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Mahbubur Rahman

Bangladeshi Contemporary Artist
Born 1969, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Lives and works in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Mahbubur Rahman is one of the cutting edge contemporary artists of Bangladesh experimenting with various mediums like painting, video, installation and even using his own body as a medium. Known for challenging the notions of an organised exhibition space and for his neat framing of the canvas, Mahbabur's concepts work towards defining art to move beyond visual pleasure towards wider social responsibilities.



Master of Fine Arts (Drawing and Painting), Institute of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

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All we are saying is give peace a chance

Being the artist who defies being defined as one who engages with the fixity of the canvas, Mahbabur Rahman plays with the logic of networked connections in a postmodern world and the unique role of globalisation in South Asia, a land torn apart by war and chaos and at the same time bound by certain common grounds for congruence.

In a group exhibition at Khoj, New Delhi titled “Six Degrees of Separation: Chaos, Congruence and Separation in South Asia”, 2008, Mahbabur Rahman made a filmed video projection of the gallery space. The high point of the art work was the inclusion of objects like measuring tapes hung decoratively from the ceiling, ladders, binoculars, all symbolizing the hedonistic human desire for wanting more in a postmodern world full of a wide variety of choices to offer. The urge to compete in this rat race and to compare oneself with others allows the individual no moment of peace. The title of the piece is influenced by John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, working as a plea to stop the upcoming war.

Mahbubur Rahman, Give Peace A Chance, 2008, measuring tape, costume made out of the cloth of army camouflage, mask with beads, binocular, toy gun, mannequin, used army boot, shoe laces, lather from used army boot and video projection. Performance duration : 15 minutes.

The human body becomes the central focus of his works

Being a performance artist Mahbabur often uses his own body as the medium for his art. In an ongoing performance titled Transformation at Devi Art Foundation, 2009, he makes use of his own body to make a comment about the labour of the artist that goes in to making an art work and linking it up symbolically with the colonial notions of labouring bodies of the natives. “Rahman wears a faceless string hood mounted with buffalo horns, and walks around the streets of Dhaka. The performance refers to the story of the farmer Nuruldunner Sarajiban, whose resistance to British colonial forces ruined him and resulted in having to pull his own plough in the place of buffalo. Rahman's performance plays with a sense of impotence, contrasting the symbolic value of the horns with his blind and helpless wanderings ”.

Mahbubur Rahman, Transformation, 2004-05, ongoing performance with buffalo horns and string.

Secularism features as a key concern in his works

In I was told to say the words, at Art Biennale, 2011 in Bangladesh, Mahbabur’s installation comprised of fibreglass figures of pigs covered in cow and goat hide which were then criss-crossed by barbed wires. It is symbolic of the Muslim community that the artist has grown up in which domesticates cow and goat and even consumes it but considers pigs to be “haram”. The horrifying logic of covering up one animal with the skin of another suggests the hypocrisies of the society, desiring progress and at the same time chained by the irrational social and religious prejudices.

The pigs covered in cow hide thus become the double-faced modern man who needs to overcome religious taboos in favour of rational temperament. Mahbabur offers his utopian solution to the issue by inserting the neon word piece ‘ma’, meaning mother, as if the mooing of the cow becomes now a tortured ‘maa’. “The installation work is a forceful reminder of the fact that if we stifle our primal sounds and calls that evoke mother nature and the freedom that nature inspires, we will end up being a carceral society.

Mahbubur Rahman, I Was Told To Say These Words,  2010-11, fibreglass, metal rack, neon, sound, goat and cowhide.

He is sensitive to issues of gender in his works

Along with artist spouse Tayeba Begum Lipi, a video and performance artist known for her intriguing video art “I Wed Myself” and razor blade sculptures, Mahbubar Rahman too is extremely sensitive to the issues of gender. In an exhibition titled “Mumbai Tropism”, 2009, he had an installation similar to Tayeba’s blade brassieres. Mahbabur ‘s installation, Love Shop, is made up of barbed wire, fairy lights and lingerie, with animal hide. The barbed wire around the bras suggest the shackles of patriarchy subjugating the female bodies under the cover of “love”. Female bodies fall double prey, to the lures of love (the fairy lights are symbolic of this), as well as consumerism, rendering them silent but willing participants in the hegemony of love and male fantasy.

Mahbubur Rahman, Love Shop, 2009, fairy lights, barbed wire, lingerie.

Not art for art's sake, but for a social responsibility

Rahman’s work titled The Cosmic Man, 2005, is an attempt to reconcile man’s development efforts with a holistic approach to nature. The artist harks back to the tantric and yogic paintings of Jodhpur which depict the situation of the macrocosm (universe) in the body of the nath yogi, the siddha-siddhanta purusha (microcosm) by superimposing flowers, leaves and eyes on a photographic image of his own face. As Sayantan Maitra points out: “In The Cosmic World Mahbubur attempts to reconcile the natural process with industrial progress. By juxtaposing the sense of rootedness evoked by plants and cow bells onto the manufactured head protecting itself from the pollution that is a by-product of its own birth, he poses a dilemma that faces all developing countries.”

Mahbubur Rahman, The Cosmic World, 2005, oil on canvas.