Model of Keraniganj Prison

On August 5, 2018, the Bangledeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam was arrested in his home and taken to Keraniganj Prison. He was imprisoned for his public support of student-led protests for road traffic safety. Alam was detained for 107 days. During this time, a coalition of local and global activists, writers, and artists campaigned for his immediate release through what became known as the Free Shahidul movement.

The three-dimensional model of Keraniganj Prison on view in Shahidul Alam: Truth to Power is based on his vivid memory of this time, created in collaboration with his niece, the architect Sofia Karim.

During his incarceration, Alam quickly became close with his fellow inmates. He worked with them to implement lasting reforms within the prison, including a beautification initiative and a music program. Prisoners painted wall murals, gardened, took literary classes, and played musical instruments.

This image shows a detail of the model. Alam’s jail cell is in the background. Birds perch on the window sill, as a figure inside greets them. Feeding the visiting sparrows gave Alam hope during a dark, difficult time.

In the foreground, a figure kneels on the ground underneath the shade of a large tree. A Togor tree with pin-wheel-shaped white flowers grew in the yard outside the cell where Alam was confined. He picked the flowers as gifts for those fighting for his release. Karim wrote, “My aunt would bring them [the flowers] home, and we shared photos online to those campaigning in Bangladesh and across the world.”

Alam was released on bail on November 20, 2018, but he still faces up to fourteen years in prison for publishing propaganda against the government. He now hopes to work on jail reform in Bangladesh. Alam says that the prisoners at Keraniganj Prison are “forgotten” people without the means to get out of the system.

Shahidul Alam in collaboration with Sofia Karim
Plastic model
© David De Armas Photography 2019; courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art
Additional Information
Part of Shahidul Alam: Truth to Power, presented by the Rubin Museum of Art