Chobi Mela VIII – An Experience by Lim Paik Yin

Chobi Mela -Ricksaw exhibition1

I arrived in Dhaka at 9pm after a series of mis-incidents. I’ve missed the opening rally and the river cruise but here is a snippet of a conversation I had with Shahidur, a student of Pathshala Media Institute and a fellow participant at Cristina Nunez’s self portrait workshop, about the opening rally some years back.

“I was stuck in a jam, on the way to uni. It took a long time for the bus to get moving.

As the bus passed by a group of people dancing and singing on the streets with the banner for Chobi Mela, I was so annoyed because it made me so late for class…but the people were so happy and dancing, that it made me curious about Chobi Mela.

Years later here I am in Pathshala and Chobi Mela VIII…” Tushar Shahidur Rahman

I found out about Chobi Mela in 2013 when I was at the Angkor Photo Festival. That was a year after I “graduated” from the Exposure+ Mentorship Programme and I was still wondering about my place in the field of photography.

Angkor Photo Festival was my first photography festival and when Shahidul Alam founder of the Chobi Mela festival presented a slideshow of contemporary photography, what caught my interests in the presentation was the idea of photographs beyond the genres of documentary photography or photojournalism. I remember thinking here is a person in Asia, which is presenting photography as art and research in a manner that I felt was open and approachable.


Chobi Mela is a bi-annual photography festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The components of the festival is similar to many others – portfolio reviews, workshops, photography exhibitions, artist talks and lectures on photography. However what makes a festival stand out is the breadth and diversity in exploring the field of photography as well as the contributions the festival brings to the dialogue on photography. With festival directors, photographers, photo editors, curators, artist and students in the mix, the Chobi Mela festival was a breeding ground for dissent, illuminations and engaged puzzlement in the lectures and panel discussions.The workshop at the Chobi Mela VIII grants participants a multitude of points to delve in the photography world through it’s workshops.The workshops range from the practicalities of grant writing, to creating conceptual dialogue in the Between Fordism, Post-Fordism and Neo-Fordism workshop.

Chobi Mela -Nepal Picture Library Exhibition

Chobi Mela -Nepal Picture Library Exhibition at the library12

Chobi Mela -Mahesh Shantaram's 'Matrimania' at Beauty Boarding House

Chobi Mela -Luis Gonzalez Palma Annuciation at North Brooke HAll 2

The exhibition routes which when fully explored, in total brings the visitor to 11 different venues about Dhaka.Some of the interesting exhibition sites were Luis Gonzalez Palma’s “The ‘Annuciation hosted by an old movie theatre hall with round shaped photographs hanging in mid air. ‘Waiting’ by Jana Romanova whose photograph through familiar through the internet, was refreshingly viewed as one peers from above upon sleeping couples. Mahesh Shantaram’s ‘Matrimania’ in its vibrant excessiveness displayed in colourful rooms in Dhaka’s oldest hotel, Beauty Boarding House, which also hosted Yusuf Sevinçli quiet and discerning exhibition. The main highlight for me was the melding of photos and curation of the space in Michel Le Belhomme’s ‘The Blind Beast’. The space created by the curation of the exhibition, which intersects with another separate exhibition ‘Where My Childhood Died’ by Arthur Bondar, felt as if I was stepping into a sculptural maze further enhancing the disorientation of space mentally and physically. The diverse field of practice within the curator team,which includes photographers, artists and architects, could be a factor in the interesting display of photography in the Chobi Mela VIII Festival.

Chobi Mela -Chobi Mela - Michel Le Belhomme 02

On the whole, this year’s festival is very much represented by the 8th Chobi Mela book.The book on appearance is simple and thoughtful with a surprising tinge. As it unfolds, each artist’s works are published in different “books” of various sizes, thus a steeple of diversity is collectively binded and presented. The atmosphere is informal and jubilant as the students and teachers from the Pathshala South Asia Media Institute play a huge role in hosting the festival.

Chobi Mela - Luis Gonzalez Palma Annuciation at North Brooke HAll 1

Chobi Mela - Michel Le Belhomme The Blind Beast 01

The Chobi Mela festival caters for all levels of practitioners in photography – curators, cultural researchers, artist, anthropologist, sociologist with interests in photography. A very inclusive feature of the Chobi Mela Festival is it’s live streaming of the lectures and artist talks. So for all who could not make it to Chobi Mela VIII this year, you can view the archived talks HERE (

~ Lim Paik Yin, Kuala Lumpur


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