In conversation with Hazara photographer Ali Froghi
Kieren Kresevic Salazar: This series focuses on the experiences of Hazara men in Makassar, Indonesia. How does your relationship to the men you depict influence your purpose as a photographer?
Ali Froghi: For me, it is to explain and to share the pain of what refugees are thinking. I’m here, it’s 7 years and every day as a single event and every sickness that happens, I am part of them.
They are my friends, we have a good communication. Most of the time I’m just waiting til I find an angle til someone is crossing that part. Based on the moment, most of them when they are passing or they are doing something or they are going somewhere, I say “hey” and they look and say “yes” and I click my shutter.
Will you tell me about how you first began pursuing art in Indonesia?
I started painting in 2011 and continued painting when I came to Indonesia in 2013, I was just seventeen years old. I had exhibitions and mural paintings in Makassar from 2015 to 2018.
A friend of mine, Zakir Hussain, is also a photographer and after I heard so much about photography from him I got inspired. I started with my mobile for five to six months and then I borrowed Zakir’s camera once a week each month. I just kept practicing, reading and studying other photographers.
Art is with you. You need it. It is a meditation to you, a medicine. So whenever, wherever you go, you should have it. During my travel to Indonesia I had a notebook and a pen and I was drawing.
What is your artistic practice and whose work do you draw from?
When I do photography, suddenly I see a light or something that gives me an inspiration. I wake up and I wait for those moments. For the photograph below, I was just going to cook something for dinner. I went there to take those dishes then when I saw there was a good light on their eyes.
I passed two or three times, go and back, and last time took my camera, and I played with a wide angle lens. Try to create some kind of distortion in my picture, in the focal length. Distortion of environment to trap the eye into the centre, the person of the frame.
I like Egon Schiele, the way he creates lines and textures on the painting. I use lighting techniques from the Renaissance – Da Vinci, Raphael and others. I like Francis Bacon and Edward Munch.
In your photographs, why do you fixate on shadows?
This started in middle of 2017. When I wanted to sleep, I was vomiting. I went in a very deep depression. For one and a half years I didn’t smile. Even not a single time. Every time I was listening to dark music.
When I see the light coming in and hitting my eyes I was getting headache. In this time, I was in the dark. I was spending twenty-four hours in the dark. I was sleeping two or three hours in forty-eight hours. At night I was counting the stars. And from that time on I got closer with the shadows. The idea I got from that time is that I should find beauty in the darkness.
Is this a common experience among others waiting for resettlement in Indonesia?
We can’t escape from depression and frustration for the time we are losing, the time we are spending here without doing anything. For the younger boy they must finish school but they can’t, their future is dark. Same with me, I was to be university now, but I can’t. My future is dark. Others’ families are dying in Afghanistan.
They are not living, they are just breathing, alive but not living. That’s the simple way to describe the lives of refugees here. We are just trying to survive. We are not living to live, we are just trying to breathe.
Those young boys, they came healthy and now they are sick. They came young and now they are old. They came without addiction and now they are addicted to cigarettes.
How does your art respond to this?
I’m trying my best somehow to raise their voice through photos and videos I’m making, or a painting I’m doing, or a drawing I’m doing.
I’m just trying to raise their voice, that’s what I can do. I can show the suffering through my art.
To conclude, I’m interested in whether you see your art as part of a collective body of work that represents the experiences of Hazara people who have been subject to persecution and genocide for centuries?
I am showing the daily life of Hazara people living in Indonesia through my photos and my videos. There are many Hazara photographers. Barat Ali Batoor, Najibullah Musafer to name just two. Many Hazara artists have explained about Hazara people.
It’s very disappointing for me, I feel numb. Everyone knows that this is happening but no one is saying, no one wants to hear? If they see or if they hear they are acting like they don’t hear, they don’t see.
As a young Hazara, there is one question in my mind. That question always appears in my mind: when we will have a home? And we should call it home without being scared or being afraid of being told tomorrow that we must leave this place. That’s the main question that’s on my mind and disturbing me a lot. I have no answer for that. From centuries ago we are moving and migrating til now. We are just migrating.
Ali Froghi is a Hazara fine art student and self-taught photographer. For the last seven years, he has lived in Indonesia where he is a refugee. His art focuses on expressionism, pain and depression. His photography explores refugees’ daily lives. Follow Froghi on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook.