PopTech 2011 Interview: Shahidul Alam on photography for change
Lindsay Borthwick?(?BIO / ??POSTS )??|??Friday, October 21, 2011 UTC
? Shahidul Alam walked on stage on Thursday wearing a marigold-colored salwar kameez, a camera over his left shoulder, and a beltpack slung around his hips. There was no mistaking his calling. The Bangladeshi photographer, activist and social entrepreneur has almost single-handedly rebalanced the world of photojournalism, long dominated by Western photographers and their worldview. He has shifted its lens eastward and southward by training legions of photographers in his homeland, creating an award-winning photo agency to sell their work and founding a prestigious international photography festival to showcase their talent. And this fall, he published a book,?My Journey as a Witness, telling the story of Bangladeshi photography as an instrument of social justice. He serves as an ambassador of this movement, in the words of PopTech?s executive director, Andrew Zolli, ?travelling the world leaving new cultures of art makers in his wake.? We sat down with Alam backstage in Camden, Maine. PopTech: You founded?Drik, a photo agency, and the?Chobi MelaInternational Festival of Photography. Why did you feel it was important for Bangladeshi photographers, as well as their peers, to have these outlets for their work?
Shahidul Alam: Firstly, it was a question of addressing this very distorted perception people have of what I call the ?majority world? countries. Our poverty is a reality, but that is not the only identity that we have. Secondly, I wanted to challenge a very unidirectional form of storytelling that has — to a large extent — been propagated by the West. The richness and diversity of human life gets lost in a very agenda-led information distribution system. So that was the beginning.
We also wanted to celebrate our own culture. It?s not that I am against white, Western photographers producing work in Bangladesh — I think our ideas need to be challenged just as much. It?s the monopoly of dissemination that I was against. So we wanted to create a space for diversity — for both Western work and our own work. That?s where the Chobi Mela festival came in — to facilitate that cultural infusion. Continue reading “PopTech 2011 Interview:”
?Isn?t it a thrill to have him here in London? said the woman behind me to a friend as we we all waited, hardly an empty seat in the small lecture area of National Geographics?s Regent St first floor, and the next hour or so listening to Shahidul Alam talking, showing pictures and answering questions certainly justified her anticipation.
Probably most of us in the audience had some idea of the incredible transformation Dr Alam has made to the world of photography, not just in his native Bangladesh but worldwide, although so much still remains to be done, but I think all of us found there was even more to him – and his family – than we had been previously aware.
Alam?s mother in particular was a formidable woman; determined to get a university education despite the opposition of her mother-in-law to the education of women, she left home every morning in a burkha ?going to visit friends? and went to study. Armed with her degree she dedicated herself to the education of women, and having found little backing for her project, bought a tent and used it to set up her own school for girls.
Later too we heard that his father had dared to evade the ?invitation? sent to him along with the other leading intellectuals of the country to take tea with the occupying Pakistani generals in 1971 just a few days before the end of the war. It was a story accompanied by a picture by Rashid Talukdar of a severed head in rubble, from the killing fields of Rayerbazar. Altogether more than a thousand teachers, journalists, doctors, lawyers, artists, writers and engineers were massacred. Continue reading “From the Lions Point Of View”
We?ve been here before, confronting this question of children?s art, and why it creates such a stir. I wrote about it in May 2006 when Brandeis University cancelled an exhibit of Palestinian children?s art. This cancellation seems even more egregious because the museum in question is specifically a children?s museum.
Who objects to children?s art in a children?s art museum? And, what should we make of a children?s museum that allows the concerns of those constituents to censor the views of children, denying their right to expression? I?m talking about the Oakland Children?s Museum (MOCHA) and its decision to cancel the exhibit A Child?s View of Gaza, which was to have opened there this week, on September 24.
One can only conclude that those who have objected to this exhibit are troubled by the content. For whatever reason they want it buried, out of site and out of mind. They must be a powerful group. They succeeded in convincing the museum?s board to ignore its stated goal of ?…advocating for the arts as an essential part of a strong, vital and diverse community?. And, they have put the museum in the uncomfortable position of denying Palestinian children their rights as guaranteed by Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): the right of every child to express his or her views and to have those views given due consideration.
?The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.? said the artist Robert Rauschenberg, and so it is with our young artists. Seeing, as we know, comes before words. A child looks and recognizes people, places and things before she or he can speak; ?views? are developing from the moment of birth. So, imagine the views taken in during the long, wide-eyed hours of childhood in Palestine or in Baghdad on in Afghanistan. Imagine the tension, worry and preoccupation on the faces of the adults; imagine the looks on the faces of the of soldiers as they patrol the streets, or search homes. Imagine the hundreds upon hundreds of violent scenes that could and do play out in front of children living in war zones. This is their world. It surrounds them day in and day out. And oftentimes, they have not only no words, but no opportunity to tell us what they think and feel about this.
Taking crayon or pencil in hand, a child speaks out on his or her own behalf: this is me, my situation, this is what my life looks like. It isn?t easy for adults to bare witness to these stories. I?ve seen exhibits of children?s art from Hiroshima, from Spain during the Civil War, from Viet Nam, from Darfur, from the concentration camps in WWII and from Iraqi children. What we see in some of this art is the human cost of war, the terror and agony of being a child in an unpredictable, dangerous and violent world, a world gone inexplicably mad. A world where you are not safe, where even your parents cannot protect you.
This art is not about politics, it is about the human condition. If we cannot look at it, if it is too painful, it is because the world we have created, full of violence and conflict, is not one that is good for children. The famous 60?s poster with one giant flower said it all: War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.
We have a legal as well as a moral obligation to let Palestinian children, and all children express their views freely and to give those views our due consideration. If we are disturbed by children?s images from war zones, we should work on their behalf to create a better, more just and peaceful world , a world where children are truly valued and where their care, protection and overall well being is a social, economic and political priority. To do anything less is to deny the significance of children as the future of our planet.
Aldous Huxley wrote this, in his introduction to ?They Still Draw Pictures! A collection of 60 drawings made by Spanish children during the war? (1938): The most that individual men and women of good will can do is to work on behalf of some general solution of the problem of large-scale violence and, meanwhile to succour those who, like the child artists of this exhibition, have been made the victims of the worlds collective crime and madness.
The museum, in canceling the exhibit has dealt yet another blow to children and their rights; surely a children?s museum, of all institutions, can do better than this.
To see examples from this exhibit: mocha.org
Claudia Lefko is the founding director (2001) of The Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange in Northampton MA. She is a long-time educator, activist and advocate for children.
Pathshala – South Asian Media Academy was established in Dhaka in 1998 to fulfill the long felt need for providing institutional education in photography in Bangladesh. Today Pathshala is one of the premier institutes of photography in Asia. With a visiting faculty consisting of the finest professionals in the world, the school boasts a teaching programme that is second to none. Students have won major international awards (World Press Photo, Asahi Shimbun, National Geographic All Roads Contest etc.) and take on assignments for the most prestigious international publications (Time Magazine, Newsweek). Within a short period, Pathshala has established itself as a regional centre for excellence in photography, attracting students from India, Nepal, Norway, Denmark, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, the UK and Zimbabwe. Pathshala is affiliated to Bolton University (UK), the Danish School of Journalism and Sunderland University (UK). Pathshala invites application and portfolio from interested students for enrollment in the
Three years professional course on photography.
Eligibility/ Admission Requirement:
– HSC / A level (Minimum Second class / GPA 2.5)
– Fluent in spoken and written English
– Completion of basic or foundation course in photography
– Portfolio with ten photographs (Size: 8″x10″)
– Curriculum vita with two referees
– Two passport and two stamp size photographs
– Brief written explanation justifying interest in the programme
Portfolio Submission deadline: 25th September, 2011
Interview: 27th September 2011
Interview Result: 27th September 2011
Admission deadline: 29th September 2011
Class starts: 9th October 2011
For more information please see, www.pathshala.net.
Vice Principal Pathshala South Asian Media Academy
Archeology & Art
Vrije University Brussels
Who: Internationally renowned Bangladeshi photographer, writer and activist Dr Shahidul Alam. What: Public lecture on the role of ?the visual? in communication for social change. When: Tuesday August 23 at 5.30pm for a 6pm start. Where: James Birrell Room of the UQ Staff Club, The University of Queensland. Cost: Free. Dr Alam flyer final
“…far from a mere method or an a priori technique to be imposed on all students, education is a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills and social relations that enable students to explore for themselves the possibilities of what it means to be engaged citizens, while expanding and deepening their participation in the promise of a substantive democracy.”
— Henri A Giroux, Lessons to be learned from Paulo Freire, 23 November 2010
Solidarity rally for Viqarunnisa Noon school and college students, central Shaheed Minar, July 15, 2011. From left to right, Ayesha Khanam, professor Delwar Hossain, Zonayed Saki, Mushrefa Mishu, Advocate Habibunnesa, professor Naseem Akhter Hussain, professor Gitiara Nasreen, Ferdousi Priyabhashini, Faizul Hakim Lala, Nur Mohammad, professor Akmal Hossain, professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, Rahnuma Ahmed and Nurul Kabir observing a one-minute silence to pay their respects to 40 students killed in Mirsarai road accident. Professor Anu Muhammad, and dramatist and actor Mamunur Rashid joined the rally later. The rally ended with songs of resistance sung by Arup Rahee and his band Lila, Amal Akash and Samageet, and Krishnakoli Islam
Forty killed in Mirsarai road accident, July 11. Thirty-nine were schoolboys, aged 11-13, on their way home from a football match. http://tinyurl.com/4xpno3a Unimaginable swathes of grief sweep surrounding villages, engulf the nation. Three day mourning in educational institutions; the truck driver, chatting on his mobile as the truck skidded and plunged into a canal, still eludes arrest. Of humble backgrounds, father is an autorickshaw driver, a rickshaw puller. Dreams have crumbled into a void.
We mourned their deaths at Shaheed Minar last Friday, July 15, as we rallied in support of Viqarunnisa Noon students who are demanding the speedy trial and punishment of the schoolteacher accused of raping a student, who are against the return of Hosne Ara Begum as principal (temporarily replaced) on the grounds that she had suppressed the allegation.
News of more deaths as I write. Six college students beaten to death allegedly by Keblar Char villagers in Aminbazar, Savar, a drug belt. http://tinyurl.com/3d5b45g Media reports indicate villagers mistook them for robbers. The seventh surviving student says they had gone there to try drugs. Just `out of curiosity’ (The Bangladesh Today, July 19, 2011).
The law and order situation has worsened to alarming levels as police forces get largely deployed to contain the discontent of opposition political parties. To contain political dissent, a civic right. To contain student protests, as Viqis, both present and alumni, allege. Threatening phone calls; he claimed to be the officer-in-charge of Ramna thana, an allegation denied (New Age, July 17, 2011). ?Police and Rapid Action Battalion forces were positioned outside Viqarunnisa’s main campus in Baily road, when hundreds of guardians joined students to protest. ?Ex-Viqis have been prevented from entering the campus, threatened with arrest. Lists of alumnis who are blogging and networking on facebook have been prepared by the detective branch, searched out, threatened. If alumni allegations are to be believed, by treason.
I read and re-read the complaint of the Viqarunnisa Noon student, dated July 4. I am a regular student of the Basundhara unit. I attended all coaching classes conducted by my schoolteachers, I wanted to do well in my exams.
I look at her handwriting. Neat, but hesitant. Small letters. Who was with her when she wrote it? Her mother? Her sister? Thoughts race around in my head, the letter must have been drafted before being copied on to blank sheets of paper. How long did it take? How did she feel? How does she feel?
Was her father in the room as well? ?A father normally does not discuss such issues with his daughter’ said a father, as he took part in the human chain held outside Viqarunnisa on July 9. But I went with my daughter. We don’t want this to happen to other girls (New Age, July 10, 2011). Continue reading “We are with you, Viqarunnisa!”