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’
Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam and South African photographer Gideon Mendel have withdrawn their work and participation in the showing of the Prix Pictet touring exhibition ‘Hope’, due to open at the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel on 30th June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.
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