Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saturday 4 November: Welcome to DRIK

I got picked-up from the guest house by DRIK Director Dr Shahidul Alam in a car he says was reconditioned in 1982. Works pretty well, as far as I can tell.

It’s really interesting the whole traffic thing in Dhaka. Everyone seems to be very aware of one another’s personal space, with a keen predictive sense of where multiple vehicles are going to go. There are lots of paint scrapes on the cars and rickshaw, but not half as much as I would expect after experiencing the driving. Despite all the horns honking and ringing of bells, there is an undertone of quietude here, because the noise isn’t made with aggression as far as I can tell. In Sydney, you know that if someone honks at you, it means they want you dead. You might even get the shaking fist, or the angry fish-mouth.

Today was really great. I was shown around DRIK HQ with Shahidul and Reza who is coordinating everything. DRIK has many facets including a painting department, photographic department, internet and multimedia. They also run a photographic studio from the centre taking portraits – a commercial interest servicing the area. Maybe it brings a bit of dough to the centre too??

Then we went around to the gallery that Trent Parke's show is going to be exhibited in, the Bengal Gallery. It’s a pretty amazing space and we (ACP) are lucky to have it for Minutes to Midnight because the separate narratives will work well in the space within its multiple rooms.

I had lunch with Reza and Khairul at a restaurant specializing in American-style junk food. It seemed a bit expensive, and Reza complained that the service was usually pretty poor. The captain of the Bangladesh cricket team was hanging-out on the balcony with some serious looking dudes wearing appliqu├ęd jeans. I have found out that Khairul is really into cricket, so I’m hoping that Trent will come through with some tales of sports photography and cricket gossip.

Back at the centre, everybody is working frantically to put together the 49 shows that comprise the festival. I think I am going to be recruited into proofing text and doing other things while the works and the spaces are prepared. I am pretty confident that everything will happen according to plan. Shahidul and the many staff here are working 24 hours a day to pull everything together. They all seem to be pretty calm though. Shahidul may have to travel to Singapore to pick up some prints for an American artist this week. Faster than trying to get the work couriered it would seem.

After lunch we got into the car for a drive to the city to check on the lightbox construction and the printing of the Chobi Mela catalogue. First stop was the National Museum, an imposing-looking behemoth from the outside - could use a lick of paint on the inside of the gallery though. Reza needed to take a measurement for a backdrop they are creating for the theatre on opening night. The museum’s theatre is an imposing place, as you can see from my pictures. It feels and smells like a cavern.

At the signmaker’s shop, we decided that the lightbox unit they were suggesting was just a bit too big and clunky to be used in Trent’s exhibition. The framer here at DRIK is going to fashion something instead. Then we went to the printer’s, which was abuzz despite its being a Saturday (I don’t know if this is supposed to be a day off or not yet) and also a public holiday of sorts. There were seriously a lot of young men working the machines in this place. There were about 5 printing presses going gangbusters at this time. It looked like very physical work. I very much wanted to take photographs of the room, but held-off because I was focusing my attention on trying to be inconspicuous. I need to adjust my attitude for the sake of illustrating my blog, I think.

The children at the traffic lights I find really disturbing. They weave between the cars looking extremely small and vulnerable. I have been trying to take a picture of the sign that appears on the back of the motorized rickshaw (there’s an acronym that they go by but I can’t remember what it is). It says “For traffic complaints, please call…” This has to be a joke, right? I imagine a whole row of phones with their receivers facing an impenetrable brick wall, or a very large hand.
At the moment, it’s interim government time in Bangladesh. We drove past a protest in the middle of the city. The guy on the microphone sounded like he was auditioning for a hard-core, death-metal acapella band. There was a line of young men wearing placards, and armed police standing-off to the side. I think that folks were shot in the street last week. It takes some guts to stand in the middle of all that traffic, but to stand in the middle of all that traffic and know that there’s the possibility you might be shot and killed? That’s something else.

Back at DRIK Shahidul, trying to find a use for me, asked me whether I could report on the performances on 9, 10 and 11 November. I said I could do better than that – that I’m already writing for the purpose of making a blog.

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