Ram Rahman (b.1955) is a photographer, artist, curator, designer and activist. He initially studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later completed a degree in Graphic Design from Yale University’s School of Art in 1979. Architecture is a prime subject of a large part of his works. He has exhibited in individual and group shows in India and around the world. Amongst the shows Rahman has curated are Sunil Janah Vintage Photographs at the NGMA, Mumbai, 2015, Delhi Modern: The Architectural Photographs of Madan Mahatta at Photoink, Delhi, 2012, Heat – Moving Pictures Visions, Phantasms and Nightmares at Bose Pacia, New York, 2003 and so on. Rahman is one of the founding members of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) in New Delhi.
The photographs and posters here are an assemblage of sites and buildings which have been contentious in modern India’s history. As an architectural photographer, Ram Rahman’s practice has gone beyond just making images of buildings to unearthing the underlying social, religious and political layers that each embodies. Delhi’s modern architecture in the years after independence was actively promoted by Jawaharlal Nehru, who brought the first generation of trained architects to the capital to construct the infrastructure of the new nation. A visionary, Nehru’s inspiration propelled architects like his father Habib Rahman to design and build on a huge scale with very limited resources. Modernism became a vision to build a new, egalitarian national ethos. As sectarian politics started becoming the norm since the 1980s, different communities –Sikh, Christian and Muslim became the targets of violent attacks. The mosque demolition in Ayodhya in December 1992 by the BJP and its mother organization, the RSS, shocked secular India and changed its politics forever. My own name, multi-religious, became a symbol of this incident.
The two sites where Ram Rahman lived, namely Delhi and New York, have also been associated with historic violence. “Surrounded by the ruins and graves from the great rebellion against the British East India Company in Delhi, in 1857, I have a daily reminder of the resonance a site has both in the past and the present. My New York loft in an 1834 building in the Fulton Fish Market under the Brooklyn Bridge was a short distance from the collapsing World Trade Center buildings. For me, this was the ‘Ayodhya moment’ for America – which changed the city and US politics forever. The subsequent changes in downtown Manhattan led me to lose the loft to gentrification and pushed home the fact that big events can change little lives”, says Rahman.
His documents of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms in Delhi and the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms of Gujarat, two events which have scarred Indian politics, have become markers of those events. Punjab had produced some of the great leaders of the national movement and Gandhi was a product of Gujarat. These recent histories show how time can obliterate any positive idealism, and buildings and sites can carry these memories and conflicted readings of those histories.