Photojournalist Shahidul Alam—who served time for his activism—gets retrospective at the Rubin Museum
কার্তিক ৩০, ২০২০
At 10:15pm, on 5 August 2018, Shahidul Alam’s neighbours heard him scream. Yet the plain-clothes policemen who lined the four flights of stairs to Alam’s flat in Dhaka, Bangladesh, remained completely silent. Waiting until Alam—a photojournalist, activist and educator—was alone, they disabled the CCTV in the building and cut the lights. Then they blindfolded, handcuffed and dragged Alam away to an unknown place, where he says they allegedly tortured him.
Alam remained in Dhaka’s Keraniganj prison until 20 November 2018, when the Bangladeshi high court finally granted him bail in the face of overwhelming international support for his safe release. The government has yet to drop the charges against him, which amount to propaganda against the state, on the basis of a televised Al Jazeera interview Alam gave the night before his arrest in support of student protests in Dhaka. Less than a year later, Alam’s four-decade-long photographic career—and his experiences of life in prison—are the focus of a major retrospective at New York’s Rubin Museum.
“What does a photographer do when his camera has been taken away?” Alam asks in the weeks leading up to the exhibition during a phone call from the UK, where he has been recovering with family. Unable to use the medium that has defined his career to reflect his experience of incarceration, he instead relied on his memory and the skills of his niece, Sofia Karim, a London-based architect turned artist, who co-ordinated the campaign to secure his release.