Chobi Mela (0) runs through February 21
As part of this year’s hybrid programming for Chobi Mela, the longest-running international photo biennale in Asia, a team of curators, artists and scholars have designed seven exhibitions, as well as virtual programming that includes a series of conversational podcasts; each embracing the theme, Shunno / 0. One exhibition, [Off] Limits fills a physical space in the Drik-Path Building of Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka. Select multidisciplinary works and project profiles are also accessible to a global audience at chobimela.org.
Curated by ASM Rezaur Rahman, Sarker Protick and Tanzim Wahab, [Off] Limits highlights the work of fourteen South Asian artists/teams who illustrate new ideas and contexts with hindsight sharpened by the pandemic. The exhibition communicates as a collective gesture of personal expression and inquiry.
Three such expressions from the curation include:
Torn by Salma Abedin Prithi, Bangladesh
Visual artist Salma Abedin Prithi, a former television anchor whose creative practice draws from news media, leans into the familiar space where fragments of journalism are plucked from their source and reimagined through surrealistically staged photographs. Her interest in Torn lies in the psychological space of Covid patients; searching beyond the singular concern of disease as featured in press pages, and illuminating pandemic-heightened anxieties such as food insecurity and domestic violence. As if shining an operating light on these oft forgotten (ignored) sufferings, the images are visually sterile, abstract and awash in white. Overlooked narratives are drawn out from the shadows.
ka Dingiei by Aishwarya Arumbakkam, India
Also mining deeper into a common narrative, Aishwarya Arumbakkam’s series, ka Dingiei, takes an alternative approach to issues of land loss due to commercial development. Set in the Khashi village of Lama Punji, India, Arumbakkam’s photographs impress the notion that industrial mines chipping away at sand and stone aren’t the only sign of destruction in a community vulnerable to corporate bullying protected by discriminatory politics and policies. Rather, the darkly toned monochromatic images capture an essence of the unseen: revealing mythologies, cultures and indigenous identities that are far more valuable than land itself.
Stay Home, Sisters by Uma Bista, Nepal
The most visually-saturated collection in the exhibition includes Uma Bista’s color photographs from Stay Home, Sisters. In the context of Covid, Bista’s personal experience from her first period of isolation superficially parallels the sort of social-isolation one may realize in quarantine. Except pitch and shame become a monthly disgrace from the onset of puberty as certain households across Western Nepal continue to defy laws against the practice of Chhaupadi. Women are forced into several days of hiding, often shunned to cowsheds, due to the stigmatization of a natural menstrual cycle. Basti’s photographs tenderly consider the complexities of trauma that is perpetuated, in part, by the very generations shamed before.
Besides these examples, there are eleven other projects featured within the [Off] Limits exhibition. The full lineup of artists includes: Bunu Dhugana, Salma Abedin Prithi, Aishwarya Arumbakkam, Samari Chakma & Naeem Mohaiemen, Ronny Sen, Sumit Dayal, Uma Bista, Yasmin Jahan Nupur, Nida Mehboob, Saadul Islam, Kushal Ray, Karan Shrestha, Mahmud Hossain Opu, and Thotkata.
Chobi Mela (0) runs through February 21. The physical gallery space for [Off] Limits is open on campus from 4:30-8pm at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Virtual programming can be found through the event website and social media pages. Visit www.chobimela.org for more information.
Amy Parrish is an American artist and writer living in West Bengal