'In solidarity with the Palestinian people', photographers withdraw their works from Prix Pictet show in Israel

Prize-nominated artists Shahidul Alam and Gideon Mendel will not show their works at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv

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High-profile photographers Shahidul Alam and Gideon Mendel have pulled their works from the Israeli leg of the touring Prix Pictet exhibition, saying in a joint statement that the withdrawal “is in solidarity with the Palestinian people”. The show, entitled Hope, is due to launch at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv on 30 June.

Twelve nominees for the eighth edition of the Prix Pictet photography prize on the theme of Hope were announced in July 2019; Alam and Mendel were on the shortlist. Later that year, the African artist Joana Choumali was announced winner and received SFr100,000 ($111,000). Each cycle of the Prix Pictet prize tours the world, with exhibitions taking place in over a dozen countries. The Hope tour began at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in November 2019, and has since been seen in Tokyo, Verona, Moscow and Lausanne; the show is due to travel to Dublin, Shanghai and Beijing.

Bangladesh-born activist Alam says that his participation in the Tel Aviv show “would be a betrayal not only of Palestinian aspirations for freedom but the human longing for freedom and independence everywhere”. South African-born Mendel, who is also Jewish, says in the statement: “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.”

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. Mendel’s works, Damage: A Testament of Faded Memory, depict the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.

“The [Hope] theme offers a wide range of creative possibilities and a strong set of connections to the Prix Pictet’s overriding theme of sustainability”, says the website for the Prix Pictet prize, which was founded in 2008 by the Geneva-based financial services company Pictet.

A spokeswoman for Prix Pictet says: “We are disappointed that Shahidul Alam and Gideon Mendel have decided to withdraw their work from the forthcoming Prix Pictet exhibition, Hope, at the Eretz Museum in Tel Aviv. We respect their right to do so. The Prix Pictet continues its mission to provide a global focus through world class photography on the subject of sustainability, showing the work of distinguished photographers internationally.”

According to the BBC, Israel carried out airstrikes in Gaza overnight after Palestinians launched incendiary balloons from the territory. After 11 days of fighting last month, Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas agreed to a ceasefire.

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