What of the photograph made out of nothing? What about painting with light? Is it photography? Surely if we can paint with light we can paint with dreams, create the morning mist or the afternoon glow. Is it fake? Hardly. Whatever else may be false in this tenuous existence of ours, imagination is not. All that we value, that we strive to uphold, all that gives us strength, has been made of dreams, and we must dream on. If pixels be the vehicle that realises our dreams, be it so.

For are not all photographers dreamers? We paint with light, to hold on to the ephemeral. We play with tones to arrest the fluidity of the transient. We play with form to navigate the edges of our borders. We tug and pull fleeting elements in a never-ending search to redefine what we know and discover what we don’t. It is a restless search, for even in the stillness of a timeless image, the soul wanders, looking for new meaning. Old contact sheets, reworked digital files, uncoupled layers and translucent paths, vintage prints, digital composites all blend seamlessly in the curator’s relentless choreography, in a festival of light and darkness.

As dream merchants, we create images that confront us with horrific facts, and allure us with magical metaphors. We seek a society where love songs are cherished and curiosity celebrated. We conjure up a mystical world, through light and shape and dancing pixels. We toy with perceptions and juggle facts. We trade in the currency of dreams, and flirt with an elusive reality.

The theme “Differences” for Chobi Mela I was prophetic. Soon afterwards two tall buildings fell. Buried with the ashes of those concrete citadels, trapped with the lives of those innocent victims, lies the unresolved mystery of what really happened. Beneath the rubble lie the freedoms that the world has since lost. The lowest credible count records over a million dead in Iraq and thousands more in Afghanistan. The destroyed lives in Pakistan are uncounted.

Against this backdrop, the sobriety of the themes of subsequent festivals “Exclusion”, “Resistance” and “Boundaries” are perhaps unsurprising.
Too many evils are being perpetrated in the name of the words “Democracy” and “Freedom”. Between Chobi Mela I and Chobi Mela V, with Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq under occupation, with children dying of hunger, with more money spent on pet food and cosmetic surgery than the cost of providing drinking water and education for the majority world, it was necessary to      re-appropriate the word “Freedom”. It was an act of defiance.

In a world ravaged by war, to turn to ‘Dreams’ after ‘Differences’, ‘Exclusion’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Boundaries’ and ‘Freedom’ is to return to what holds us together in the face of all our obstacles, the focus of all our longings. In a vastly unequal world, it is our insistence on justice and our ability to ride the waves, which still keeps us dreaming.

Shahidul Alam
Festival Director