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Embracing The Other by Shahidul Alam

Shahidul Alam, one of Bangladesh’s most innovative artists, comes up with another groundbreaking photographic exhibition. This time he blends the past with the future. The photographic exhibition on the premise of Bait Ur Rouf mosque designed by Marina Tabassum, winner of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for 2016, was surprisingly taking place at the mosque itself. This intimate, brief show is aimed at creating openness and the ability to reach out. The daylong show opened at 10:00 am on 8th May 2017. The exhibition is expected to tour globally.

The first urban element introduced by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to the city of Madinah was the mosque, which functioned as a community development centre. It was used as a centre for religious activities, for learning, the seat of the Prophet’s government, welfare and charity centre, a detention and rehabilitation centre, a place for medical treatment and nursing, and a place for leisure activities. The Prophet is known to have permitted women to sleep in the mosque, and for non-Muslims to pray there. “It is this openness and the ability to reach out to the other, that appears to be missing today, in everyday life and in the mosque,” says Alam.

Recipient of the Shilpakala Award, photographer, writer, curator and activist Shahidul Alam has been documenting his country’s struggle for democracy for over 30 years. Exhibited in MOMA, Centre Georges Pompidou and Tate Modern and speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, Alam is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book, ‘My journey as a witness’ as “the most important book ever written by a photographer”.

The mosque Bait Ur Rouf, is a work of art in itself. Its conceptual similarity with Prophet’s mosque is evident and the use of function-form relationships (the square and the cylinder); respect for the environment (use of natural light, non use of air conditioning); cleanliness (the mosque is spotless, with virtually no furniture); comprehensive excellence (the Aga Khan Award for architecture); promoting just social interactions (no hierarchical position for the imam), indigenous versus foreign influences (use of local bricks without plaster), increases its authenticity.

“One expects to be surprised by Shahidul Alam. Following on from his groundbreaking shows on ‘Crossfire’ and ‘Kalpana’s Warriors’, this unique exhibition turns tradition on its head by holding a photographic exhibition in the last place you would expect. A mosque! To use it to combat both Islamophobia and extremism in one go is a masterstroke by one of the most innovative and courageous artists of our times”. Rezaur Rahman, Curator, Drik.

Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim, Professor Department of Islamic History and Culture, Dhaka University, His Excellency Mr. Munir M Murali the ‎Resident Diplomatic Representative at Aga Khan Development Network in Bangladesh, the photographer Dr. Shahidul Alam who is the Managing Director of Drik Picture Library and Mr. Din Islam the imam of the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque spoke at the launch.

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