Embracing the Other

Shahidul Alam?s new show combats Islamophobia, extremism: The Punch

Interview by Ina Puri

 

For celebrated Bangladeshi photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, a just world is a plural space where many thoughts can coexist. His latest show, Embracing the Other, opens in Dhaka on May 8

“If you?re not making certain people uncomfortable by your presence, you are probably doing something wrong.? Bangladesh?s best-known photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, 61, has lived by that adage, which, by and large, sums up why he does what he does. 

For Alam, who has been actively involved in the movement for democracy in Bangladesh for over three decades, photojournalism was a corollary of being an activist on the streets, seeking to see himself on the edge, so as to constantly ?feel the heat?, questioning, going beyond the obvious, not settling  for safe options.  

Shahidul Alam in the thick of things at anti government protest. Photo: Md. Mainuddin

In Bangladesh, Alam is credited with many ?firsts?: Among other things, he set up Drik Picture Library, the country?s first picture agency, in 1989; Pathshala, its first photo school in 1998; and the first email network in the country in 1994. He also founded the first photo festival in Asia, Chobi Mela, in 2000. Continue reading “Embracing the Other”

Do Goats Go To Heaven?

The last meal. Dhanmondi. Rd 9A. 12th September 2016
The last meal. Dhanmondi. Rd 9A. 12th September 2016

Awake, deep in the silence of the night
I dread the sound, I?ll hear your bleat tonight
Your tiny toes tied together with twine
Your tiny body weighed down by people fine
Children circling, some in fright, others in glee
Butcher man with knife, crouching on his knee
You?ll struggle in vain, your bleat a garbled cry
Blood will spurt, red floor, no questions why
Is someone there, another goat, a baby even?
Who wants you, regardless of who goes to heaven
What God needs blood, as evidence of love?
What sacrifice in swapping, money for life above?
A shopping spree, celebrations on TV
What?s one goat less or more for you and me?
It is quiet again, a respite from the heat
The sound remains, I?ll forever hear your bleat
Shahidul Alam
12th September 2016
Dhaka

Forest of Tides: The Sundarbans

Written by Louis Werner Photographed by Shahidul Alam / DRIK

Split not quite in half by the border between India to the west and Bangladesh to the east, crowning the Bay of Bengal, the world?s most complex river delta works like South Asia?s showerhead?one the size of Lebanon or Connecticut. Fed by Himalayan snowmelt and monsoon runoff, carrying a billion tons a year of Asian landmass suspended as sediment, the three great flows of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna rivers all end in one vast estuarial tangle, one of Earth?s great water filters, the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. Continue reading “Forest of Tides: The Sundarbans”

PATHSHALA?S RESPONSE TO BDNEWS24.COM?S REPORT

Pathshala Campus
Pathshala Campus

A report on Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, published by the online news portal bdnews24.com, has come to our attention (?Shahidul Alam?s Pathshala operates without affiliation,? bdnews24.com, 6 August 2016). Unsubstantiated allegations, backbiting and innuendo and the absence of cross checking characterise the ?report.? It is a shoddy piece of journalism. Continue reading “PATHSHALA?S RESPONSE TO BDNEWS24.COM?S REPORT”

On the ?uncertified? Pathshala

At a time when our entire education system is in crisis, the quality of education is in question and the values that student?s inculcate is a source of fear.?A student of?Pathshala South Asian Media Institute,?in response to questions about the validity of the very certificate he has obtained, talks passionately about the institution?s pedagogic model and how he has been transformed by it.

by Mahtab Nafis?

Mahtab Nafis
Mahtab Nafis

A letter to whom it may concern
BEFORE joining Pathshala, I had studied in nine schools and one university (all certified) in this country. But never before had I found an environment similar to the one at Pathshala. South Asian Media Institute, founded by Shahidul Alam. Forget about competing, none of them are even light years close.
From a very early age I had sincere doubts and disagreements with the ?socially accepted? and ?certified? educational systems. For, all I had seen was a bunch of sheep-like people following a curriculum given by a governing body or authority without assessing, questioning or having an opinion on the teaching method or the materials. It seemed that people blindly followed the dictum ?this is how things are?, an attitude which I could never accept. Everywhere, I saw teachers give students instructions or orders to follow a rigid structure, to memorise, to cover the syllabus. Even those studying in a creative field had teachers who would promote and indoctrinate a particular pattern of thinking or school of thought. This basically means that you are thinking other people?s thoughts and are being conditioned in someone else?s mental shadow. Continue reading “On the ?uncertified? Pathshala”

Didi. The Street Fighter

MAHASWETA DEVI (JANUARY 14, 1926 -?JULY 28, 2016), WRITER AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue "Nature's Fury" by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue “Nature’s Fury” by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Protocol wasn?t Didi?s thing.?Shoitan! (Satan) she would say lovingly. And then grab you and plonk you on her lap. The fact that both Rahnuma and I were far too old, and I was certainly much too heavy, to be sitting on anyone?s lap wasn?t something she worried much about. She didn?t care much for people?s age, and what other people thought, was something that had never bothered her. If you love someone, they sit on your lap. ?You have a problem with that??
Mahasweta Devi (Didi ? elder sister ? to all of us) had been a giant of a figure in South Asian literature for as far back as I can remember.?Jhansir Rani?(The Queen of Jhansi, 1956), Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1084, 1975) and?Aranyer Adhikar?(The Occupation of the Forest, 1977) her powerful novel about the Santal uprising were what we knew this celebrated writer and activist by. That she was a tease and loved to sing, and didn?t mind the odd practical joke, was a side to her that had remained private. What should have been apparent was the rebel in her; her uncompromising stand for the oppressed, and her clear position as to which side of the fence she belonged. Continue reading “Didi. The Street Fighter”

New Developments: How a photography course in Dhaka is challenging religious and artistic prejudices

How a photography course in Dhaka is challenging religious and artistic prejudices

Rasel Chowdhury, winner of?the?3rd Samdani Art Award, People on low incomes living in slums beside the railway station at Khilgaon, Kamalapur, Dhaka, 2012, (from the?series ?Railway Longings?, 2011?15)

Rasel Chowdhury, winner of the 3rd Samdani Art Award, People on low incomes living in slums beside the railway station at Khilgaon, Kamalapur, Dhaka, 2012, (from the series ?Railway Longings?, 2011?15). Courtesy the artist

I just got back from the third Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) in?the Bangladeshi capital. DAS is the?brainchild of Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, a young collector couple based in the city; it?s not a biennial, nor an art fair or a festival, but an?intense four-day summit. For it?s third edition, the Chief Curator of DAS, Mumbai-based Diana Campbell Betancourt, decided not to focus on a particular theme per se but on the South Asia region as a?whole, which in itself is a contradictory concept. (What exactly is South Asia? Is Australia a part of it? Sri Lanka? Iran?) She engaged several curators, including me; I was invited to organize an exhibition for the Samdani Art Award, which is given to a Bangladeshi artist between the ages of 20 and 40. Back in October 2015, I had spent a week in Dhaka meeting the 20 artists who had been shortlisted for this award by Aaron Cezar, director of the London-based Delfina Foundation. From my very first conversation with the artists, I?sensed that?we?were at the beginning of an extremely interesting week.
I learned a lot about Bangladesh ? the local scene, art education, religion and why, for instance, art?works about love do matter. Some artists I met mentioned that their partner was either Hindu or?Muslim and that they could not tell their respective families. As the?week went on, I became increasingly enthusiastic about the obvious sense?of urgency with which all of the nominated artists work: Bangladesh is rapidly changing on all levels, and?these artists are all embracing the challenge to get involved, to have their voices heard and to find appropriate forms of?expression for that.
This seemed particularly true?for many of the photographers on the shortlist. As it turned out, they all came from a single school: Dhaka?s Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Set up in 1998?by the Bangladeshi photographer, writer, curator and activist Shahidul Alam, this private school has been dedicated to documentary photography and reportage from the beginning. Located in the central Dhanmondi/Panthapath area of Dhaka, it is a small institute for about 90 students who follow the three-year professional programme, and for about 600 students enrolled in the short, one-semester course. Initially funded by international organisations, Pathshala now is entirely supported through tuition fees. (Though relatively modest at?US$460 per semester for the professional programme, inevitably, as in Europe or the US, students are?likely to come from more affluent backgrounds, while there are scholarships allowing five students?per year to study for free.) Continue reading “New Developments: How a photography course in Dhaka is challenging religious and artistic prejudices”

Open Call For Iranian and Bangladeshi Artists

Open Call For Iranian and Bangladeshi Artists
Khooshk
Exchange Program (Iran ? Bangladesh)
1-31 July, 2016 ? Tehran
7 January ? 7 February?, 2017?? Dhaka
Application Deadline
10 May, 2016
Pathshala?and Kooshk Residency present the first?round of?exchange program between Tehran and Dhaka?for two Bangladeshi?and two Iranian visual artists. This exchange program exists out of two parts. The first part is held from 1-31 July,?2016 in Tehran, Iran.
In?this residency, the Bangladeshi?artists have the opportunity to work in Tehran, Iran and collaborate with the Iranian artists. During this time, the space will be open to a local public of artists, students, and art critics. The program will end with a presentation and a panel discussion. Continue reading “Open Call For Iranian and Bangladeshi Artists”

HUMAN CHAIN: Protest against the murder of Photographer and Drik Employee 'Irfanul Islam'

Irfanul Islam
Irfanul Islam

 
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Dear All,
Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute will initiate to form a Human chain at T.S.C, Dhaka University on 9th?April, 2016,?Saturday?at?3.30pm?for the protest against the murder of Photographer and Drik Employee ?Irfanul Islam? who was kidnapped and murdered on 2 April, 2016. Photographers will wrap black cloth on their camera and other participants will wear a black badge and show protest placard.
We are requesting you all to take part in this protest and please note your presence and support is?VERY IMPORTANT.?