Internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer, writer, activist and Time’s Person of the Year 2018, Shahidul Alam’s first comprehensive US museum survey starts following its public opening at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, today at 6 pm (USA time).
The exhibition will cover the works from Alam’s four-decade career. He has developed a broad range of work in both education and promotion of ethics and commitment, towards the issues that affect different societies, through his activism and photography. It will run till May 4, 2020.
The exhibition features over 40 photographs and ephemera including portraits, landscapes, and scenes of daily life, strife, and resistance in the “majority world” — a phrase Alam has used since the 1990s to reframe the notion of the “third world” or “global south”.
The show highlights some of Alam’s most important works, including A Struggle for Democracy, his earliest series as a professional photojournalist, which sheds light on Bangladesh’s political struggles against an autocratic leader in the 1980s. It also showcases photographs from the Brahmaputra Diary series, which explore life across three regions (India, the Tibetan Plateau in China, and Bangladesh) and religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam) along the majestic Brahmaputra River. A sculptural installation of portraits on straw mats from Kalpana’s Warriors, which attempts to break the silence on the disappearance of feminist activist Kalpana Chakma, is also on exhibit at the event.
While shining an unflinching light on major Bangladeshi tragedies as well as daily life, Alam’s images reveal a country and her cultures that are often misunderstood and misrepresented. The exhibition also feature his new works, including a 3D model of the prison, where he spent more than 100 days behind bars in 2018, for speaking out against the Bangladeshi government, as well as recent images taken after his release.
“I heard of the possibility to show my work at the Rubin through three layers of bars with noise levels of over 100 decibels. I was in jail, but the choice was clear: this was an opportunity not to be missed,” says Shahidul Alam. “Truth to Power is a tribute to the numerous acts of resistance all across the globe and gives hope to those who continue to believe that a better world is possible. I’m thrilled to have the support of the Rubin Museum.”
In addition to his powerful photographs, Alam is the founder of institutions and initiatives such as Drik Picture Library, Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Chobi Mela Photography Festival and Majority World. The regional solidarity he has been able to catalyse cannot be overstated and is illustrated through the exhibition’s narrative.
“Photographic imagery in South Asia has become an effective means for the underrepresented to claim their voice and political presence. Alam is masterful at using images to tell stories and shine a light on injustices and inequities,” says Beth Citron, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Rubin and organiser of the exhibition. “In a time when free speech and expression is challenged in Bangladesh and across the world, Shahidul Alam’s lifelong work reveals the power of truth and voice in effecting change. As shown by the global support for Alam across the art world, literary sphere, scholarly community, and humanitarian organisations during his recent period of incarceration in Dhaka, Shahidul Alam’s eminence cuts across fields.”
As part of the exhibition, Shahidul Alam gave a talk yesterday at 6 pm (USA time) at the Rubin Museum of Art.