Bangladeshi photographer’s exhibition in Chicago

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Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam whose exhibition is to be featured at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago starting Oct. 8, 2021. Photo: Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan courtesy of Wrightwood 659.

Wrightwood 659, a private, non-collecting institution in Chicago which focuses on “socially engaged” art and to architecture, is holding an exhibition of the works of Bangladeshi photojournalist, teacher, writer, institution-builder, and activist Shahidul Alam, on Fridays and Saturdays starting Oct. 8, 2021.

Entitled Shahidul Alam: We Shall Defy, the work will be an exhibition of images and texts that illuminate the life and work of Alam, “whose efforts on behalf of human rights have provoked both accolades and imprisonment,” said the press release from Wrightwood 659, Sept. 27, 2021. Shahidul Alam: We Shall Defy is made possible by the Alphawood Foundation Chicago.

According to the press release,Alam has been a long-time campaigner for social justice and has also challenged the global dominance of white western media. Alam’s resistance has been through his art and his activism, but also through the institutions he has built. This has often led to confrontation with the powerful elite of his native Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, he has had a loaded gun pointed at his head and been stabbed,” the press release said.

He was incarcerated in August 2018 by the government and released only after a global campaign that included Nobel Laureates, after 107 days, the press release notes.

We Shall Defy includes photographs by Alam and his community of artists and activists, as well as illustrations, verse, and more by three additional artists: Amal Akash, a singer-songwriter and visual and performance artist based in Dhaka; Alam’s niece Sofia Karim, an architect and visual artist in London; and New York-based filmmaker, writer, photographer, and installation artist Naeem Mohaiemen and the King Kortobbyo team.

The primary focus of the exhibition is a series of 9 large banners that are inspired by an ancient form of Bangla art—Patachitara, cloth scrolls containing detailed depictions of mythical narratives. The banners in the exhibition are printed with photographs by Alam and 14 artists, thereby integrating the contemporary and ancient methods of storytelling while expanding on the turbulent experiences of the Bangladeshi people, the press release says.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, a 23-foot wall contains an illustration board with texts and sketches by Sofia Karim that represent Alam’s life in the Keraniganj jail, and a multi-media timeline by Naeem Mohaiemen and the King Kortobbyo team that elaborates on the history of photography as a tool for activism, the press release said.

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