‘The struggle for democracy is a struggle for freedom’

Challenging times: Shahidul Alam speaking at Piramal Gallery on Thursday.

Challenging times: Shahidul Alam speaking at Piramal Gallery on Thursday.  

Bangladeshi human rights advocate and photojournalist Shahidul Alam talks about the need to keep telling stories

“Democracy is a messy, elusive entity. Keeping that entity alive is very important. The struggle for democracy is a struggle for freedom,” said Dr. Shahidul Alam here on Thursday. A single label like photojournalist simply doesn’t apply to the Bangladeshi who drew the attention of several human rights associations and scores of artists across the globe when he was imprisoned and tortured by his government for covering student protests in August 2018 in Dhaka.

While Dr. Alam is indeed a photographer and a journalist, he is also an educationist, social activist and human rights advocate, besides being a writer, curator and founder of the photo library, Drik, and the Chobi Mela festival.

Here in Mumbai on a short visit, as guest of honour for the RedInk Awards for Excellence in Journalism, 2019, Dr. Alam addressed professionals involved in the fields of human rights, photography and journalism to discuss challenges faced by democracies while reiterating the courage to tell stories anew. Kickstarting his talk was a 12-minute film about his 107-day stay in jail after he spoke to Al Jazeera and posted a series of videos on social media critical of the Bangladesh government’s violent response to student-led demonstrations on road safety in August 2018. He also shared a presentation on his work as a documentary photographer, while highlighting the need to embrace fresh ways of seeing and displaying work.

The overriding theme of Dr. Alam’s talk was freedom and the right to expression. At every point of the two-hour talk and subsequent discussion, he urged the audience to look for fresh ways to tell stories. Sharing details of his life, Dr. Alam emphasised the need to tell stories in a manner that was as inclusive as possible. He talked about taking art out of the four walls of a gallery and using previously unused mediums. “You have to accept that the gallery space is an elitist one,” he said, while discussing a UNICEF project that engaged photographers from rural communities. He illustrated how the audience for the UNICEF project expanded manifold, by displaying the work on boats and autorickshaws, among other mediums. “The location of the work is also important,” he said with a touch of humour, while sharing how he has even displayed his works at a mosque.

Dr. Alam’s dedication to human rights has not gone unnoticed. During his incarceration last year, human rights organisations, journalism and photography groups had protested his imprisonment through the press and social media. He was named one of several journalists who were part of Time’s Person of the Year in 2018. In April this year, Dr. Alam was presented the Infinity Award by the International Centre of Photography in New York.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 12:29:09 PM |

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