Files of the Disappeared

Ashfika Rahman

2018 - Ongoing


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More than 4,000 young people have been picked up randomly by the police in recent years. They were tortured in custody. Some came back, but they are not allowed to speak out. The photographs show the locations where the bodies were found after 'clashes' between the police and so-called criminals. The landscapes raise questions about the portraits and their associated reality.

This work is a meditative documentation on the youth of my country who were falsely accused. Twenty-six years old Alif (pseudonym) was a labourer in Dubai for the last few years. He went back to visit his family in Bangladesh and was arrested the day after he arrived. He has no idea why, especially since he was not even in the country for so long.

My protagonists prefer to be photographed in their own space where they feel safe and comfortable with their dearest ones. In custody, different methods of torture are used, both psychological as well as physical. Though psychological torture results in more trauma to the person, it cannot be visualised, only the long-term effect is seen on the person. I try to take my protagonists through a meditative journey which may allow them to investigate their own anxiety which they kept secret for so long. Illustrating personal emotion in one’s own portrait is a process of healing. Stitching the photographs with golden thread is a symbolic representation of silence in custody.

The disappearance of people is an alarming trend not only in Bangladesh or Southeast Asia, it's also a global concern. It is a threat to human rights and a challenge to law and justice.

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