Known for her photographs of the Kutchi Memon community in Kerala, Haleema Hashim was active as a photographer between the late 1940s and mid-1970s. Her portraits of the domestic life of her family were introduced to general audiences for the first time in 2014, through an exhibition curated by her great-grandson, artist Nihaal Faizal, at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale titled Ummijaan: Making Visible A World Within.
Born in 1928 in Burma (now Myanmar), Hashim belonged to the Kutchi Memon community, a community of Sunni Muslim traders who migrated from Sindh (now in Pakistan) to the port city of Kutch, Gujarat in 1422 CE. She married Hashim Usman, a sea food exporter, in 1946 and moved to Yasmin Manzil, a large family house in the Kochangadi neighbourhood in west Cochin (now Kochi), which also became the primary site of her photographs. In 1949, she began experimenting as a self-taught photographer on an Agfa Isolette III camera gifted to her husband by a cousin. She photographed many members of Yasmin Mazil and the neighbouring house — including cousins, children, household help and numerous other relatives – however, it was women and children who dominate the carefully composed frames of her images, possibly because the men of the family spent their days away at the offices in Mattancherry.
While the range of her work was limited by a lack of access to resources and spaces, she remains one of the very few photographers, and certainly the sole woman photographer, to have photographed the everyday life and culture of the Cochin-based Kutchi Memon community. Despite not having a professional practice, one photograph by Hashim — a portrait of a child, made in 1956 — was published in an issue of the Urdu magazine, Hoor.
By the late 1970s, she stopped her pursuit of photography and gave her cameras away to her children. A large number of photographs were lost when they were burned by a relative who considered the practice of photography a taboo within Islam. In the 1990s, when Hashim moved into a smaller residence in Fort Kochi, she destroyed some negatives herself, partly due to the lack of professional interest in her work. Though no formal archive of her work exists, a part of her collection has been preserved by her great-grandson.
The family home, Yasmin Manzil, was donated to the Raksha charity in 1995 and turned into a school for children with special needs. Hashim passed away in Kochi in 2017.
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