Shahidul Alam: Singed But Not Burnt : Curated by Ina Puri

18 July - 20 August 2022

Opening on the 18th of June, the retrospective exhibition spanning the four-decade long career of the renowned photographer who is also a writer, an activist and an institution-builder will be on view for a month before travelling to other Indian cities. The panorama of photographs exhibited will give the viewer an idea of Shahidul Alam’s engagement with issues relating to equality for all as well as his lifelong mission to make visual literacy accessible to everyone through images he has shot during his brilliant career as a photo-journalist and documentarian. ‘Singed but not Burnt’ will have over 80 significant photographs right back from his early archives to his most recent work, sometimes shot urgently with his mobile phone, on the streets while covering a raging riot. Apart from Alam’s own photographs, the exhibition will present vignettes from his life and show among other rare visuals, models created by his niece Sofia Karim of the layout of Keraniganj Jail where he spent 101 days a while ago for engaging in the student’s protest movement.  


‘Especially relevant at a time when freedom of speech and expression is being challenged the world over, the powerful work of Shahidul Alam is like a beacon of light and hope that gives the common man long denied his and her rights, a voice to protest against this grave injustice. Featuring portraits, landscapes devastated by climate change, images of the daily strife and rigor of the ordinary man in the streets who has to struggle through poverty and social inequality to make ends meet, Shahidul Alam’s searing images bring alive issues that sometimes go unreported. The lens of the photographer remains focussed on the under-represented minority and never wavers, creating visual imageries that will linger forever in one’s consciousness.’ Ina Puri.   


  The title is drawn from Shahidul Alam’s statement: ‘As journalists we need to feel the heat, to stand close to the fire, but then we also risk being burnt. If we were to take one step back, we become ineffective. The trick, therefore, is to get singed but not burnt’. 


Selected meticulously from the photographer’s vast archives in Dhaka this exhibition provides the viewer a look at his early experiments in pictorealism and his later experimentations in exploring the political space by developing a new vocabulary. In a parallel narrative shot by his students and colleagues we see Alam himself amidst protests, then his incarceration at Keraniganj. The triumphant moment arrives after huge international invention from global intellectuals and leaders who demand his unconditional release and the government finally allows him to walk free. We share an image of that moment with you. The curator, Ina Puri, had first exhibited Shahidul Alam in Delhi in 2016  with ’Kalpana’s Warriors’ and since then worked closely with the photo-journalist on projects making regular visits to Dhaka to see his work & his curatorial presentations at Chobi Mela Festival. During the period of his incarceration she was in close contact with Alam’s partner Rahnuma Ahmed who brought her news from Keraniganj Jail. It is the collaboration of Alam, Rahnuma Ahmad and Ina Puri that made this major event possible, with the cooperation of Asm Rezaur Rahman, Tanzim Waha, Munem Wasif, Taslima Akhter and Saydia Gulrukh amongst others at Drik and Pathshala. We gratefully acknowlege their contribution.  


- Ina Puri


Shahidul Alam (b. 1955)

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018 and National Geographic Explorer at Large, photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam has championed human rights throughout his career. Recipient of the Shilpakala Award, the highest national award given to Bangladeshi artists,  


Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. Returning to Dhaka in 1984, he began documenting the democratic struggle to remove General Ershad. A former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam’s work has been exhibited in leading galleries like MOMA, Centre Georges Pompidou and Tate Modern. A speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, Alam is a visiting professor of Sunderland University and RMIT and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. He has chaired the international jury of World Press Photo. He has also received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Arts London.  


John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine described his book “My journey as a witness” as “the most important book ever written by a photographer”. His book "The Tide Will Turn" was on the New York Times list of "Best Art Books of 2020". Alam is the founder of the Drik Picture Library, the Pathshala Media Institute, the Majority World Agency and the Chobi Mela festival of photography. He is also a new media pioneer and introduced email to Bangladesh in the early nineties.  


Considered a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ he was arrested in 2018 for criticising his government and spent 107 days in jail but was released on bail following a massive international campaign for his release. In 2020 Alam won the International Press Freedom Award conferred by the Committee to Protect Journalists and in 2021, the inaugural CASE Award for Humanitarian of the Year. He is currently setting up a centre for investigative journalism in Bangladesh.