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Tania Bruguera at Tate Protests Imprisonment of Bangladeshi Photographer Shahidul Alam

The Cuban artist and activist created a special intervention at the Turbine Hall to draw attention to Alam’s case

The intervention at Tate Modern, 4 October 2018. Courtesy: Sofia Karim and Tania Bruguera

The intervention at Tate Modern, 4 October 2018. Courtesy: Sofia Karim and Tania Bruguera

The intervention at Tate Modern, 4 October 2018. Courtesy: Sofia Karim and Tania Bruguera

Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera created a special pop-up performance at Tate Modern today, to draw attention to the imprisonment of Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam. Bruguera’s intervention took place at her Turbine Hall commission, an installation which engages with the politics of the migration crisis. Bruguera placed prints from Alam’s 2010 exhibition ‘Crossfire’, photographs which highlight extra-judicial killings carried out by Bangladesh’s state-run Rapid Action Battalion.

Alam’s photographs, emptied of defined human figures except for clusters of faceless shadows, were displayed across the glossy heat-sensitive black floor Bruguera installed in the Turbine Hall. They were accompanied by hand torches, referencing how Alam himself had shot the images in torchlight, and copies of Alam’s book My Journey as a Witness. Bruguera appeared to see parallels between Alam’s plight and her own experience of imprisonment in Cuba in 2015, saying: ‘When you are in prison, what gives you strength are your principles and knowing that other people understand and are there for you.’

Sofia Karim, the niece of Shahidul Alam, witnessed the Tate performance, and told frieze that she was moved by Bruguera’s intervention. Karim found it fascinating to see the amount of interest gallery visitors took in her uncle’s images, and called it ‘a gesture of solidarity’.

Alam, who is curretly jailed in Dhaka, was arrested in August for damaging ‘the image of the nation’. Alam had lent his voice in support to recent student protests in the city. Last month, several British artists and curators joined calls for his release, with figures such as Steve McQueen, Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley joining international supporters in calling for justice and transparency in Alam’s case.

Karim, who has been campaigning for Alam’s release, said the protests in solidarity with Alam held by various figures in the international art world had been overwhelming and ‘gave great emotional support to us as a family’. Karim said that the response on the international stage contrasted with the silence from the art establishment back in Bangladesh. ‘That hurt,’ she told us. While artists in Bangladesh had been vocal in holding protests, the response from the country’s cultural institutions and foundations has been muted.

Don’t miss Skye Arundhati Thomas on why the jailing of the Bangladeshi photographer is such a travesty for liberty. Free speech ‘increasingly looks like a contemporary myth,’ she writes, ‘with citizens of the subcontinent living under the mere guise of personal freedom.’

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