15 February 2017

The Rage of Mourning

15 February 2017 - Written by Laurence Cornet

In his series Anatomy: Prologue, Mahtab Nafis depicts death through symbolism and emotions, allowing only intrigued viewers to uncover his rarely intimate tale.

© Mahtab Nafis, from the series Anatomy: Prologue

Anatomy: Prologue, a long-term series by Bangladeshi photographer Mahtab Nafis, is a dissection of emotions. Triggered by the loss of his father in a traffic accident, the black and white photographs form a loose tale made of metaphors and self-portraits. "I am not interested in straight forward documentation of objects and people. I am driven by the flow of the emotion inside my head, by things that you cannot see through the surface of everyday interactions. I am interested in the hidden realm", Nafis explains.

He mixes temporalities by the use of archives such as family portraits and newspaper clippings – like that, from 15 February, 2010, representing a crowd gathered around the dead body of his father. Sometimes, objects take on this role of repository for memories. A suitcase blanketed in dust, though it’s not said, seems to have been buried at the same time as its possessor. It also stands as an allegory of Pandora's Box, which contains pains and etymologically served as a container for burying.

© Mahtab Nafis, from the series Anatomy: Prologue

Objects are treated as references, such as the "sheel" - a stone that is used to extract the juice out of various food by hitting. "I thought that small stone comes as a perfect metaphor for sacrifice and letting go", Nafis comments.

Photography itself appears as a mourning outlet. Nafis is thus the main character of the work, appearing sometimes fully or as a synecdoche. His hands, often injured or bleeding, are recurrently featured as still lifes, expressing a mix of rage and despair. Even in a self-portrait, showing Nafis on an invisible seat, his two hands are frozen in a position that precedes a fist clamp, expressing a sore powerlessness. "Lives are so cheap in our flow of moving forward", he deplores.

© Mahtab Nafis, from the series Anatomy: Prologue

A certain violence draws from the movement and framing Nafis choses - a curve on the road at night so abrupt that it feels like a crash; a car limited to its bumpers materialises as a predator; a low light turns broken glass into ashes; a thunder divides a landscape vertically, leaving a right side white as death and a left half black as nothingness.

Though never explicitly, the work displays a rare intimacy. "Mentally it felt like this is something really intertwined with my very existence. So, I always had the drive and I finally gathered the courage around 2015 when well-wishers like Sarker Protick and Munem Wasif pushed me off the cliff", he recounts.


Mahtab Nafis is a Bangladeshi photographer exploring issues related to memory and identity. Follow him on PHmuseum, Twitter, and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

3 minutes

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