Palestine Solidarity: Shahidul Alam, Mendel Withdraw From Israeli Exhibition

Shahidul Alam said his participation would be an insult to those under the brutal Israeli apartheid regime

Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam and South African photographer Gideon Mendel have withdrawn their work and participation in the showing of the Prix Pictet touring exhibition “Hope”, due to open at the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel on June 30. 

Their withdrawal is in solidarity with the Palestinian people and informed by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement resisting the Israeli government’s settler-occupation and apartheid policies. 

Alam was one of the finalists in the 2019 contest with his work “Still She Smiles”, which was launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 

While Mendel has twice been nominated for the Prix Pictet, in 2015 with his “Drowning World” project and in 2019 with his series “Damage: A Testament of Faded memory”. 

Hope dying for Palestinian children

Citing his reasons for withdrawal, Alam, a globally recognized journalist, said: “I am Bangladeshi. In 1971, we lived under occupation in East Pakistan. Members of my family died resisting the occupation, as did friends. 

“The Pakistan army’s denial of the genocide of our people relied on cultural events to demonstrate ‘normality’. The boycott of Pakistan, and the global support for our armed struggle, gave us hope and led to our independence.”

Alam also said: “My work in this exhibition is about a woman, Hazera Beagum, who provides hope for children who would otherwise have little to hope for. Many children were killed during the recent Israeli aggression. Many more have died over the years since Naqba. Israeli children have died too.

“With hope dying for the Palestinian children who have survived, my participation would be an insult to those under the brutal Israeli apartheid regime and to those campaigning for their freedom. It would be a betrayal not only of Palestinian aspirations for freedom but the human longing for freedom and independence everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Mendel, who is known for his intimate style of image-making and long-term commitment to engaging with the key social issues facing his generation said: “My images in this group show depict the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. 

“With the photographic negatives impacted by water, time and mould, the series is a reflection on communal memory, hope and structurally imposed racism, a catastrophe for all concerned.” 

Mendel added: “I witnessed the South African state’s brutal response to this protest and was personally struck by the effectiveness of the cultural, sport and economic boycott as a non-violent protest tool that helped bring about the end of apartheid. 

“I’ve never forgotten that, as this struggle unfolded, Israel was one of the few countries on which the Pretoria regime could rely for support and collaboration — particularly in the military field, where Israel defied the international arms embargo to help equip the apartheid security forces with the weapons they brandished against those seeking freedom and justice in South Africa.”

“So, as both a South African with this generational history and as a Jewish photographer currently developing a body of work exploring the impacts of the Holocaust on my family, I cannot ignore what is at stake,” said Mendel.

“At this inflamed moment, so soon after the horrifying, asymmetric casualties and damage inflicted on Gaza, where a population comprised mostly of Palestinian refugees from Israel’s creation remains under long term Israeli blockade that has made civilian life barely tolerable, I am struck by the irony of being part of a show entitled Hope,” he added. 

Mendel also said: “Amid the restoration of a ‘calm’, which in actuality means the maintenance of the grinding reality of occupation (what even Israel’s leading human rights organization B’Tselem describes as apartheid), Israeli political consensus — as witnessed by the new government’s intention to enforce the same oppressive policies as the prior administration — offers so little hope to the Palestinians and those Israelis who seek a demonstrably just and enduring resolution. 

“For me it would be a moral failure to proceed with this show as if I were unaware of these ‘inconvenient’ truths, and to ignore the calls for solidarity from Palestinian civil society to people of conscience around the world.”

The Prix Pictet is an international award in photography. It was founded in 2008 by the Geneva-based Pictet Group with the mandate to use the power of photography to communicate messages about sustainability to a global audience. 

Its goal is to uncover photography of the highest order, applied to current social and environmental challenges. The prize is judged by an independent jury and carries a prize of CHF 100,000.