EP07: "Our subalterns have not sold out; our youngsters have not sold out". Nkata with Shahidul Alam
Shahidul Alam (b.1955) is a Bangladeshi photojournalist, teacher and social activist. He has been a photographer for more than 40 years. His life and work can invariably be summarised as a service to society, culture and humanity. In 2014, he was awarded the Shilpakala Padak by the President of Bangladesh. In 2018 he received the Humanitarian Award from Lucie Awards. In the same year, he was named one of the Times Persons of The Year by Time Magazine.
Alam founded the Drik Picture Library in 1989, the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka in 1998, “which has trained hundreds of photographers”, and the Chobi Mela International Photography Festival in 1999. These platforms have been steadfastly sustained throughout these years. As such, they have become, in Alam’s words, the units straddling the three prongs – education, media, and culture – through which they have been able to exact pressure on the political sphere, therefore, instigating tangible change in the Bangladeshi reality through photography.
In August 2018, Shahidul Alam was arrested and detained shortly after giving an interview on Al Jazeera during which he criticised the government's violent response to the 2018 Bangladesh road safety protests. There was a global call for his release led by many International humanitarian organisations, news media and notable personalities.
In the 7th Episode of Nkata Podcast: Art & Processes, Emeka Okereke visited Alam in his home in Dhanmondi, Dhaka in Bangladesh – same apartment from which he was arrested. They had an extensive conversation about his life and work starting from his childhood to his parents, family and dedication to social justice in Bangladesh.
He also touched on his special relationship with his partner – his best friend and his fiercest critic – Rahnuma Ahmed, who is a journalist in her own right. Shahidul owes much of his continued belief in his cause; its strategic carefulness of self-care as a form of protest (as inferred by Audre Lourde) to Rahnuma. He made a point to note that the name “Rahnuma” is Persian for “the one who shows you the way”.
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