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.?
6-7pm Opening Reception
7-8pm: Panel 1: Role of Photography in Human Rights Advocacy
Featuring: Photographer & Writer Shahidul Alam and Brian Palmer, Brooklyn-based Independent Photographer and Documentary Filmmaker.? Moderated by Todd Lester, Founder of freeDimensional, which hosts activists in art spaces and uses cultural resources to strengthen their work.
8-8:15: Chai Break
8:15-9:15: Panel 2: Diaspora Solidarity Strategies
Featuring: Dina Siddiqi, Visiting Associate Professor at the Women & Gender Studies Program, Hunter College, and Humayun Kabir, activist with the South Asian Solidarity Initiative, and a graduate student in Political Science at the CUNY Graduate Center. Moderated by Rupal Oza, Director of the Women & Gender Studies Program and Associate Professor of Geography at Hunter College.
About the Exhibition
In 2004, responding to a perceived law and order ?crisis? the Bangladesh government created a new, armed enforcement agency, called Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). The agency was formed by taking officers from the Bangladesh Police, Army, Navy and Air Force. Over time, the agency?s budget and power grew until today it is one of the largest and most feared groups inside Bangladesh. From the very early days, RAB became notorious for killing people it was trying to capture, often during gun battles, which the government always claims is due to ?crossfire.?
RAB has been the subject of repeated condemnation by international human rights activists, including Human Rights Watch, starting with their 2006 report Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh?s Elite Security Force. Activists have also insisted that Bangladesh?s continued participation in UN Peacekeeping Forces be made subject to the government ending the practice of torture and extra-judicial killings by RAB.
Shahidul Alam?s Crossfire project was first shown in Bangladesh in 2010 to draw attention to extra-judicial killings by RAB. The government responded by shutting down the show. Eventually, a court ruled in favor of Alam, and the show was reopened. Now Queens Museum of Art is bringing the project to New York for the first time. The project includes photographs that recreate, through metaphoric images, extra-judicial killings by RAB; videos about the controversy over the show; and a live Google map that pinpoints locations for numerous extrajudicial killings.
Crossfire attempts to reach out at an emotional level where a fragment of the story has been used to suggest the whole. According to Shahidul Alam, ?My intention was to get under the skin. I walked those cold streets; heard the cries; sat quietly with the family besides a cold corpse. The show is a quiet metaphor for the screaming truth.?
The exhibition at Queen?s Museum of Art will include a public forum on April 15th, where New York based activists and photographers will discuss the impact of photography on redress for human rights violations. Panelists will also discuss the role of Bangladeshi diaspora populations in international solidarity work. The US role will also be discussed, especially the alleged ?training? of Bangladeshi security personnel by the US government in violation of international law.
In conjunction with this show, events are planned in Bangladesh, where posters about abuses committed by RAB will be distributed nationwide, informing and educating local people of their rights, through new data and facts.
About the Presenting Organizations
Drik, Bangladesh is a distinctive multimedia organization that has made challenging social inequality its central driving force. Established in 1989, Drik has successfully partnered with national and international organisations using the power of the visual medium to educate, inform and draw powerful emotional responses to influence public opinion. The Drik Picture Library, the Photography,?Publications, Audio-Visual and Gallery departments work in synergy to carry out the work of the company. It?s ability and influence is strengthened by its initiatives, the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, DrikICT, Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the Majority World Photo Agency.
freeDimensional (fD) advances social justice by hosting activists in art spaces and using cultural resources to strengthen their work. Based on the belief that creative expression fuels social justice movements, fD works with the global arts community to identify and redistribute available, undertilized resources, and support meaningful relationships between art spaces and activists and is a co-initator in bringing Crossfire to the QMA.
The South Asia Solidarity Initiative builds on decades of South Asian progressive politics of solidarity within the US for peace and reconciliation, inter-ethnic and inter-religious co-existence as well as social and economic justice in South Asia.
The project was made possible in part by the Open Society Foundations? Audience Engagement Grant, partly funded by the Open Society Documentary Photography Project and Open Society Justice Initiative?s National Criminal Justice Reform program, as well as a grant from The Yip Harburg Foundation.
Exhibitions in the Partnership Gallery at the Queens Museum of Art are supported by the Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation and Surdna Foundation. Additional funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts.
Recent RAB related news:

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

4 thoughts on “Crossfire ? Photographs by Shahidul Alam”

  1. I am glad to see Shahidul Alam take up this cause on behalf of victims of cross fire. Some years back, I expressed fear about RAB
    in the following piece in the daily star. It seems my fears are on its way to being realized.
    RAB and Accountability:
    Most people I know in Bangladesh welcome Rab and tend to treat unfortunate “crossfire” deaths as a necessary evil that they have to live with. The argument given is: the whole system is corrupt; almost all the people caught by Rab are mastans and anti-socials who would not be convicted in a court of law because they intimidate witnesses, bribe the police, etc. Further, the rights of innocent law abiding people should, in this line of argument, supersede those in Rab custody. I have had many arguments with people following this line of logic. The recent custodial deaths are similarly shrugged off.
    The civil libertarian argument about lack of due process does not buy many converts in Bangladesh, unless you have a near or dear one directly affected. It is generally believed that only a few innocent people have suffered and that Rab has been on the mark most of the time. People seem to be willing to sacrifice a few innocent for what is perceived to be the greater good of society.
    I maintain, however, that even the current overall utilitarian aspect of Rab will disappear before long. There is the natural law of diffusion. If Rab stays in place for a while, the influence of money and corruption is bound to affect a decent segment of this elite unit. It will be foolish to assume that any group in society can be immune to temptations and pressures for long. Already there have been serious allegations of people settling vendettas by using Rab. This will become all the more common. With little or no oversight, there is the serious potential of some members of this group doing the work of the highest bidder and degenerating into death squads. If the present system is maintained, there will come a point when Rab infractions will be more and more numerous and society will wonder how we came to tolerate the creation of this organisation
    Unless accountability questions are addressed satisfactorily, we have to realize that justice denied to a few accused will eventually mean justice denied to many. If situation becomes as bad as I fear, people may have little recourse to undo the damage. Any one speaking out too loudly will be made to disappear, if we are to extrapolate the experience with paramilitary groups in South American countries.
    I urge the government to revisit immunity laws and challenge their constitutionality–no one should be above the law. People in general should be worried about the long term danger of institutionalized armed groups operating with minimal oversight and accountability, even when it may appear to be an effective short-term fix for law and order problems.

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