I probably saw the news first on some daily. Then, one evening, a friend and I started from home and crossed the water tank to look for the Kalpana Boarding at Shakhari Bazaar. It took almost no time to find it. I can still remember what a strange experience it was. We were all walled- enclosed under an open sky. In that dying winter, I first saw framed photos hanging on walls. Many other came to see them; we were no exception. We then kept looking for what other places there were homing these exhibitions by Chobi Mela. We kept visiting one after the other- Shahbagh Museum, Drik Gallery, Alliance Francaise , Shilpakala- and we found a new door to a new world, or was it a window? It was something entirely new to us. We had a feeling of being lost in a pleasant puzzle of lights or colours, or of something very humane in some strange inexplicable way.
Days went by. This time we had a closer view of Chobi Mela. A massive event was happening. Some huge walls homed worthy enormous frames, and they held black and white photographs. We were at a loss- we kept talking about how ‘that’ photographer was coming, or how there was a discussion by ‘that’ artist to take place. We were in a wintry inertia with colourful dreams- highlighted by our meetings with superhuman artists making laymen jokes, buzzing workshops and above all, these thousands of photographs.
Almost anytime, everyday, a million images jump in front of our eyes, invading our brains and minds, homes and markets and waiting there like invisible slayers. But these images were different. They narrated humane tales, exhibited utmost hatred, deepest pains, cries of the oppressed folks, subtle lampoons or simple love stories. We kept wandering around them. A soldier back from the war as a hero, telling war-stories, or a poet from a serene village playing the bard, or some hyper-realist, a mere hypocrite who makes masterly pieces. The world we knew got upside-down as our virgin eyes met these photographs. Gradually, with utmost secrecy we changed. Our own boats keep getting bigger to sail someday.
We never had scopes to meet big artists with such closeness. I had neither met them, nor seen their works before. But, last Chobi Mela I met Graciela Iturbide from a moderate proximity and wondered if my Dhaka knew who had come to grace her. I do not think she knew. In this magical Dhaka, it was another magical boom. Our perimeter of photography was growing, our Chobi Mela kept adding newer flavours, and the taste was changing…
Vans were ferrying photographs in markets and pavements. Our dreams were growing real. The very art of photography, which then was already on its way of losing its credibility, was finally arriving with a tale of a different way of life. You may call these photographs an opening to some surreal world, you may also consider it mere imitation of reality.
Chobi Mela is a world, like this one we dwell in. The only difference is the language of lights, shadows and colours… Hail Chobi Mela.
By Arfun Ahmed | Translated by Gopa B. Caesar