The ninth edition of Chobi Mela—Bangladesh’s premier photographic event and a pioneering festival for the entire Asian continent—launches this week. This year’s theme is the topically relevant idea “Transition.” The festival will feature over 30 exhibitions with work from 27 artists spanning 16 countries.

Topics of local interest will be addressed (such as historic photographs of Mahatma Gandhi taken by his grand-nephew, or an examination of Native Women of South India), but there will also be work from further afield, both geographically and conceptually. For example, acclaimed war photographer Stanley Greene will showcase “Open Wound,” his momentous documentation of the Chechen resistance photographed in the 90s and early 2000s.

Chobi Mela IX has also invited ten Bangladeshi artists to serve as “Chobi Mela Fellows,” participants tasked with producing site-specific artwork for the festival. To investigate the theme, these artists from different backgrounds—painting, drawing, animation, sculpture, video, sound and installation—will stretch and probe the limits of photography. Chobi Mela’s hope is to support an emerging generation of new media artists in Bangladesh and give them the chance to develop independent projects alongside the festival’s program, an opportunity rarely provided at formal art events.

Like many festivals, Chobi Mela will also accommodate a variety of lectures, discussions, slideshows, portfolio reviews and workshops. The workshops, in particular, seem worthwhile and strong. The acclaimed Anders Petersen will be on hand to offer a class on the subject of “instincts.” Other international photographers such as Boris Eldagsen, Donald Weber and Rishi Singhal will offer workshops on themes like “Exploring Space” and “Hijacking Reality.”

This year, as ever, Chobi Mela is doing an admirable job of touching a broad audience with the power of photography—whether through traditional exhibitions or more guerilla means. The latter speaks to the festival’s core mission of ensuring access for the general public. This belief is put into practice, for example, through mobile exhibitions held in rickshaw vans, which travel all over the city of Dhaka to bring photography even to remote locations.

Festivals like these, which offer something for photography connoisseurs and the uninitiated alike, serve an essential role in maintaining the medium’s democratic roots. Here’s to many more Chobi Melas in both Bangladesh and around the world!

—LensCulture

Editors’ note: Chobi Mela IX will run from in various locations across Dhaka, Bangladesh from February 3 - 16, 2017. During the festival’s run, we will publish a few of our editors’ favorite discoveries from the program, so stay tuned!