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On September 4, 1989, Shahidul Alam founded the Drik Gallery. But on its 29th anniversary, the renowned Bangladeshi photojournalist sits in the custody of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (where he has been remanded for over a month) for voicing his political views about the country’s administrative and political shortcomings.
Starting September 4, 2018, the Drik Gallery hosted the exhibition A Struggle for Democracy to honor the imprisoned artist. The gallery advertises, “The exhibition is arranged to protest against the photographer’s imprisonment and will also commemorate 4 September, the day Drik started its journey in 1989.” The exhibition was inaugurated by significant figures of Bangladeshi thought, activism, and art: Professor Anu Muhammad, Ms. Khushi Kabir, and Professor Meghna Guhathakurta. Musician Arup Rahee performed.
A Struggle for Democracy opens with a poetic excerpt by Shahidul Alam, for all visitors to read and understand the pioneering photographer’s mission:
… I don’t want to be your icon of poverty
or a sponge of your guilt.
My identity is for me to build, in my own image.
You’re welcome to walk beside me,
but don’t stand n front to give me a helping hand.
You’re blocking the sun.
Alam is the founder of the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, a school of photography and multimedia journalism, and the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography. He is often heralded for his integral support of the photojournalistic movement in Bangladesh, often praised as the foundation of the success of many photographers in the region, as a teacher and champion of their work.
Over 400 Indian photographers, filmmakers, and artists released a public statement condemning the state’s abduction of photographer Shahidul Alam in his home in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Director of the Tate Modern Frances Morris, Serpentine Gallery director Hans Ulrich Obrist, and artists Anish Kappor and John Akomfrah are among the signatories of another open letter demanding the immediate release of the artist.
Over the weekend, thousands of photojournalists and supporters gathered in protest of Alam’s censorship and imprisonment.
After the traffic-related deaths of two students in Dhaka, massive protests broke out throughout the city. Alam was actively photographing these actions and voicing his support through videos and written posts on his Facebook feed.
He was arrested following a telecasted segment on Al Jazeera where he condemned the government-sanctioned “gagging of the media” and “bribery and corruption.” That evening, August 5, Alam was abducted from his home and remanded. New Age Bangladesh reported that the photographer was presented before the court, barefoot, for a 30-minute hearing where it was originally requested he spend 10 days remanded in police custody. Alam was accused of posting “imaginary propaganda against the government” on his Facebook profile that “triggered panic among public and caused deterioration of law and order.”
Alam’s bail application will be heard tomorrow, September 11.