Crossfire ? Photographs by Shahidul Alam

Opening Reception & Forum:?Sunday, April 15, 6:00 pm ? 9:30 pm, 2012
Queens Museum of Art, NYC Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NY 11368? DIRECTIONS

Forum & Opening Reception for Partnership Gallery Exhibition in Collaboration with Drik Picture Library, Dhaka.
Bangladeshi photographer and human rights activist Shahidul Alam?s Crossfire exhibition will open in the Partnership Gallery at the Queens Museum of Art on 15th April, 2012 and run until May 6th, 2012. The exhibition aims to gather international support for a campaign to end extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh by state forces, usually called ?crossfire.? Continue reading “Crossfire ? Photographs by Shahidul Alam”

Art as a Witness

 

Shahidul Alam to speak at the Colombo Art Biennial : Art as a Witness

Amu Shahidul 2010?Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh

An extraordinary artist ? eloquent with words and images ? Shahidul Alam is a photographer, writer, activist and social entrepreneur, who was profoundly influenced by inequality in Bangladesh, his country and the liberation war.  He left a career in science in the west to pursue a life in photography challenging oppression and imperialism in all its forms. Attacked, arrested, and threatened with death, Alam has built what many consider to be the finest photography school in the world, an award winning agency, and the world?s most demographically diverse photo festival. Widely celebrated, Alam claims as his achievements not the awards he has won or the impressive list of exhibits, but the people he has trained and the lives he has transformed. Continue reading “Art as a Witness”

Not for art's sake

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Abstract of keynote presentation given at National University of Taiwan

8th January 2012. Taipei

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One of the videos presented. A compilation from several videos on major protests in 2011
Long before CSR had become a buzzword and superstars and corporates began to find it essential to have pet social causes to support, we had set up Drik, a small organisation in Bangladesh, which made social justice its raison d’?tre.
Over two decades later, when my show on extra judicial killings at the gallery of Drik, was interpreted by a group of international curators as a ?fantastic performance?. It was time for me to take stock, and see where the art world situated itself and whether I belonged to this marketplace.
As collective movements go, the sub-continent has had its share. Colonial rule, oppression by the landed gentry, women?s struggle for equality in a patriarchal society and the injustice of caste have all been challenged. The solidarity of sustained groups, often against overwhelmingly stronger entities with far greater resources. had been a trademark for undivided India and for Bengal in particular.
It was the dynamics of a ruling class propped up by local agents who stood to profit from inequality, that led to the Gandhian strategy of non-violent resistance. Other methods had also been tried, and Subhas Chandra Bose, with a much more militant outlook, also had a huge following. The Tebhaga peasant movement by the Kisan Sabha had led to laws being formulated that limited the share of the landlords.
Partition did not cure these ills. The ouster of the British did not break up the class structure, but replaced one set of exploiters with another. The British, and other imperial powers continued to maintain unequal trade relations, sometimes in the guise of aid.
Cultural activists in Bangladesh had operated within this milieu. With the military under the control of the West wing, the more populous East Pakistan felt the weight of oppression. Military rule became the vehicle for continued repression but failed to quell the unrest and even the final genocidal attack on the people of East Pakistan, was repulsed by a countrywide resistance.
An independent Bangladesh, free of foreign occupiers, should have been a land free of repression. The reality was very different and cultural activists have had to find new ways of resistance. This has required documentation, articulation and tools of creative expression to deal with injustice in many forms. Having been failed by the major political parties (both government and opposition), cultural actors formed their own groups. Operating with minimum resources, we devised numerous initiatives to mobilise public opinion. Using both new and traditional media, as well as the networking ability of social media we formed lean and tenacious campaigns that chipped away at the establishment and its cohorts insisting on being heard and bent on achieving justice.
But the corporatization of modern Bangladesh has brought about many changes. I remember as a child that we used to respond to natural disasters by grouping together, singing songs, raising money, collecting food and old clothes and going out to affected areas to distribute them. We now leave such activities to the NGOs. Social movements are now sponsored by multinationals and protesters in rallies have sunshades parading the brand logos of telecom companies.
We had simultaneously taken on the hegemony of the west and its new southern accomplices, as well as the repressive regimes that operated within the nation state. But today we also need to examine how social movements have been appropriated, and our inability to operate without ?funding? regardless of the cause seriously limits our capacity for social and political intervention.
As an artist, as an activist, and as an organizer, I have along with my colleagues taken on technology, art, education and culture in its diverse forms and have presented a cohesive front that has challenged the military, major political parties and corporates, while continuing to operate independently within public and private spheres.
The presentation attempts to show how, by resisting not only the formal entities that have usurped power, but also the cultural norms that attempt to pigeon-hole cultural practice in terms of ?fine art?, I as an individual artist, as well as worker in a commune, have tried to ensure that our ?art? does not limit itself to admiration in a gallery. It breathes the gunpowder laden air of street battles with police, the dank vapours of the factory floor and pervades the silence of patriarchal inner chambers.
Shahidul Alam
8th January 2012
Taipei

BANGLADESH PHOTOBOOK READER PRIZE

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Shahidul Alam?s ?My Journey as a Witness?: book excerpt and giveaway

A retrospective publication dedicated to the work of renowned Bangladeshi photojournalist and social activist Shahidul Alam has been published by Skira. We have a copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader.
Head on down past the fascinating opening essay from the book excerpted below, put together by curator and writer Rosa Maria Falvo, to find out how to win!

Shahidul Alam, 'Ilish fishing'. Image from book. ? Shahidul Alam.Shahidul Alam, ‘Ilish fishing’. Image from book. ? Shahidul Alam.

Impossible is nothing
Few Westerners have any understanding of Bangladesh?s complicated history or even know exactly where it is on a map. And fewer still have experienced what this country has to offer. I first went there in 2008, travelling to Dhaka from Kolkata by bus across the Indian-Bangladeshi border at Benapole, and after our first ?luxury? bus ripped a hole in its undercarriage as the driver forced the ferry ramp prematurely, we jumped onto another making its way into the belly of a night ferry, crossing the Padma (?lotus?) River, the main channel of the great Ganges (Ganga) River originating in the Himalayas. Immediately surrounded by a smiling and curious crowd, it felt exhilarating to be suddenly thrust into the enduring dynamism that is daily life in Bangladesh. Washing over my vague but cemented notions of disaster and poverty, the reality for me was inspiring, within the chaos and calm combined. I have since travelled southwards to Chittagong?s great seaport, and then north into Bogra, through Dinajpur, visiting temples and monasteries, onto Rangpur, stopping for tea with indigo farmers, heading west to Thakurgaon, giving way to elephants on the village roads, and across India on our way to Biratnagar, Nepal. Increasingly, I am struck by the pervading ?impossible is nothing? approach to life here, and by the magnanimity of the people of Bangladesh.
We met a cheeky bearded man on a bicycle, busily navigating his schedule in a city that relentlessly thwarts any plans one might have to move promptly from A to B. To describe Dhaka?s serious traffic problems is to begin with sheer understatement, and yet the locals carry on undeterred. We walked into his photo agency full of energetic youth, with an obvious respect for their teacher, in positions of responsibility that showed they belong.
Working alongside Shahidul Alam is an extraordinary experience. There is no self-righteous arrogance, impatient hustling, or delusions of grandeur. Here is a true humanitarian; honest, hard-working, and committed to the cause; a talented man who is loved by many in a social, political and environmental system that is bursting at the seams; one that needs overhauling; and one he has been intimately engaged with for over thirty years. In the most unlikely conditions, with the odds (and sometimes the guns) pointed squarely against him, he manages to get the job done with a centeredness that inspires others to do the same. And what exactly is that job? Born from a simple premise and pitted against a seemingly impossible challenge, he dares to turn perceptions around and broaden our thinking, to rebalance the dynamics of communicative power, to redistribute imagery that impacts contemporary culture, and to respect geographic diversification. Not one to shy from the harshest realities in his country, which are best understood by those living them, Alam is educating for a new vision, which enlightened photography aspires to convey. If we consider the classic vehicles of social control, what happens when multinationals and politicians representing eight countries monopolise a world whose ?majority? often stands like an elephant tied to a rope? This majority will inevitably find its strength and something practical and peaceful can be done to help recognise it.

Continue reading “BANGLADESH PHOTOBOOK READER PRIZE”

Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam?s first UK retrospective ? picture feast


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From Art Radar Journal

BANGLADESH PHOTOGRAPHY LONDON GALLERY SHOW
The first UK retrospective of works by internationally renowned Bangladeshi photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam is on at London?s Wilmotte Gallery until December 2011.?Art Radar brings you a selection of portraits and accompanying wall texts from the exhibition.
Click here to read more about the artist and the exhibition, called ?Shahidul Alam: My Journey as a Witness?, on Wilmotte Gallery?s website.
'Nurjahan's father', Chatokchora, Sylhet, Bangladesh, 1994. ? Shahidul Alam.
‘Nurjahan’s father’ (portrait), Chatokchora, Sylhet, Bangladesh, 1994. ? Shahidul Alam.
'Ali Zaman' (portrait), Chakkar Bazaar, Kashmir, Pakistan, 2005. ? Shahidul Alam.
‘Ali Zaman’ (portrait), Chakkar Bazaar, Kashmir, Pakistan, 2005. ? Shahidul Alam.
'Horipodo? (portrait), Shondeep, Bangladesh, 1991. ? Shahidul Alam. Continue reading “Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam?s first UK retrospective ? picture feast”

My journey as a witness on National Geographic website

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National Geographic?Events

Click here to find out more!Shahidul Alam ? My Journey as a Witness


My Journey as a Witness

Shahidul Alam

Beautifully illustrated,?My Journey as a Witness, is the first publication of over two decades of Shahidul Alam?s photography. This inspiring personal journey offers unique, insider perspectives on Bangladesh and its many messages of struggle and triumph. Borrowing from the concept of blogging, it is a chronological account ? in words and images ? of a photographer, teacher and activist living in one of the most impoverished countries in the world, and his attempts to engage with international media, while challenging the categorization of his people as icons of poverty. It also documents an entire artistic movement of photojournalists fighting the establishment in Bangladesh. Through personal stories, essays, poetry and photographs, Alam is testimony to the complexities of living and working in an environment where the personal is always political. This book also dwells on the organizational methods that have allowed the remarkable Drik photo agency to survive and excel in an international setting. In the backdrop are the personal and emotional tensions that inevitably arise where political goals are often achieved at the cost of individual needs.
About the book
This book showcases Shahidul Alam?s photographs, more than 100 color and black and white plates illustrating the journey of an artistic, social, and political witness from inside Bangladesh. This groundbreaking work retraces his personal vision spanning three decades and provides the best interpretative and investigative angles into a culture and reality that is otherwise often misunderstood in the West. Using photography and journalism as its parameters, it is the first comprehensive vision of Bangladesh. These images are not ?about? the region from a European perspective, nor are they an ethnographic account of an ex-colonial world. Instead, this volume is an ?on-the-ground? insight, exploring its topography with decidedly competent indigenous eyes. A personal ?way of seeing? ? the journey of a witness ? this book offers a reflective picturing of national and geographical truths, where the ?other? is no longer a stranger. Alam provides a purposeful alternative to the media driven images of poverty and destruction, literally defying received notions of the Subcontinent. After many years of struggle, he is a pioneering catalyst, inspiring development from within his ?majority world?; founding an artistic movement that cannot be silenced: the emergence of local photographers, achieving an intimacy with their subjects that truly understands and so rivals Western perceptions.
Alam?s image making carries its editorial eloquence far beyond its subject matter. For over 30 years, he has led the way in developing photography as a discipline in Bangladesh, producing an entirely new generation of acclaimed artists in the international arena. His writing style is personal, sometimes fast paced, often reflective, with magnificent imagery interwoven throughout the narrative.
Purchase?My Journey as a Witness here
About the author
Shahidul Alam is a photographer, writer, curator and activist. He obtained a PhD in chemistry at London University before switching to photography. He returned to his hometown Dhaka in 1984, where he photographed the democratic struggle to remove General Ershad. A former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the award winning Drik Agency, the Bangladesh Photographic Institute, and Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography; considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Director of the Chobi Mela International Photo Festival and chairman of Majority World Agency, Alam?s work has been exhibited in galleries such as?MOMA in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Royal Albert Hall in London and The Museum of Contemporary Arts in Tehran. A guest curator of the National Art Gallery in Malaysia and the Brussels Biennale, Alam?s numerous photographic awards include the Mother Jones and the Andrea Frank Awards. He has been a jury member in prestigious international contests, including World Press Photo, which he chaired. An Honourary Fellow of the Bangladesh Photographic Society and the Royal Photographic Society, Alam is a visiting professor of Sunderland University in the UK and principal of the South Asian Media Academy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A prominent social activist Shahidul Alam is also a promoter of new media and has lectured and published widely on photography, new media and education, in the?USA, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America.

London launch: My journey as a witness

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Book Launch: Organised by Candlestar

We invite you to the official UK book launch of ‘My Journey as a Witness’,?a book of images by celebrated photographer?Shahidul Alam.
An extraordinary artist, Shahidul Alam is a photographer, writer, activist, and social entrepreneur who uses his art to chronicle the social and artistic struggles.
Lucid and personal, this much-awaited book includes over 100 photographs tracing Alam?s artistic career, activism, and the founding of photography organisations. From early images shot in England to photographs of the last two decades in his native Bangladesh, this is a journey from photojournalism into social justice. Alam?s superb imagery is matched by his perceptive accounts that are at once deeply intimate and bitingly satirical.
Supported by the Bengal Foundation and published by Skira Editore there will be a short film and brief talks by the author, editor and sponsor accompanied by a book signing.
Date and Venue:
5.30 – 7.30pm Monday 10th October 2011
Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
Library Room
30 Portman Square,
London, W1H 7BH
Due to limited numbers please RSVP by Thursday 6th October RSVP to?info@candlestar.co.uk

Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh

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” href=”http://www.amnesty.org/sites/impact.amnesty.org/files/bangladesh-fakir-560.jpg”> Bangladeshi journalist Masum Fakir was arrested and tortured by the RAB

Bangladeshi journalist Masum Fakir was arrested and tortured by the RAB?? Masum Fakir

24 August 2011

The Bangladesh authorities must honour their pledge to stop extrajudicial executions by a special police force accused of involvement in hundreds of killings, Amnesty International said today in a new report.
Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh also documents how the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) justify these killings as accidental or as a result of officers acting in self-defence, although in reality many victims are killed following their arrest.
?Hardly a week goes by in Bangladesh without someone being shot by RAB with the authorities saying they were killed or injured in ?crossfire? or a ?gun-fight?. However the authorities choose to describe such incidents, the fact remains that they are suspected unlawful killings,? said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International?s Bangladesh Researcher.
The RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 people since its inception in 2004. Any investigations that have been carried out into those killed have either been handled by RAB or by a government-appointed judicial body but the details of their methodology or findings have remained secret. They have never resulted in judicial prosecution. RAB has consistently denied responsibility for unlawful killings and the authorities have accepted RAB claims.
?It is appalling that virtually all alleged instances of illegal RAB killings have gone unchallenged or unpunished. There can be no justice if the force is the chief investigator of its own wrong-doings. Such investigations cannot be impartial. There is nothing to stop the RAB from destroying the evidence and engineering the outcome,? said Abbas Faiz.
Former detainees also told Amnesty International how they were routinely tortured in custody, suffering beatings, food and sleep deprivation, and electric shocks.
At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when the current Awami League government came to power, despite the Prime Minister?s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the country in this period.
In addition, at least 30 people have been killed in other police operations since early 2010, with the police also portraying them as deaths in ?shoot-outs? or ?gun-fights?.
?By failing to take proper judicial action against RAB, successive Bangladeshi governments have effectively endorsed the force?s claims and conduct and given it carte blanche to act with impunity. All we have seen from the current government are broken promises or worse, outright denial,? said Abbas Faiz.
In many cases the investigations blamed the victims, calling them criminals and portraying their deaths as justified even though available public evidence refuted that.
?The Bangladesh authorities must act now and take concrete steps to protect people from the alleged unlawful killings by their security forces .The government must ensure independent and impartial investigations into all suspected cases of extrajudicial executions and bring those responsible to justice.?
Bangladesh?s police and RAB continue to receive a wide range of military and police equipment from overseas, including from Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey and USA. In addition, diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Dhaka, obtained and released by Wikileaks in December 2010 alleged that UK police had been training RAB officers.
Amnesty International calls upon these countries to refrain from supplying arms to Bangladesh that will be used by RAB and other security forces to commit extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Any country that knowingly sends arms or other supplies to equip a force which systematically violates human rights may itself bear some responsibility for those violations.
RAB was created in March 2004, to much public acclaim, as the government?s response to a breakdown in law and order, particularly in western and central Bangladesh.
In Rajshahi, Khulna and Dhaka districts, armed criminal groups or powerful mercenary gangs colluded with local politicians to run smuggling rings or extort money from local people. Within months of its creation, RAB?s operations were characterized by a pattern of killings portrayed by the authorities as ?deaths in crossfire?, many of which had the hallmarks of extrajudicial executions.
They usually occurred in deserted locations after a suspect?s arrest. In some cases, there were witnesses to the arrests, but RAB authorities maintained that victims had been killed by ?crossfire?, or in ?shoot-outs? or ?gunfights?.
Bangladesh?s two main political parties ? the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League ? have shown no commitment to limiting the powers of RAB.
In the first couple of months of coming to office, the Prime Minister spoke of a ?zero tolerance? policy toward extrajudicial executions. Other government authorities repeated her pledge. These hopes were dashed in late 2009 when the authorities, including the Home Minister, began to claim that there were no extrajudicial executions in the country.
Related links:
An exhibition on extra judicial killings by Shahidul Alam
Guardian report on torture by MI5 in collaboration with RAB
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on the shooting of Limon Hossain by RAB
Amensty’s Abbas Faiz on RAB impunity
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on militarisation and the women’s movement
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on the ‘death squad’
Guardian article on ‘death squad’ being trained by UK Government
Guardian claim of Briton being tortured in Bangladesh
Representing “Crossfire”: Politics, Art and Photography

Attack on "Solidarity for Limon" rally


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The regular weekly “Solidarity for Limon” rally had been steadily attracting bigger crowds, despite the monsoon rains. The gathering this Friday the 24th June 2011 was especially large. The street plays were popular and since this was not an event aligned to either of the main political parties, it attracted ordinary people who came to express solidarity, or merely to enjoy the performance.
This week’s performance, a drama called Khekshial (Jackal), performed by Aranyak Natyadal in front of the National Museum at around 4:30pm, was however disrupted when two men burst through the surrounding crowd and began wrecking the props.

Screengrab from video: 9 mins 0 secs?

Screengrab from video: 9 mins 06 secs


Attack visible from 8 mins 58 secs onwards.
The audience, intially slow to react, as they thought it was part of the play, soon went after the men, but they disappeared into the crowd. Later a young man called Al-Amin was caught by the crowd and accused of being one of the attackers. The man was taken away by Shahbag police, who arrived sometime after the event. The police are reported to have released Al-Amin as he was an innocent by-stander.
The organisers have pledged to continue their protests until the government withdraw the false cases against Limon Hossein and provide adequate compensation for the loss of his leg.
`Attack on demo for Limon,’ bdnews24
Fri, Jun 24th, 2011 8:23 pm BdST
http://www.bdnews24.com/details.php?id=199289&cid=2
and, `Goons attack demo for Limon,’ New Age, 25/06/2011 00:42:00
http://newagebd.com/newspaper1/frontpage/23806.html

`State within the state.' Militarisation, and the women's movement


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by rahnuma ahmed

`A state within the state is now ruling the country.‘ Recently uttered by Dr Mizanur Rahman, National Human Rights Commission chair, these words, ominous as they sound, are of immense concern to the nation’s citizenry.
To those who love this country. Who feed off its soil, off the labour of those who plant, grow, nurture, feed us. What sense can one make of his words?
Dr Mizan was speaking at a roundtable on granting constitutional recognition to indigenous people but his words were occasioned by something else. An incident which is proving to be the turning point.
Yes, Limon. People across the nation are outraged. At the shooting. If possible, more so, at the subsequent cover-up attempts by some ministers, by a senior civil-military leadership nexus.
Cover-up? How else but by `criminalising’ the victim? Limon is a `terrorist’, his father’s a `terrorist’. The whole family is nothing but a bunch of terrorists.
Limon’s left leg had to be amputated after the 16-year old Jhalokathi college student, the son of an agricultural day-labourer, was allegedly shot in the leg by RAB’s officers on March 23. RAB claims, the shooting occurred during an `encounter’.
But the real problem, from RAB’s perspective, is that Limon has lived to tell the tale. Unusual, for RAB’s victims generally don’t. Human rights activists allege, since the formation of the elite anti-crime, anti-terror force in 2004, the number of extra-judicial killings has crossed a thousand. Continue reading “`State within the state.' Militarisation, and the women's movement”