Nida Mehboob on oppression, social justice and photography | The Daily Star
04:27 PM, February 20, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:33 PM, February 20, 2021

Nida Mehboob on oppression, social justice and photography

Nida Mehboob, Magnum Social Justice Photography grantee and 2019 fellowship awardee, is showcasing her latest work "Shadow Lives" in Chobi Mela's group exhibition, "[Off] Limits". She is a photographer and filmmaker based in Lahore, Pakistan. She graduated as a pharmacist before leaving the field and starting photography.

Since then, she started commercial photography and documentary projects, including a few short films. She is a 2019 graduate of Pathshala South Asian Media Institute's Bangladesh International Photography Program. She is known for her meditative imagery and subject matters, which reject the esoteric pedagogical school of thought.

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She uses simplicity and self explanatory narration in her images to dive deep in the hidden parts of society. 

Images from the "Shadow Lives" are calm and somewhat relaxing in contrast to their subject matter, which portray the various oppressions against the Ahmadi minority community. Mehboob's  images, absent of the high contrast light and violence (totally opposite of the reality of the subject matter) give space to question and understand the oppression that is carried deeply from one generation to another. Her characters are quiet and devoted, but the images scream for power to hold accountable those who question their right as devotees and citizens of her own country.

Her subjects, if revealed, face harassment that includes social boycott, expulsions, and threats and violence by students, teachers, and principals for being a different sect of the same religion.

Mehboob states that the laws are still at play in her home country. "It's not that every Ahamadi is penalised by this law, but it gives free hand to the religious extremists and all other people, who harbour prejudices against the community," she adds.

"I feel that with every five or four years, it is  getting more and more out of hand. Especially in Pakistan, religious extremism is becoming very serious". She continues that Shia Muslims were always a minority, but violence against the community was not very common; now, it is spiralling out of control.

Talking about her project, Mehboob says that she received some feedback from a girl, which she really liked. "The girl told me that she always used to feel very helpless when she would hear the news. She would not be able do anything and it is  the worst feeling to have when you are  a minority in a country. She said that by contributing to my project, I felt less helpless," she shares.

Speaking of her own experience working on such subject matter,  Mehboob says, "I'm very aware of the fact that whatever I have to do, whenever I get uneasy, I know where to stop. Now, I have created some healthy boundaries around me with my work so that I do not drain emotionally."

Mehboob draws a line talking about the aspect of photography in the society.

"I used to be optimistic when I was younger, that things would change. I think that photography projects are just a way of resistance. But on the whole, they  have to be bigger than that. They have to have allies, and a proper movement, like we see in the Black Lives Matter movement. So for those kinds of changes, I think photography requires a big movement, and it requires all our allies to be gathered in one place, be it lawyers or art practitioners," she says. "I don't want to put that pressure on just me though, because I don't think my photography will really change things, if it stands alone."

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