Hamja Ahsan operates in the fluid space of being an artist, writer, curator, and activist, addressing state crime, contemporary Islamophobia, repression of civil liberties under the so-called War on Terror, and prison solidarity.
His practice encompasses conceptual writing, building archives, performance, video, sound and making zines. He is the author of Shy Radicals: Antisystemic Politics of the Militant Introvert – a satirical, speculative fiction envisioning a revolutionary political movement for shy, quiet, awkward, and autistic people against a neurotypical extrovert-supremacist world order. He was awarded the Grand Prize at Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts 2019 for the artwork Aspergistan Referendum based on Shy Radicals. The book was adapted into a film in collaboration with director Tom Dream, of Black Dog films of the Ridley Scott Creative Group, which is currently touring international film festivals. Ahsan is founder and co-curator of the DIY Cultures festival for zine subcultures and creative activism, director on a project on the role of zines in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign against one of Britain’s largest police cover-ups, and is on the editorial board of the radical mental health magazine Asylum. He was shortlisted for the Liberty Human Rights Award for the Free Talha Ahsan campaign on extradition and detention without trial under the War on Terror.
His artistic contribution to documenta fifteen employs vernacular iconography and humor in order to expose the fractures of social exclusion—in this case, with regard to Islamophobia and xenophobia. Ahsan founds a universe of competing halal fried chicken franchises, complete with LED signage. They are displayed across eight venues of documenta fifteen. He also shows his new, ongoing series of khutbah (Islamic sermons) videos on fried chicken, theology, and politics—titled Theological Positions around Fried Chicken—on documenta fifteen’s social media platforms. Panel discussions form part of lumbung program.
He has presented art projects at the NY Art Book Fair at MOMA PS1; Tate Modern, London; Gwangju Biennale; Shanaakht festival, Karachi; and Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Warsaw and was a resident artist at Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht in 2020–21. Ahsan lives and works in London.