Bangladeshi artist Ashfika Rahman’s practice originates from photography, a medium that she utilises to explore and shed light on complex systemic social issues, predominantly in her homeland. Evolving beyond documentation, she activates collaborations within specifically chosen communities to raise awareness about alarming threats on humanity.
Rahman works predominantly in series and draws inspiration from 19th century prints from Bangladesh, which she re-contextualises using contemporary media. She spends considerable periods of time working within indigenous and ethnic minority communities, learning their stories and culture, past and present, before producing her photographs which weave together joint narratives.
In her series ‘Rape is Political’, Rahman addresses rape as a form of control or power dominance on indigenous communities in South Asia near the complex borders of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In a series of portraits of rape victims, she presents the sitters in oval frames in a manner reminiscent of royalty in the subcontinent. Each portrait is surrounded by delicate handwritten prayers by the women in their indigenous language; A language made illegal in Bangladesh. In an act of privacy and further revealing details of their culture, Rahman takes patterns from their Saree and draws these by hand onto each face.
The materiality and hand work within Rahman’s photographic work is profound and exquisite. It offers a compelling juxtaposition with the harsh realities exposed.
In ‘Files of the Disappeared’, stitches in the photographs with golden thread is a symbolic representation of silence of the artist’s protagonist in custody. ‘Files of the Disappeared’ is a project initiated by Rahman to start a social movement to confront Bangladesh's state governments’ scare tactics and actions of more than 4,000 young people being randomly picked up by police and tortured in custody. Some returned unable to speak out, but many disappeared. The landscape photographs show the locations where some of the bodies were found.
‘The Power Box’ is a typological survey of televisions in the villages of marginalised people in Chalan Bill. Chalan Bill is the largest wetlands in Bangladesh. With no electricity, televisions are operated by battery and serve as the only form of communication with other parts of the country. With no satellite channels, inhabitants can only watch the state-run channel, allowing significant socio-political influence on this minority group via propaganda news. The television plays an important role in their lives and Rahman’s series portrays each television as a character, with an individual personality rather than an object.
Working with thread led her to more recent large-scale textile works, such as ‘Redeem’, which was produced as part of a collaborative project engaging with the social issues surrounding mass religious conversion among the Santal and Orao indigenous communities. Each colour thread represents a different religion, their unity a metaphor of coexistence in one world. The second part of the work is a portrait of Shuvra Tatai, one of the first individuals within the communities to convert.
In the exhibition space, Rahman creates environments which convey socio-political issues in a manner of immersing the viewer. She presents the work in series, at varied scale, and often using lighting or light boxes to thoughtfully convey the experience of her subject to the viewer. She seeks to raise awareness within these spaces of presentation and reportage.
Ashfika Rahman (b. 1988. Dhaka, BD) lives and works in Dhaka, BD. She has a Professional Diploma in Professional Photography from Pathshala, Dhaka, BD (2016) and a Professional Diploma in Photography from Hochschule Hannover, DE (2017). Prizes and awards include: Nominated for the C/O Berlin Talent Award (2022); 2022 Sovereign Asian Art Prize finalist; Stitching Screens grant by FICA and The Samdani Art Foundation (2021); Samdani Art Award (Finalist 2018 & 2020); New York Portfolio Review (2020); IPA Award (Finalist 2018); Leica Oskar Barnack Award (Nominated 2018); Joop Swart Master Class by World Press Photo Foundation (2018).
Rahman has exhibited at galleries, institutions and festivals internationally including: Dhaka Art Summit (2018 & 2020), Dhaka, BD; Triennial of Photography Hamburg 2022, DE; Lumix Festival (2018 & 2020), Hannover, DE; Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR; Chobi Mela X, Dhaka, BD; Jimei x Arles international photo festival, China; F3 - Freiraum for Fotografie, Berlin, DE; FORMAT International Photography Festival, Derby, UK; PHOTO 2022: International Festival of Photography, Melbourne, AU; Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, UAE; Objectifs, Singapore; Indian Photo Festival, Hyderabad, IN; Muslin Festival, Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka, BD; Bangladesh Art Week 2021, Dhaka, BD; Photo SCHWEIZ, Zürich, CH; VITRINE, Basel, CH; Drik Gallery, Dhaka, BD; Foundry, Dubai, UAE.
Rahman's practice involves community projects which have been supported and produced in collaboration with renowned international organisations including: The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), Samdani Art Foundation (SAF) and Goethe Institute, Bangladesh.
She recently presented multiple projects including a new installation at the Dhaka Art Summit 2023 in Bangladesh. She has been shortlisted for the Samdani Art Award 2023.
Current/forthcoming exhibitions include ‘Very Small Feelings’, the 4th in the Young Artists of our Times exhibition series made in collaboration with Samdani Art Foundation.