Image credit: Mushfiq Mahbub Turjo
Through Chapakhana Archive Project, Mara Züst has collaborated with Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in a research project to document the local histories of print in Dhaka. The project also explores the technologies of print production in broad ways; looking at ideas around their deployment, function and impact, and historical indications of local engagement and characterization of print revolution in Dhaka, Chittagong and other places. Very little research existed on these subjects before this project, which took off just before Chobi Mela, the international festival of photography, one of the most significant photography events in Asia.
Prior to the Chobi Mela festival, Mara Züst conducted a research workshop focused on local print-making and historiography. Chapakhana Workshop is a dedicated space to create research-based artworks related to the printing press. The workshop has nine participants, who are artists working in the press area of the capital and rural areas of Bangladesh. While some are working with printing process, others are exploring historical grounds, fonts, characteristics of images, binding and other issues related to the local press.
During the workshop, the participants discussed about their interest in bookmaking that included printing concepts, book binding and more. From this workshop the participants have come to learn that a photography book can printed not only by press printing technique but can be printed. The participants also had an opportunity to explore German press print through online and received references on how photography books are printed in various forms, styles and materials.
The research was significant part of the workshop which concentrated on exploring material, practical, and technological involvement of individuals and social groups, among many other surfaces of engagement.
For part of the research, Mara had to work from Zurich due to Covid-19, while her co-researchers focused on the printing presses and printing ink of Dhaka. Mara decided to follow the traces of print in the Bengal diaspora in the Zurich region (by official numbers 684 people as of 2019) and different university archives. She found two postcards showing the Bengal Lancers that an English man had sent to her great-grandfather in 1921, and historical maps of the Bengal area.
The workshop participants – including Kauser Haider, Shohrab Jahan, Mushfiq Mahbub Turjo, Samsul Alam Helal, Sadia Marium, Taufiqur Rahman Aniq, Razib Datta and Aungmakhai Chak – looked for printing methods that were inexpensive and attract mass audience. Biri packs (local cigarette), insecticides, tooth powder and other products that are usually sold by street vendors, were included in this project. Participants also found a printing technique that involves tin cut outs that are placed on different surfaces and sprayed upon.
Mara has been conducting online sessions with the participants, and hopes to visit Dhaka in January 2022 to streamline the projects which will then be installed at the Pathshala exhibition.