the poorest in the world". I found that the people in Bangladesh are among the friendliest I have ever met any place, nothing to say that they must be the biggest enthusiast of having their picture taken that exists on the face of this earth Probably the most efficient way of getting on with life is, how it is dealt with, in this very poor nation. This event (Chobi Mela) here, is one of the largest of it's kind in Asia. Bringing photographers and their work to the forefront during the two weeks of this festival. I have met photographers from all over the region, and I am sure that as this festival grows over the coming years, Bangladesh will increasingly become a major center for the development of photography. And what better place to have such an event than a city, where to such a large extent, photography is welcomed by the population. Pedro Meyer left day before yesterday, Raghu Rai left yesterday, Ozcan Yurdalan left this morning, while Zhuang Wubin is still out there somewhere in Sylhet. The exhibitions by Morten Krogvold, Michel Szulc-Krzyzanowski, Srinivas Kuruganti (Alliance Française), John Lambrichts (Goethe Insitut), Raghu Rai (Drik Gallery One), Darren Soh, Student’s of Morten’s workshop, Zhuang Wubin and Chris Yap (Drik Rooftop Gallery) all end today. We will arrange separate showings for “Bridging East and West”, by Saudi Aramco World, which was held up by customs, and the exhibition by students of Barbara Stauss at a later date. Those of you who cannot make it to the galleries should give your eyes a feast at <http://www.chobimela.org/> www.chobimela.org. Shahidul Alam
I Will Not
Today on Earth Day we are celebrating by making promises But I will not I will not stop throwing paper on the ground. I will not stop using plastic bags I will not go to clean the beaches I will not stop polluting I will not do all these things because I am not polluting the world It is the grown-ups who are dropping bombs It is the grown-ups who have to stop One bomb destroys more than all the paper & plastic that I can throw in all my life It is the grown-ups who should get together and talk to each other They should solve problems and stop fighting and stop wars They are making acid rain and a hole in the ozone layer I will not listen to the grown-ups! [Student of class five of Karachi High School on Earth Day 1991]. Other forms of resistance can be seen in the second week of Chobi Mela III, the biannual festival of photography in Asia. While the evening presentations (http://www.chobimela.org/schedule.htm), the workshops by Chris Yap, Barbara Stauss, Pedro Meyer, Rupert Grey, Dick Doughty, Morten Krokvold and Liz Wells, as well as some of the exhibitions are already over, Peter Fryer's workshop is still ongoing, and Raghu Rai's workshop is yet to start. Numerous exhibitions are also ongoing, including the open air shows at the Abahani Park, and the hugely popular mobile exhibitions traveling all over Dhaka. Besides the Chobi mela website www.chobimela.org <http://www.chobimela.org/> where daily updates are available, those of you who couldn't make it to Dhaka should look up Tay Kay Chin's visual diary at www.eastpix.com <http://www.eastpix.com/> . As for the all night river cruise, sorry there are no substitutes. Thanks to all the volunteers, the teams at Sketch, Ikon, Pathshala and Drik, the Prince Claus Fund, the partners, associate partners and the organizations who provided institutional support. Chobi Mela III could never have been realized without your active support. Special thanks to Chris Yap for making the wonderful prints, Peter Bakker of TNT for getting Morten Krogvold's exhibition over, Dr. Hashemi for providing the Entifadha posters, and NTV, Channel I and The New Nation for providing excellent media coverage. Thanks also to Rob White and his team at LCC for their brave try at video conferencing and Yutaka Ohira for his excellent work behind the scenes.
Today on Earth Day we are celebrating by making promises
But I will not
I will not stop throwing paper on the ground.
I will not stop using plastic bags
I will not go to clean the beaches
I will not stop polluting
I will not do all these things because I am not polluting the world
It is the grown-ups who are dropping bombs
It is the grown-ups who have to stop
One bomb destroys more than all the paper & plastic that I can throw in all my life
It is the grown-ups who should get together and talk to each other
They should solve problems and stop fighting and stop wars
They are making acid rain and a hole in the ozone layer
I will not listen to the grown-ups!
[Student of class five of Karachi High School on Earth Day 1991].
It was in the wee hours of the morning. Propped up in our beanbags Nuzhat and I chatted while Zaheer and Ragni clicked away on their keyboards. I was in Karachi doing a story on Abdul Sattar Edhi, the philanthropist I admired greatly. Nuzhat and I had a lot of catching up to do, and our stories wandered in unplanned directions. We talked of when she and Nafisa Hoodbhoy had started the Peace Committee in Karachi and as she remembered this story her bright eyes welled up. Nuzhat was not the sort of person one could imagine being angry. But as she recalled the words of this little boy, she shook with emotion.
It was a week after they had heard the news of the US dropping a bomb every two minutes on Iraq. They had talked in school of how the world was being destroyed, of how the minds of people were being moulded, of how Pakistanis were looked upon at airports, but how the work of Edhi went unreported. She recalled how at the end of her talk, the chief guest, a woman known for her good work, went up to the boy and quietly told him off. How the prizes went to the other kids who had made presentations that no one could remember.
What can we say to the blind & deaf?
What does education & learning mean?
What should we teach & why do we teach it?
These were questions Nuzhat asked that night. Questions we continue to ask.
As we put together the work for this festival, I have marvelled at the range of statements the artists have made to address ‘resistance’. At their modes of expression. At their defiance. To resist, to challenge, to question, to go against the grain, to deliberately choose the untrodden path is a conscious decision. It is a risky route fraught with danger, but a route we must follow, if change is to come.
The festival itself continues to buck the trend. Open air marquees without gates or walls bring rarely seen work to a wider public. Billboards on cycle rickshaws take exhibitions to city spaces that have never known gallery walls. Combining innovative low cost solutions with state of the art technology, video conferences link the virtual with the real, while canvas prints on giant scaffolding scorn the air conditioned confines of exclusive openings. Hand tinted prints rub shoulders with pica droplets on digital media. Fine art, conceptual work, installations, traditional photojournalism, coexist in a strange mix, oblivious to attempts to categorise and label. The future, the present and the past huddle, sometimes uncomfortably, to produce a kaleidoscope of images and woven messages, that question, reflect and celebrate aspects of our existence.
When globalisation has become a euphemism for westernisation, it is this dissolution of borders, this resistance to consumerism, this dream of a world where the might of a few, can be effectively challenged, this belief that tanks and stealth aircraft, and media spin will not subdue an indomitable spirit, that characterises this festival. It is this attempt to subvert, through blogs and handbills and word of mouth, the propaganda machineries that dominate the airwaves, that the artists have taken as their inspiration. The festival is a call to resist, and a declaration of the resistance to come.
5th December 2004