Ashfika Rahman

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.

Ashfika Rahman, Redeem, 2020. Stitching on ‘Shital pati’ (a local handmade fabric made by indigenous community Oraon); Wool and recycled Saree. C-type print on archival paper with stitching in wool. 183 x 183 cm (Textile) / 15.24 x 15.24 cm (Photograph).
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Ashfika Rahman, Redeem, 2020. Stitching on ‘Shital pati’ (a local handmade fabric made by indigenous community Oraon); Wool and recycled Saree. C-type print on archival paper with stitching in wool. 183 x 183 cm (Textile) / 15.24 x 15.24 cm (Photograph).
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Ashfika Rahman, Redeem, 2020. Stitching on ‘Shital pati’ (a local handmade fabric made by indigenous community Oraon); Wool and recycled Saree. C-type print on archival paper with stitching in wool. 183 x 183 cm (Textile) / 15.24 x 15.24 cm (Photograph).
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Ashfika Rahman, Redeem, 2020. Stitching on ‘Shital pati’ (a local handmade fabric made by indigenous community Oraon); Wool and recycled Saree. C-type print on archival paper with stitching in wool. 183 x 183 cm (Textile) / 15.24 x 15.24 cm (Photograph).
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared I, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper, gold thread and ink. 29 x 25.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared III, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper, gold thread and ink. 29 x 25.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared VI, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper, gold thread and ink. 29 x 25.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared VIII, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper and ink. 29 x 25.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared IX, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper. 89 x 76 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared X, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper. 89 x 76 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared XII, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper. 89 x 76 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Files on the Disappeared XIII, 2018. C-type print on photographic paper. 89 x 76 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, The Power Box II, 2016-17. C-type print on archival paper. 45.5 x 30.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, The Power Box III, 2016-17. C-type print on archival paper. 45.5 x 30.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, The Power Box V, 2016-17. C-type print on archival paper. 45.5 x 30.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, The Power Box VIII, 2016-17. C-type print on archival paper. 45.5 x 30.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, The Power Box X, 2016-17. C-type print on archival paper. 45.5 x 30.5 cm.
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2016. 12 gold coated albumin prints on acid free paper with hand painted ink. 30.5 x 25.5 cm (Each).
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2016. 12 gold coated albumin prints on acid free paper with hand painted ink. 30.5 x 25.5 cm (Each).
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2016. 12 gold coated albumin prints on acid free paper with hand painted ink. 30.5 x 25.5 cm (Each).
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2016. 12 gold coated albumin prints on acid free paper with hand painted ink. 30.5 x 25.5 cm (Each).
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2016. 12 gold coated albumin prints on acid free paper with hand painted ink. 30.5 x 25.5 cm (Each).
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2019. Installation view. Jimei x Arles international photo festival, CN. Photographer: The Alkazi Foundation.
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2019. Installation view. Jimei x Arles international photo festival, CN. Photographer: The Alkazi Foundation.
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Ashfika Rahman, Prince·sse·s des villes, 2019. Installation view. Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR.
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Ashfika Rahman, Prince·sse·s des villes, 2019. Installation view. Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR.
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Ashfika Rahman, Prince·sse·s des villes, 2019. Installation view. Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR.
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Ashfika Rahman, Prince·sse·s des villes, 2019. Installation view. Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR.
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Ashfika Rahman, The Power Box, 2018. Installation view. Dhaka Art Summit 2018.
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Ashfika Rahman, The Power Box, 2018. Installation view. Dhaka Art Summit 2018.
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Ashfika Rahman, Rape is Political, 2018. Installation view. Samdani Art Award 2018.
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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 recent series ‘Rape is Political’, she 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 staring knowingly out at the viewer. 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 initiative 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.

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 the sociopolitical 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; Prince·sse·s des villes, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR; Chobi Mela X, Dhaka, BD; Jimei x Arles international photo festival, China; F3 - Freiraum for Fotografie, Berlin, DE; Fabric(ated) Fractures, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, UAE; Women in Photography Exhibition, Objectifs, Singapore; Indian Photo Festival 2018, Hyderabad, IN; Muslin Festival, Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka, BD.

Upcoming exhibitions include COLLABORATION > CONTROL as part of Format Festival 21, Bangladesh Art Week 2021, 'notyouraverage' with Zaaman Art, Online and a project with X Museum, Beijing, CN. Rahman was recently awarded the Stitching Screens grant by FICA and The Samdani Art Foundation and the Format Festival Open Call Award.

Visiting Artists Around the Table with Ashfika Rahman (2020)
Visiting Artists Around the Table with Ashfika Rahman, organised by The Samdani Art Foundation.
Ashfika Rahman: Files of the Disappeared (2020)
Ashfika Rahman discussing 'Files of the Disappeared' for Lumix Festival (2020)
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