Happy Birthday Drik!

At 24 years Drik has grown up handsomely and I can well imagine the excitement, preparation going on at Drik now. So, here’s wishing the very best of times in the years ahead and some photo memories of the happy and unforgettable couple of years I spent among great friends at Drik. It’s a quicky A- Z romp through Drik during my time there.

A – is for Alam Bhai, the bearded, bicycle riding, founder Director of Drik — the creator, the innovator, his Amazing network of friends and his even more Aamazing & Awesome global fan club. Not to be forgotten A is also for the Audio Visual Department, where I spent many hours working with colleagues.

Shahidul Alam waits to be interviewed at Chobi Mela IV, Dhaka.  11 September 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Shahidul Alam waits to be interviewed at Chobi Mela IV, Dhaka.
11 September 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Shahidul Alam & David Burnett on the Drik Terrace after the launch of the Book and Film Birth Pangs of a Nation. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Shahidul Alam & David Burnett on the Drik Terrace after the launch of the Book and Film Birth Pangs of a Nation. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

B– is for the Banglarights website — I was a part of the team that set it up first in 2001 &  for Beards and moustaches that came in all sizes, shapes & shades at Drik.

Topu and Nipun in the Drik Publications Department. Chobi Mela IV visit to Drik, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 15 Nov. 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Topu and Nipun in the Drik Publications Department. Chobi Mela IV visit to Drik, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 15 Nov. 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

C  – is for Chobi Mela that gives everyone an  adrenalin high & of course the inimitable Drik Calendars

.On my visit to Chobi Mela IV. Photographer unknown

First visit to Chobi Mela IV, 2006. Photographer unknown

D – is for DPA – Drik Picture Agency — the first of its kind in Asia housing and archiving  incredible amount of valuable photographs. But what I remember is the team I worked with while I was there.

Joined in friendship at Drik Picture Agency (DPA) celebrating Valentine's Day.  Hands of Moinak, Tapu, Falan, Moly, Doli, Nargish,Shefali. February1 4, 2012. Drik, Dhaka, 2012. Photo Abul Kashem.

Joined in friendship at Drik Picture Agency (DPA) celebrating Valentine’s Day. Hands of Moinak, Tapu, Falan, Moly, Doli, Nargish,Shefali. February1 4, 2012. Drik, Dhaka, 2012. Photo Abul Kashem.

E – is for  Exhibitions — a continuous stream of exhibitions were on at the two galleries.

F –  is for Fine Art Prints Drik

G – is for Gallery

H – is for Hugs. Gosh! there were hugs, hugs & hugs at Drik. A very very huggable environment.

I – is for  Images there were plenty and sometimes we couldn’t remember who took them even! I is also for Interns — Anna, Bai Xi, Yan, Nabil, Barbara, Diya and all the other young ones I worked with at one time or another.

Happy days at Chobi Mela VI Secretariat with Left to Right  Anna Hofsäß, Mostafa Sorower, Adnan Wahid. 26 October 2010

Happy days at Chobi Mela VI Secretariat with Left to Right Anna Hofsäß, Mostafa Sorower, Adnan Wahid. 26 October 2010

J – is for Jokes and for Jingles of songs – everyone sang – romantic, heart rending beautiful songs  and some taught me the first few words “chokh khulle dekhi tomake. …”

K –  is for Karma, the unseen linking force that took me to Drik. …

L – is for lunch room the fun, joking and also the place  we groaned about work letting off steam and  L is also for unforgettable Lisa with that haunting smile.

M-  is for Manthan Award for RVJN and there is Majority World 

N –  is for National pride, never a shortage of it — you see it in the strong activists and the DNA Newsletters that were so fun to compile.

Bangladesh garment workers call for their rights on May Day 2011. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Bangladesh garment workers call for their rights on May Day 2011.
Photograph© Chulie de Silva

O –  is for Oops! for the mistakes we made trying to juggle too many tasks, but damage control kicked in fast with many supporters.

P – is for Photography, Publishing departments. And the much awaited Pay day. Fun was working with my colleague Mahbub in publishing putting designs together with the maestro on graphics Reza, giving us valuable points on fine tuning a design. The last design I think, that Mahbub and I worked on was this for the Jamini mag.

Drik Ad for JaminiB2Q – is for Queen’s Museum of Art in New York where the Crossfire exhibition was held in April 2012.

R –  is for RVJN,  the creative Rural Visual Journalism Network, the rooftop at Drik and the many Rickshaws and Rickshaw wallas who ferried me to and fro from Drik.

S —is for Shingara, and all the shingara and cake parties we had.

Lisa, Falan and I in happier times. 1 January 2012. Photograph Drik Photography Dept.

Lisa, Falan, Kashem and I in happier times. 1 January 2012. Photograph Drik Photography Dept.

T – is for Tea — Cha the ever favourite cuppa and of course for Terrace at Drik.

U – is for Unwavering, Unafraid, Unbowed all good words to describe Drik

V –  is for vision that Drik is.

W – is for World Press Photo – long time supporter of Drik

X – is for the  X factor of Drik — hard to understand at times, difficult to pin down but there it is — that’s what an X-factor is.

Y – is for You All of you at Drik, that I remember with affection.

Z –  is for Zippy even amidst all the hard work there is time to share a laugh and we were Zippy!

The terrace at Drik is the favourite place for photos. There's always someone with a camera. Not sure who took this photo but it was a good joke.

The terrace at Drik is the favourite place for photos. There’s always someone with a camera. Not sure who took this photo but it was a good joke.

Sri Lanka’s stilt fishermen at the Nordic Light Festival

I wasn’t prepared to see the photo of Sri Lanka’s stilt fishermen when I opened a Press Release from the Nordic Lights festival announcing that  the master of colour photography, Steve McCurry, is coming to the festival in Kristiansund in April.

Superlatives flow freely describing McCurry as “‘Inspiring’, ‘fantastic’, ‘legendary’ and ‘the world’s best documentary photographer!’ I should say our precariously perched stilt fishermen trying to earn a living fishing as the tide comes in are legendary themselves too and are seen as far as I know only on this stretch of the coast.

Fishermen, Weligama, South coast, Sri Lanka, 1995. Photo Steve McCurry.

Fishermen, Weligama, South coast, Sri Lanka, 1995. Photo Steve McCurry.

The meta data in the file of the fishermen released to media gives a citation: National Geographic Magazine. Vol. 191, No. 1, pgs. 110-111, January 1997, Sri Lanka: A Continuing Ethnic War Tarnishes the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. “Fishermen along the southern coast of Sri Lanka cast their lines in the traditional way atop poles so they can work in shallow water without disturbing the fish,” says McCurry describing the image.

Afghan Girl. Photo Steve McCurry.

Afghan Girl. Photo Steve McCurry.

Steve McCurry (1950, Philadelphia, USA) became world famous after taking his iconic picture of the refugee girl Sharbat Gula in 1984. “Afghan Girl”, the girl with the emerald eyes, has become the best known picture ever featured in National Geographic. Resembling a Mona Lisa of the refugee world, the photo came to symbolize human endurance.

Boy in mid-flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007. Photo Steve McCurry

Boy in mid-flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007. Photo Steve McCurry

At the foot of the vast Mehrangarh Fort, one can find the Blue City, a small tightly knit maze of houses located towards the north of Jodhpur. In one of the narrow alleyways a boy flees McCurry’s camera. Balancing three intersecting planes of colour – one of which is covered in stark red handprints – the image pulsates with energy as a young boy dashes through the narrow alleyways.

Many of Steve McCurry’s pictures are perpetual classics that are used on magazine covers and as CD artwork. He has toiled persistently with his exploration of colour, and according to photo critics his documentary work and portraiture have taken colour photography to a completely new level.

Nordic Light’s Artistic Director, Morten Krogvold, is thrilled to have Steve as a guest of honour.

Steve McCurry is an icon in the prime of life and undoubtedly one of the greatest colour photographers of our time. His pictures exemplify hard work. They display a marvellous tangible quality, as well as intimacy, intensity and a photographic ‘coup d’oeil’ that is exceptional. McCurry uses colours in the same way a painter does, and he has a unique sense of both colour and light. At the same time, there remains something strikingly simple about his work. He has an extraordinary capacity for capturing the gaze of his subjects, which adds an extra veneer of distinctiveness to his pictures.

(Text and images culled from the Press Release from the Nordic Lights Festival.)

PS: Morton Krogvold is a regular visitor to Drik‘s Chobi Mela festivals and I first had the pleasure of meeting him in 2006. The most popular teacher at Chobi Mela he is an articulate speaker and a dedicated and a gifted teacher. See also: http://chobimela.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/teachers-pride/

Student Farzana Hossen with Morton Krogvold (extreme right) & Mr & Mrs Per Anders Rosenkvist. Behind them the exhibits of Farzana. Photograph Chulie de Silva

Pathshala student Farzana Hossen with Morton Krogvold (extreme right) & Mr & Mrs Per Anders Rosenkvist. Behind them the exhibits of Farzana.  Chobi Mela VI, 2011. Photograph Chulie de Silva

The Nordic Light Festival runs from 23 – 27 April. Beyond Pixels – Unfestival of Photography runs from 23 – 24 April. All the exhibitions are on show in Kristiansund during the period 23 April – 5 May.

Contact info:
Anne Lise Flavik (general manager and festival director): annelise@nle.no, Tel: +47 920 17 130
Elisabeth B. Bjerkestrand (press officer): elisabeth@nle.no, Tel: +47 984 56 335

The lamp is lit — am home

The lamp lit my house has come alive. Photo©Chulie de Silva

The flickering lamp light bathes the Buddha statue in a serene glow. 
Photo©Chulie de Silva

Just as soap operas often end on cliffhangers, which are almost magically resolved at the start of the next episode, a difficult drama of my last days in Dhaka has taken a surprising but pleasing turn for the better.

Working at Drik we were never short of excitement and laughter, however frustrating the work was at times. More so at Chobi Mela time. This year’s Chobi Mela VII was terrific – we were running on a high despite all the work.  However, the time was fast approaching for me to leave the second family of sons and daughters and even one self appointed grandson I had acquired in Dhaka.

Wahid Adnan and I . Drik Picture Agency, Drik, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photographer unknown.

Wahid Adnan, my Bangladesh grandson and I . Drik Picture Agency, Drik, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photographer unknown.

The jokes about the Secretariat being a sickie ward turned not so funny when my persistent annoying cough was diagnosed as pneumonia. I had missed out on the tail end of Chobi Mela events, then there were the hartals and Shahbagh Square and my own work visa expiring.  Yes, life had become a soap opera, with me ending up at Apollo hospital with midnight x-rays and ECG’s etc, etc. The big question was would I get better in time to get out of Dhaka before my visa expired?

The cleaner at my apartment in Lalmatia. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The cleaner at my apartment in Lalmatia. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

I didn’t make it but had to overstay 4 days. However, I had a benevolent angel who smoothed the way, and Bangladesh Immigration officials were so polite and courteous I breezed through immigration after paying a small fine.  Yes, the universe was kind and I was finally living my oft quoted “ Chole Jabbo Sri Lanka.” I had asked for an aisle seat on Mihin Air, but the two Indian gentlemen were already comfortably settled and had left me the window seat for me. Being a morning flight, I didn’t quibble, and was rewarded with a last view of Dhaka. Up in the air, it looked like a lego city shrouded in smog. The rows of apartment blocks in certain section even looked orderly.

Reminder of rickshaw rides in Dhaka now sits atop my bookshelf. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Reminder of rickshaw rides in Dhaka now sits atop my bookshelf. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The sight of Lanka, when I return from living abroad — whether it is flickering night-lights or the lush green of the tropical island by day — has always been a moving sight for me. The big treat came as we approached the island past the Indian shoreline. It was the sight of the legendary Adam’s Bridge  — the chain of limestone shoals, between mainland India, and Sri Lanka.  The sea separating India and Sri Lanka is called Sethusamudram meaning “Sea of the Bridge”. I could clearly see the chain of shoals and the tip of Mannar and the sea glistening in the bright sunlight.  I was seeing this Google map alive. The bridge was first mentioned in the Indian epic Ramayana by Valmiki and was apparently built by Rama and his army led by Hanuman to reach Sri Lanka to rescue Sita.

Adam's Bridge NASA image

Adam’s Bridge NASA image

Back home I am enveloped in the warmth of the house, friends and family. A house is not just bricks and mortar – there are the whispers, the voices of laughter, thousand memories. I wake up to the sound of squirrels outside my window and birds chirping away in the fruit trees. My barren avocado tree has flowers and bears a single tiny fruit.

Avocado flowers. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Avocado flowers. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The morning sunlight dapples my collection of Buddha’s and artifacts that I have arranged on the black and white runner that was Drik’s farewell present.

Sunlight dapples the old wooden

Sunlight dapples the old wooden “pettagama” which holds a collection of Buddha statues and artefacts. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Light symbolises the absence of darkness, grief and unhappiness. An oil lamp is lit to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms. As I watch the flickering flame I am filled with a warm content feeling. It’s great to be back in a house filled with light and my thoughts flit to a verse from the Bhaddekaratta Sutta:

Let one not trace back the past
Or yearn for the future-yet-to-come.
That which is past is left behind
Unattained is the “yet-to-come.”
But that which is present he discerns —
With insight as and when it comes.
The Immovable — the-non-irritable.
In that state should the wise one grow
Today itself should one bestir
Tomorrow death may come — who knows?
For no bargain can we strike
With Death who has his mighty hosts.
But one who dwells thus ardently
By day, by night, untiringly
Him the Tranquil Sage has called
The Ideal Lover of Solitude.

From the: “Bhaddekaratta Sutta: The Discourse on the Ideal Lover of Solitude” (MN 131), translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Ñanananda. Access to Insight, 19 September 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.131.nana.html . Retrieved on 2 March 2013.

Note: Not everyone agrees with the Indian version of Ramayana. See: Madhusudan’s subversive interpretation of the Ramayana story, with Meghnad, son of Ravana portrayed as a tragic hero https://chulie.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/painting-my-imagination-with-william-radice/

Chobi Mela VII International Photography Festival on NYT’s Lens blog

A Rohingya child in a camp in Bangladesh. Photo Saiful Huq Omi

A Rohingya child in a camp in Bangladesh. Photo Saiful Huq Omi

From Bangladesh, a Photo Festival Builds Bridges

JAMES ESTRIN of the Lens Blog featured Drik’s Chobi Mela International Festival and said:

There are well over a hundred photo festivals around the world, and new ones pop up almost daily. Many claim to be international, usually exhibiting a few local photographers alongside some international — read Western — photographic luminaries.

What sets apart the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is that it is not only truly international, but is also perhaps the world’s most demographically inclusive festival. Running this year from Jan. 25 through Feb. 7, it will feature photographers from 23 countries and every continent except Antarctica. This year, separate programs, presentations and exhibits focus on photography from China, Russia, Nigeria, Latin America and the Middle East as well as Bangladesh.

He featured 2 of the artists at the festival.

One was Saiful Huq Omi  a renowned Bangladeshi photographer (Slides 8 to 12) who has been documenting the plight of the Rohingyas, a Burmese Muslim ethnic minority. Tens of thousands of them have fled oppression, human rights violations and violence in western Myanmar and now live as refugees in Bangladesh.

Photo Maïmouna Guerresi

Photo Maïmouna Guerresi

The other was  Maïmouna Guerresi who was raised a Catholic in Italy but converted to Islam after encountering an African Sufi community in Senegal. She is a sculptor, video artist and photographer who lives both in Italy and Senegal.

Read more at:

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/from-bangladesh-a-photo-festival-builds-bridges/

Many faces of war 1971

1971 is carved in my memory as a personal year of joy. The year I enjoyed being pregnant and feeling the thrill of a life growing inside me and then later in the year giving birth to my son.  For me 1971 brought significant and momentous changes to my life as a mother. For the Sri Lanka’s People’s Liberation Front, or Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), 1971 was a painful birth of a short lived youth rebellion. For millions in Bangladesh 1971 was a painful long labour for the birth of their nation.

On April 5, 1971, we had attended a faculty party at the Colombo University campus and the talk had turned to growing political unrest among the youth.  Some were concerned but others dismissed the rumours as nonsense. Coming home, the streets of Colombo was quiet.  Two cops stopped us and had a brief chat with us asking where we were going but it was a friendly chat – nothing to get alarmed about.

The same evening my father after a visit to Colombo had taken the last train to Hikkaduwa.  From the railway station, he had walked behind a young group of students with sports bags, and he thought they were a school cricket team returning after a match in Colombo. About an hour or so afterwards when my father heard gunfire, he and my brother-in-law had come out on to the porch to find out what was happening. They thought it was either a continuation of a local village conflict or the police setting off some hand bombs they had recovered from the local thugs. Only when a bullet whizzed past their heads did they scramble in to the house, and gather the family under the dining table.  This was the start of the JVP’s  1971 uprising and the attack on the Hikkaduwa police station.

We woke up in Colombo to a 24 hour curfew and listened avidly to the radio for news. There was no TV and no newspapers that day. The words insurgent and insurgency entered our vocabulary. The government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike gained control of all but a few remote areas within about two weeks but an estimated 15,000 insurgents- -many of them in their teens—died in the conflict.

While we in our little island state bounced back to a normal life after the insurgency, across the seas in then East Pakistan one of the bloodiest wars of this century was erupting.  April 1971 was the commencement of a mass human displacement hitherto unseen when 10 million refugees fled to India from then East Pakistan, trudging through monsoonal rains.

It was 40 years later that I discovered the full horror of the genocide of 1971, the pain and suffering of the refugees while working at Drik.  Today I watched my colleagues Reza and Mahbub carefully getting images of this period ready for the forthcoming exhibition “Many faces of war 1971.” I look at the decapitated heads and bodies in canals, the girl who has died of cholera, the little boy leading a street march who was gunned down a little while after the photo was taken, and wonder at how these images speak to us even though their voices are silenced for ever.

Drik has made several attempts to piece together the scattered history of 1971 with an initial publication on Bangladesh’s 25th anniversary in Drik’s 1996 calendar, an exhibition in the first Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography in 2000, followed by the publication of the book and a film on refugees in 2011, titled The Birth Pangs of a Nation.

This year Drik has commenced “Archiving 1971” a programme to collect oral, textual and visual resources to establish a one stop repository of the historical 1971 year of liberation for Bangladesh.

An outcome of the Archiving 1971 program is a photography exhibition at Suhrawardi Uddan, Dhaka (in front of Shikha Chironton) on 26 March 2012  at 11:00 am.

The exhibition will remain open to the public till 31 March, 2012.  Please join us if you are in Dhaka.