13 January 2001 was my walima (wedding reception). The night before the walima, sometime around eleven o' clock, suddenly my phone rang. A friend of mine on the other side said, “Come to Drik”. I was surprised to hear that “1971 The War We Forgot”- the exhibition- had been shifted to Drik from the National Museum. My beautiful wife asked, “Where are you going? Why do you have to go at this time of the night?”.
The highlight of the Chobi Mela I was the exhibition, “1971 The War We Forgot”. Shahidul Alam, together with Robert Pledge, the then President of Contact Press Image, had curated the exhibition. Professor Fred Ritchin of New York University had developed the supporting website. The website was aimed at stimulating discussion on the meaning of the war and the genocide that followed it, the meaning of photography and journalism, and the place of the World Wide Web in commemorating and rethinking history.
It took six years for Shahidul to arrange and collect the photographs of 1971. Robert Pledge, Shahidul Alam and the volunteers worked hard to create the design and layout for the display in the gallery of the National Museum.
Thirty photographers from about ten different nationalities affiliated to a dozen international news organisations had participated in the exhibition. The exhibition displayed the images of great photojournalists like Don McCullin, Raymond Depardon, Marc Riboud, Mary Ellen Mark, David Burnett, Raghu Rai, Marylin Sylverstone, Abbas, Rashid Talukder and Kishore Parekh on the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. It was the very first time ever that such a grouping of photographs by so many distinguished award-winning photographers were being presented to the public anywhere in the world. And it was the first time I saw some color photographs of the Muktijuddho (Liberation War).
Shahidul Alam once mentioned that it was this show that introduced Bangladeshi people to Chobi Mela. He said that people were interested in 1971, and thereby, interested in the photographs. One of the reasons of having this exhibition as the highlight of Chobi Mela I was also to create local curiosity about the festival.
The evening before the exhibition, however, representatives from government agencies came and told us that the photographs of freedom fighters killing the collaborators had to be removed. Otherwise, the exhibition would be sealed. After long hours of argument & disputes, as both the parties were firm in their decisions, the exhibition was shifted overnight from the government facility to the Drik Gallery.
I reached Drik at about 11:30 pm. It was full of Chobi Mela volunteers and photography enthusiasts. Just before the break of dawn, the team finished laying out the exhibition and I found a gallery full of volunteers' love for photography and their respect for the muktijuddho.