Beginnings in Dhaka

| Tags: Creativity, World

It is the end of the beginning as Chobi Mela VII winds down. I am sitting in the Cafe at the Alliance Francaise de Dhaka where an exhibition of Graciela Iturbide’s magical realism graces the spare gallery space. It is a study in contrasts as young Bangladeshis arrive at the ex colonial outpost to survey the fantastic world of the Mexican photographer. It is heavy with prospect.

There is a deep interest in photography here in Dhaka. The most packed talk was by Bangladeshi writer and photographer Naser Ali Mamun, elder statesman of the art and documenter of the rise of Bangladesh identity. His talk is in Bangla, the audience laughs and adores. It is intoxicating. “Apologies to visiting international delegates if I speak in Bangla”. No apology needed, we felt the talk. It was all that was needed against a backdrop of crystal clear portraits from the dark room days.

The contrast between Mamun and young photographers could not be greater. His is a story of glamorization, theirs is a story of disintegration. The narrative of Bangladesh is caught between the grief experienced by all colonized people, the attempt to assert an independent voice and the pain of slow economic reordering. Three people died on the streets as we looked at photographs. This emergence into a future that is owned by its people is longer and harder than anyone would want.

But it is happening.

The beginning is the beginning of real independence. A people whose voice is clear, strong and  theirs. It is echoed the world over as we see this generation, empowered by technology, step out of the depressing shadow of colonization (finally!) and into the light. This journey too is longer than desired but you can feel from every young photographer that the narrative of pain is being replaced with a narrative of joy. This generation is a beginning, a real beginning and as photographers they know they are visualizing the future Bangladesh. They join young photographers the world over in grasping the power they have in the visual age to re-imagine the world in the bright light of cultural independence.

Chobi Mela has its roots in activism and the fourth estate. But its flowering is in a different world that is more than a reaction to suppression it is a joyful embrace of the the three communities that make us whole: Our intimate friends and family, our culture and the world. The images from Pathshala students were rich in narrative and powerful in their aesthetic. As Patrick Witter, photo editor of Time Magazine said in the Bangladesh presentation: This is world class work, make sure you get paid!

The rest of us, from Ghana, Holland, USA, England, Italy, Mexico, Vietnam, Iran, India, UAE and Croatia (and others of course) were hosted gracefully, passionately and respectfully. It has been a joy to be with this community in Dhaka. I shall return and I know there will be familiar faces from around the world, all attracted like moths to a flame of goodwill and authenticity.

This is the visual age and these are the visionaries.