Sa’dia Rehman (b. Queens, NY) is a multidisciplinary artist and educator. Their work explores structures of the family, the nation, the border. Rehman questions how we live within these systems and how they impact who we are, the desire to rearrange them, and the desire to take them apart. They center familial history to expand on harm and survival.
In Passport Photo, 2020, Rehman looks at their family through the lens of surveillance and government-issued identification. Rehman focuses on the highly curated photos within contemporary forms of identification, with particular instructions for pose, size, and background. State Department instructions for US passports require “a neutral facial expression” on a “plain white or off-white background” for a “2-x-2-inches” photograph with the head “between 1 and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.”
The Muslim ban, a series of the Trump administration’s executive orders in 2017 and the current immigrant detention focuses public attention on the violence of the border. But documentation has been central to control black and brown people since the dawn of colonialism and enslavement. In this body of work, an ongoing series of 2x2-inch works on paper titled Passport Photo, Rehman cuts, erases, copies, and redacts faces and in the process amplifies the violence of surveillance. Rehman’s works point to the subjectivity, rather than objectivity, of the artist and the viewer, and the various modes of power that mediate and condition the relationship.