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). In 2018 she was selected for the Joop Swart Master Class by World Press Photo Foundation. Awards include Samdani Art Award (Finalist 2018 & 2020); New York Portfolio Review (2020); IPA Award (Finalist 2018); Leica Oskar Barnack Award (Nominated 2018).
Rahman has exhibited in festivals and museums internationally including: Dhaka Art Summit (2018 & 2020), Dhaka, BD; 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; 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.
Rahman is currently exhibiting in her first solo show in Europe 'The typology of wounds, the mapping of healing' at VITRINE, Basel, CH (Until January 2022). Further exhibitions include the group show 'I•D•E•N•T•I•T•Y WHO ARE YOU....TODAY?' at Foundry, Dubai, UAE (until 20 November 2021). Upcoming projects include a presentation at X Museum, Beijing, CN and the Hamburg Triennial of Photography 2022, DE. Over 2021, Rahman been awarded and participated in awarded the Stitching Screens grant by FICA and The Samdani Art Foundation; the Format Festival Open Call Award; POP UP project by Goethe Institute Bangladesh; Horizontal Project by Kaspersky; C3- community, Goethe institute, BD.
Rahman has been nominated for the C/O Berlin Talent Award 2022 and been selected as a finalist for the 2022 Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Upcoming exhibitions include the Hamburg Triennial of Photography 2022 and PHOTO 2022: International Festival of Photography, Melbourne, AU (both 2022).
The artist has initiated a new project in collaboration with Indian artist Amol K Patil, supporting artistic collaboration across India, Bangladesh, and digital space, supported by Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art and Samdani Art Foundation, as part of DeConfine: South Asian Digital Arts Festival. View the project here.