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Tania Bruguera’s Tate Modern Intervention Protests Bangladeshi Photographer’s Imprisonment

Artist Tania Bruguera staged an impromptu intervention at Tate Modern to protest the imprisonment of Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam, who was arrested on August 5, hours after giving an interview to Al Jazeera in which he criticized the Bangladeshi government and expressed solidarity with student activists.

According to Artnet, Bruguera installed Alam’s photographs alongside hand torches on the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The photos, which portray empty sidewalks, fields, and doorways drenched in ominous, moody colors, were shot by torchlight and were shown in the 2010 exhibition “Crossfire.” Highlighting the extrajudicial killings by the Bangladeshi state-run Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), they capture what may have been the last scenes victims of RAB’s death squads saw before they died.

Alam’s niece Sofia Karim, who has been campaigning for her uncle’s release, was present to help organize and witness the installation. The protest accompanied the Tuesday opening of Bruguera’s exhibition “10, 143, 210,” which addresses institutional power and the global migrant crisis. “Art never meant so much to me,” Karim wrote to Bruguera after the intervention. “You’ve helped in the fight for someone’s life.”

It is not the first time Alam has been persecuted for his work and activism. In 1997, on his way to Dhaka’s Drik Gallery—which, at the time, was being used as a meeting place for government opponents—he was stabbed eight times, and his computer and camera were stolen. “It was a particularly unsubtle warning,” he said of the incident. 

Bruguera is also no stranger to being targeted over her art. Commenting on her own 2015 imprisonment in Cuba, she said: “When you are in prison, what gives you strength are your principles and knowing that other people understand and are there for you.”

Alam is currently being held in a Dhaka jail. After being delayed for months, his bail hearings are scheduled to resume on Sunday.