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Riska munawarah

Riska Munawarah is an Aceh based documentary photographer whose works stems from the interaction and bond she encounters with her subjects.

Photo Above: 'Mafiasantri'

Photo Above: 'Mafiasantri'

Hello Riska! Can you share with us a little about yourself?

Hi, I'm Riska Munawarah, an Aceh-based documentary photographer. I used to work as a photojournalist for a local news organisation beginning in 2018. In 2020, I made the decision to go independent and began taking documentary photography classes at the Permata Photojournalist Grant programme with the Panna Foto Institute.

So how did you get into photography?

My brother introduced me to photography. He is a photographer for a newspaper. He gave me a pocket camera when I was in junior high. From there, I began using it to document my next of kin. In 2016, I began seriously studying photography by attending several photography workshops. I first became interested in street photography. I began taking street photos every day to express my feelings and express myself in an expressive manner, and I began posting them on my personal social media. Then, in 2018, I entered the world of journalism. I enjoy interacting with subjects and retelling their stories through photography.

My photography is always concerned with stories and social contexts. I am also interested in social change, human rights, and environmental issues. In photography, I enjoy experimenting with various visual approaches such as conceptual and portrait. I studied photography at the Permata Photo Journalist Grant and was named runner-up in the Panna Foto Institute's "Best PPG 2019" competition. His photographs have appeared in the 2018 "Insumata Photo Festival," the PPG Exhibition 2020, the Solo Photo Festival 2020, the Jakarta International Photo Festival 2022, and the Angkor Photo Festival 2023.

What about documentary photography speaks to you?

When doing documentaries, I frequently stick with the subject. When I first began to discuss other people's experiences in my documentary efforts. I feel a strong bond with them. Then, the research method made me more significant.

When I first worked on the 'Mafiasantri' project, I became interested in documentary photography. When I was in an Islamic boarding school, I began documenting the ridiculous things my friends and I did. The story is very personal to me and accurately portrays who I was at the time. Being able to tell stories about things that are close to us is a very enjoyable process for me in documentary photography. That project inspired me to be more forthcoming about my other projects. I always begin with my anxiety and problems that are very personal to me.

Photo Above: 'Mafiasantri'

What’s interesting about Mafiasantri is that Riska Munawarah is not only photographing as a photographer. She is also a participant in the Islamic boarding school system. Taken in 2019 in Aceh, Indonesia, female students at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University Banda Aceh are required to live in the hostel. Dormitory activities will begin late noon, at 4pm and ends at 10pm. Students often sleep late, spending their night watching movies, snacking and working on campus assignments making it difficult for them to wake up at sunrise, resulting in some students skipping morning prayers (which takes place before dawn) on several occasions.

Mafiasantri is the nickname I gave to a female student at a campus Islamic boarding school. Because of their defiance of the hostel rules, I dubbed them the Mafia. One memorable thing from this project is that I was a participant in the programme. Aside from being a photographer, I feel like a character in that story. It meant a lot to be able to document our foolishness and preserve my memories of moments we will never be able to relive.

Photo Below: 'I Saw Them Whipped'

I Saw Them Whipped is a documentation of Muslims being publicly punished by whipping in Masjid Jantho, Aceh Besar. Aceh is the only Indonesian state with the authority to enact Islamic Law. Caning or whipping is one of the most common forms of punishment for crimes or offences such as rape, gambling, premarital sex, adultery, consuming alcohols and certain homosexual acts.

Photo Above: 'I Saw Them Whipped'

I wanted to talk about 'I Saw Them Whipped', how was photographing the scene like?

A friend informed me at the time that there would be caning in the courtyard of the Jatho Mosque in Aceh Besar. I wasn't shooting whips for the first time. I lost count of the number of times I saw caning used in Aceh. I am saddened by corporal punishment every time I photograph the process of caning. It was raining heavily at the time, which created a different atmosphere for me. The photos I took capture that gloomy feeling and sad emotion.

As someone on the ground, how would you describe the atmosphere of the scene?

There is one photo that I particularly like, and it perfectly captures how I feel when I photograph caning. Is a photograph of raindrops set against a background of a woman caning herself. I don't want to clearly show the whip's face or process. However, I simply want to provide a different visual so that readers can feel the atmosphere and my emotions while photographing it.

Who are some of your favourite photographers?

I follow a lot of photographers. But the photographer whose visual style I admire the most is Hoda Asfhar, an Iranian documentary photographer. His 'Under Western Eyes' portrait series astounded me. I'm also a fan of his other works. Hoda's visual approach inspires me as well.

What inspires you lately?

Iranian photographers' work has recently inspired me greatly. I am also moved by their works.

Any new projects in the works?

I'm currently working on two personal projects: This is Us (?) and Ine Kewe's 'A Story of Arabica Gayo'. The This Is Us (?) tells the story of Acehnese women confronted with Islamic Sharia in Aceh. Ine Kewe's 'A Story of Arabica Gayo' discusses the effects of climate change on Gayo coffee farmers.


Check out more of Riska Munawarah's works here


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