Shahidul Alam and Gideon Mendel withdraw from Tel Aviv show

For Immediate Release: 14.6.21

Multi-award winning Bangladeshi and South African photographers withdraw their work and participation in the Eretz Israel Museum showing of Prix Pictet’S touring exhibition ‘Hope’

Shahidul Alam and Gideon Mendel are available for interview and comment:  shahidul@drik.net / info@gideonmendel.com

Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam and South African photographer Gideon Mendel have withdrawn their work and participation in the showing of the Prix Pictet touring exhibition ‘Hope’, due to open at the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel on 30th June 2021. Their withdrawal is in solidarity with the Palestinian people and informed by the BDS movement resisting the Israeli government’s settler occupation and apartheid policies. 

Alam* was one of the finalists in the 2019 contest with his work Still She Smiles, which was launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Mendel** has twice been nominated for the Prix Pictet, in 2015 with his Drowning World project and in 2019 with his series Damage: A Testament of Faded memory.

The Prix Pictet (Pictet prize) is an international award in photography. It was founded in 2008 by the Geneva-based Pictet Group with the mandate to use the power of photography to communicate messages about sustainability to a global audience. Its goal is to uncover photography of the highest order, applied to current social and environmental challenges. The prize is judged by an independent jury and carries a prize of CHF 100,000.

Alam is also a globally recognised journalist and the only Bangladeshi to have been featured as a Time Magazine Person of the Year (2018). Citing his reasons for withdrawal, he said, “I am Bangladeshi. In 1971, we lived under occupation in East Pakistan. Members of my family died resisting the occupation, as did friends. The Pakistan army’s denial of the genocide of our people relied on cultural events to demonstrate ‘normality’. The boycott of Pakistan, and the global support for our armed struggle, gave us hope and led to our independence.

“My work in this exhibition is about a woman, Hazera Beagum, who provides hope for children who would otherwise have little to hope for. Many children were killed during the recent Israeli aggression. Many more have died over the years since Naqba. Israeli children have died too. With hope dying for the Palestinian children who have survived, my participation would be an insult to those under the brutal Israeli apartheid regime and to those campaigning for their freedom. It would be a betrayal not only of Palestinian aspirations for freedom but the human longing for freedom and independence everywhere.”

Mendel is known for his intimate style of image making and long-term commitment to engaging with the key social issues facing his generation, most notably HIV/AIDS and the on-going global climate emergency. 

He said, “My images in this group show depict the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. With the photographic negatives impacted by water, time and mould, the series is a reflection on communal memory, hope and structurally imposed racism, a catastrophe for all concerned. 

I witnessed the South African state’s brutal response to this protest and was personally struck by the effectiveness of the cultural, sport and economic boycott as a non-violent protest tool that helped bring about the end of apartheid. I’ve never forgotten that, as this struggle unfolded, Israel was one of the few countries on which the Pretoria regime could rely for support and collaboration — particularly in the military field, where Israel defied the international arms embargo to help equip the apartheid security forces with the weapons they brandished against those seeking freedom and justice in South Africa***.

“So, as both a South African with this generational history and as a Jewish photographer currently developing a body of work exploring the impacts of the Holocaust on my family, I cannot ignore what is at stake. At this inflamed moment, so soon after the horrifying, asymmetric casualties and damage inflicted on Gaza, where a population comprised mostly of Palestinian refugees from Israel’s creation remains under long term Israeli blockade that has made civilian life barely tolerable, I am struck by the irony of being part of a show entitled Hope. 

“Amid the restoration of a ‘calm’, which in actuality means the maintenance of the grinding reality of occupation (what even Israel’s leading human rights organization B’Tselem describes as apartheid), Israeli political consensus — as witnessed by the new government’s intention to enforce the same oppressive policies as the prior administration — offers so little hope to the Palestinians and those Israelis who seek a demonstrably just and enduring resolution.

For me it would be a moral failure to proceed with this show as if I were unaware of these ‘inconvenient’ truths, and to ignore the calls for solidarity from Palestinian civil society to people of conscience around the world.”

Shahidul Alam (Dhaka), Gideon Mendel (London) – 14.6.21

*Alam’s work is also featured in Confinement, a new book by the Prix Pictet, which presents previously unseen images by over 40 celebrated Prix Pictet photographers created in response to the pandemic. Each image presents a highly personal response to the Covid-19 crisis, accompanied by the artist’s own words. – www.shahidulalam.com

**Mendel’s work also featured in the Confinement book. – http://gideonmendel.com

***This ranged from nuclear weapons development (well detailed in Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, Pantheon, 2010) to ballistic missiles and even the basic SA infantry rifle, the R4, which was a locally manufactured version of Israel’s IMI Galil.

Notes:

About the Prix Pictet edition ‘Hope’: The ‘Hope’ Shortlist was announced on 4 July 2019 at the Rencontres d’Arles on Thursday 4 July 2019. The winner was announced at the inaugural show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on 13 November 2019. Since then the show has gone to Tokyo, Zurich, Moscow, Lausanne and Verona. After Tel Aviv, the show will travel to Monaco, Dublin, Shanghai and Beijing. – https://prixpictet.com

When I met Hazera Beagum, she was a sex worker. The grounds of the parliament building was her beat. She had been gang raped as a child, forced into pick pocketing and sold into prostitution. We’ve stayed friends, but had lost contact. I met her after many years. She had taken her life savings to set up an orphanage for other children like her. Instead of remembering that she is incapable of bearing children because of brutal unwanted sex, she basks in the warmth of the 40 children who now call her mother. She gives them hope.
 
Hazera playing with her kids. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Activists during a mass political funeral for youths slain in the so called ‘grenade incident’ which took place in Duduza township. Eight activists were killed when an agent gave them booby-trapped hand grenades. East Rand, Gauteng, July 1985
This is one of a number of images derived from negatives that were damaged by water and mould. The series, called Damage, is part of Mendel’s recent book entitled Freedom or Death. Photo: Gideon Mendel

ENDS

14.6.21

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.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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