Photoseries by formerly imprisoned artist depicting Bangladeshi sex workers nominated for Prix Pictet

The Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam has been shortlisted for the eighth edition of the Prix Pictet photography award. Alam joins 11 other photographers who were announced today as nominees for this year’s prize, which has the theme “Hope” and is worth CHF 100,000 (£80,700). Joana Choumali, Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Rena Effendi, Lucas Foglia, Janelle Lynch, Ross McDonnell, Gideon Mendel, Ivor Prickett, Robin Rhode, Awoiska van der Molen and Alexia Webster are also shortlisted.

On 5 August, more than 20 law enforcement officers arrested Alam at his Dhaka home for critical comments he made online against the Bangladeshi government concerning the use of physical force by police at a student protest in Dhaka earlier that week. Alam says that he was tortured on his first night in jail. He was detained by Bangladeshi police for 102 days, only being granted bail in November 2018. He still faces trial and his arrest drew widespread global criticism from art world figures.

Alam’s nominated series of photographs, Still She Smiles (2014) explores the life of Hajera Begum, a former sex worker in Bangladesh who set up an orphanage on the edge of Dhaka for abandoned children who may otherwise have been drawn into the sex trade. Adopting each child as her own, Begum now has around 30 children who consider her to be their mother. Documenting the joy and laughter Begum and her children share despite their circumstances, this is the the first time the series has been shown in its entirety.

Alam tells The Art Newspaper that “the nomination [for the Prix Pictet] was made while I was in prison. I am still on bail, but what wonderful news to come out to! It shows that there is always hope. For Hajera, for me. I believe for Bangladesh.”

The winner of the Prix Pictet will be announced on 13 November at the opening of an exhibition of works by the 12 shortlisted photographers at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, due to run from 14 November until 8 December 2019.

Each cycle of the Prix Pictet tours the world, with exhibitions taking place in over a dozen countries annually. The Hope tour is due to begin in Tokyo on 12 December 2019.

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