The ongoing 9th edition Chobi Mela is on at full flow with the theme “Transition”, and although the programmes (artist talks, panel discussions and such) ended yesterday, the exhibits are up till February 16 at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and three historic establishments of Old Dhaka – Northbrook Hall, Beauty Boarding and Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts (BAFA). The first installment of the story (published February 7) featured the four exhibits at Northbrook Hall and Beauty Boarding, and the second installment of the exhibits at Old Dhaka, looks at two contrasting exhibits from India and Iran, a testament of the repute of Asia's first and largest photo festival.
Pushpamala N has been called the most 'entertaining' artist-iconoclast of contemporary Indian art. A photo and video performance artist, writer, curator and sculptor with a versatile range of collaborators, she specializes in challenging norms and discourse. Her series “Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs (2000-2004)” in collaboration with UK-born photographer Clare Arni is an absolute treat, especially discovering the artistic layers and witty, striking connotations in her 'photo performance' images. The concept is to have a fantasy photo studio with painted sets, props and costumes, challenging the mental image of the quintessential South Indian woman. But that only begins to describe the project: the complex, multi-layered series, put up as an installation as a culmination of four photo series each representing a different genre, is a marvelous interlacing of form and content. The small CRT TV with a video work using some behind-the-scenes of the project adds a lovely touch, as does the smaller prints, of variations and outtakes – starkly presenting the fact that the photos were all taken on negative film.
The unsuspecting spectator may altogether miss the second exhibition, Gohar Dashti's “Iran, Untitled”, as this correspondent almost did. Placed at the open back-yard of BAFA, it is an example of sheer curatorial genius. The series of barren landscapes with interesting sets of people and action can be artistically described as 'brief', but thought-provoking, and the placement and set-up – high atop bamboo pillars and printed in massive sizes on PVC sheets – provides a very realistic point-of-view of the scale of the photographs, from the makeshift bamboo benches placed at the end of brick-laden trails. The photos are the artist's attempt to symbolize Iran's political and social picture with the vast open yet unused areas of land along the highways. The curatorial team of Chobi Mela has been doing excellent work consistently in the past few editions to give the artworks the proper exhibition treatment, and this bit of curation is certainly one of the highlights of that.
A large number of exhibits -- such as “Kanu's Gandhi” by Kanu Gandhi, Donald Weber's “Interrogations”, Bruno Boudjelal's “Algeria, Scrapbooks”, Boris Eldagsen's “How to Disappear Completely: THE POEMS”, Nasir Ali Maun's “The Poet With The Camera”, “United Red Army” by Naeem Mohaiemen and “Open Wound” by Stanley Greene are on at the National Art Gallery of BSA, as are the work of this year's Chobi Mela Fellows, but that is a story for another day.