My background is in design, photography, film, mentoring artists and producing cultural projects, especially on research and visual anthropology. I worked in many places, including Timor-Leste for eight years. Creativity is my everyday bread and butter, it’s all about mapping with communities, production design, creating content and producing outputs with it. During my time in Bangladesh, I was hired to manage the implementation of the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre; it was a complex process that had to be done from scratch. We identified talent like artisans and artists, and in consultation with them we developed a map of their cultural identity. The Rohingya find themselves in some sort of limbo situation, it’s a difficult situation for them to move forward; it’s a stage of constant distress and suffering that affects their daily life, their hope for their future and ultimately their identity and cultural development. Through the project we tried to help safeguard their heritage so it could be used as an educational resource for their present and future. That was the idea behind the centre, which finally opened earlier this year.

What was your role in the creation of Rohingyatographer?

My role is to support their cause and enhance their talent and interests. I do this using my designing, mentoring, and curating skills. I connected with a lot of photographers and artists during my time in Bangladesh, and Sahat was one of them. He reached out to me about publishing his book and I told him I could help him with design; everything went smoothly and we enjoyed working together. Photography was something that was growing organically in the camps, so he suggested involving other photographers and to publish something bigger. He found a team of people and founded the project. We had no money, so it all started totally on a pro-bono basis. In the process, we managed to secure a small fund from the Spanish embassy to support an exhibition in Barcelona but it was complicated because of COVID-19 so it ended up as an online virtual exhibition. The launching of the exhibition was set for World Refugee Day and received quite a lot of media attention. UNHCR got interested and kindly supported a physical exhibition at the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka. It’a all about putting things together, that’s what I do.

Your description of the future of the magazine seems to suggest that things are rather up in the air at the moment. Do you see a certain direction the magazine will take in the future? What are your hopes for this project?

In terms of my participation, I am happy to have helped set it up and to help in the future in different ways, with or without funding. For the time being, we all our efforts are on a voluntary basis. We all have other jobs, so this is something we all do on the side. Where the team takes the magazine is up to them, but it has been good to see the participation growing and I have much hope for them. It would be good if we had sponsorship, perhaps a sponsor for each issue. All this needs to be explored. We are already planning the next issue due in December. 

As a foreigner, what has your experience with Rohingya artists been like? Did your perspective on the Rohingya crisis changed? 

With the Rohingya people my experience was a little different in the fact that, ethnographically speaking, they are not in their natural habitat. So in terms of researching their culture there was a big gap of material culture, so we had to rely much on their memory and oral culture. Anyone in their situation would be in a permanent state of mental distress. Beyond the trauma of having to escape their homeland, they do not have the ability to choose their long-term future. They are really worried about their education and that comes up very often in their photographs. They speak of grief, loss, past memories, and unsettled situations. It is a community that is grieving and has, on the whole, a lot of unresolved personal damage. I believe the practice of photography and art can help them heal a little bit, and convey and express their emotions. 

Did your work in Bangladesh change your perception of the Rohingya crisis?

My first hand experience working in the camps gave a clear understanding of the situation they are facing. Sometimes the international media does not portray the reality of the situation, so being inside was for sure an eye opener. They all deserve so much better. They all have had enough of refugee life. They don’t want to be in Bangladesh, they want to go back to Myanmar. In other crises there are corridors for the refugees to establish a new life. But in the case of the Rohingya, they aren’t even recognised as refugees in Bangladesh, they are described as displaced people.

What can the international community do for the Rohingya people and for Myanmar discriminated communities in general? 

I suppose people can do very little as individuals, but they can put pressure on those with power to take action, like the Gambia government is doing or the UN could do. The ICJ took recently a step forward so the situation is in the right path. I remember my experience in Timor-Leste, which was invaded by Indonesia for twenty-so years; there was a resistance movement and different pillars supporting their right for self-determination and finally their independence. Many people died and it took long time until their struggle was recognised by the international community. It’s a matter of time.

Thank you so much David

Please consider supporting Rohingyatographer by reading about their mission
and consider purchasing this wonderful photography magazine.

© Photographs by Sahat Zia Hero


The Rohingya people are an ethnic group from Myanmar, once called Burma. Most lived in Rakhine State on Myanmar’s western coast.

Myanmar is a majority-Buddhist state, but the Rohingya people are primarily Muslim, though a small number are Hindu. The ethnic minority is considered “the most persecuted minority in the world” by the UN.

The story of the persecution has its roots in Britain’s colonization of Burma, and modern-day Myanmar’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a community who have existed for thousands of years.

Muslim settlers came to Arakan State, an independent coastal kingdom in what is now Myanmar, starting in the 1430s, and a small Muslim population lived in Arakan State when it was conquered by the Burmese Empire in 1784. Burma in turn was conquered by Britain in 1824, and until 1948 Britain ruled Burma as part of British India. During that time, other Muslims from Bengal entered Burma as migrant workers, tripling the country’s Muslim population over a 40-year period. But although Muslims had lived in Burma for centuries, and although Britain promised the Rohingya an autonomous state in exchange for their help in WWII, it never followed through, and the Burmese people resented what they saw as an incursion of uninvited workers.

Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948. The government didn’t provide for a Muslim state, either. Nor did it acknowledge the Rohingya—a name adopted by a group of the descendants of both Arakan State Muslims and later migrants to Burma. Instead Myanmar worked to cast out the Rohingya people, excluding them from its Constitution and finally driving them out of the country they have been calling home.