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February 25, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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My TEDx Talk on March 3, 2017

As much as I agree with Aamer Rahman’s critique of Ted Talks (“pacing around on stage with a headset recycling some basic ideas dressed up as apolitical new-age empowerment rhetoric while an audience of middle-class white ppl claps for itself”), I am preparing to speak about “borders” and what they mean to my film/art work as well as my journey as a human being and activist. It’ll be at Geva Theatre Center on March 3rd. As with everything else I do, this TEDxRochester talk will be infused with politics. And I will try not to pace around too much 🙂

February 23, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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Meleko Mokgosi’s Pax Kaffraria in Rochester

Saw Meleko Mokgosi’s stunning Pax Kaffraria (2010 – 2014) at the Memorial Art Gallery today. It is “an eight-chapter project that takes Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as case studies, and articulates questions around issues of national identification, colonial history, globalization, trans-nationality, whiteness, African-ness, and post-colonial aesthetics.” Had the opportunity to listen to Mokgosi, who was born in Francistown, Botswana, talk about his work.

He explained how the project is a response to rising nationalism and xenophobia. Although we understand the fluidity of borders and identity more than ever before, the world is becoming increasingly nationalistic and shutting down. People invest emotions in objects such as flags and in privileges that they can access as citizens of nation-states. Is it because jouissance is limited and therefore any curtailment of enjoyment is blamed on the other, the outsider?

Mokgosi construes nationalism as highly masculine and is interested in the role of women in African liberation movements. Not only are they missing from such histories, but they continue to exist without existing – a condition that he represents through visual redaction. He wants to impress upon us that subjectivity is real, not just a theoretical exercise. It’s something that’s felt in the body.

Mokgosi’s work dealts with problems of representation i.e. painting Africans without essentializing them. He wants to background blackness and use black bodies allegorically. He finds semiotic representations to be more open-ended, whereas linguistics are finite. He is aware of the need to unlearn Eurocentric history, which is written, sequential and based on contextual analysis. History can also be oral and non-linear, as it in Africa and other parts of the world.

Art itself is strongly Eurocentric: “we all learn to paint by painting white people.” The techniques and primary colors used to paint skin are all meant to recreate white skin. Mokgosi refuses to use those techniques. He doesn’t use white Gesso as a base and rather than treat painting as an additive process, he removes layers of color. He has developed his own artistic process and language.

He also prefers more nuanced emotional registers. Obviously, he avoids the stereotypical angry black man or the sad black woman, in fact, he avoids any over-performance by his Africans subjects. He loves representations of middle-class African lives, where nothing much is happening.

He uses negative space to engage with the viewer, without overwhelming her. Inspired by Max Beckmann, a German painter and sculptor, Mokgosi is not limited by realism in dealing with space, which he sees as having a pedagogical, political function. Many of his large scale compositions are informed by the 19th century French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau, who painted classical mythology.

Although Mokgosi is in constant dialogue with how cultures/people change as a result of contact with colonizers, he’s also aware of the fact that postcolonialism itself is an American academy object.

I spoke to him afterwards and shared how the idea of unlearning history and developing one’s own language to articulate one’s identity resonated deeply with me. I come from another ex-colony, the subcontinent. He was elated and told me that’s where many of these ideas come from, ideas such as subalternity. “There are many wise people in that part of the world,” he said. I found out later that he’s using Gayatri Spivak’s work in his new project “Democratic Intuition” in which he aims to unpack love and understand democracy.

Sikhuselo Sembumbulu, 2012


Fully Belly II, 2014 (Detail)


Meleko Mokgosi self portrait

February 22, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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Bill Maher, Bigtime Bigot: His Outrageous Statements About Islam and Muslims Are Beyond the Pale

Max Blumenthal: Since 9/11, Bill Maher has devoted himself to mainstreaming the toxic narrative of Islamophobia. With a captive audience of millions, the support of a major cable network and a steady stream of celebrity guests, including no shortage of self-styled progressives, Maher has largely succeeded in his goal. Dan Cohen’s video compilation (embedded in article) represents the most shocking exposé to date of Maher’s corrosive impact, laying bare the raw bigotry he pumps out night after night. In the era of Trump, when Islamophobia is being transformed into government policy, Cohen’s shocking video compilation raises an important question: How much longer will we continue to tolerate Islamophobes like Maher, who have built their careers on naked bigotry? More here. #BigotBillMaher

February 22, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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Jewish cemetery in St. Louis vandalized; Muslim activists fundraise for repairs

“The vandalism at the cemetery comes as Jewish community centers throughout the country, including some in Central and Upstate New York, have been the targets of bomb threats in recent weeks. The story on the cemetery does have one bright side. A crowdfunding campaign started by Muslim activists has raised over $70,000 [$104,000 as of now] to help repair the damage, according to ABC News. Organizers said they wanted to send a message condemning hate, desecration and violence.
All proceeds from the campaign will go to help repair the cemetery. Organizers plan to donate any leftover money to help Jewish centers nationwide.” More here.

February 22, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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Muslims Shouldn’t Have To Be “Good” To Be Granted Human Rights

Sara Yasin: We see memes reminding us that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant. But why is any of this relevant? There are plenty of refugees with terrible personalities and habits, who will never go on to become billionaires. That doesn’t make them any less deserving of securing asylum or escaping war. Acknowledging a refugee’s internationally recognized rights should not be contingent on how “good” they are or whether or not they might be responsible for creating the next iPhone. Seeing Muslims as humans or fellow citizens should not depend on how polite they are or whether or not they conform to your image of an American. A woman in niqab should be able to get testy with an airline ticket agent without homeland security getting involved. That’s the world I want to live in. More here.

February 20, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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James Baldwin and the Meaning of Whiteness: Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges: America was founded on the genocidal slaughter of indigenous people and the holocaust of slavery. It was also founded on an imagined moral superiority and purity. The fact that dominance of others came, and still comes, from unrestrained acts of violence is washed out of the national narrative. The steadfast failure to face the truth, Baldwin warned, perpetuates a kind of collective psychosis. Unable to face the truth, white Americans stunt and destroy their capacity for self-reflection and self-criticism. They construct a world of dangerous, self-serving fantasy. More here.

February 19, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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evening with a friend from university

spent the evening in geneva, ny, with a friend from college. manish was one of my closest friends back in connecticut. this was the first time i met his wife and kids. we had some delicious chicken biryani cooked by his wife and talked about the good old days, in a mixture of urdu/hindi and english, as desis are wont to do. his youngest son reminded me of my nephew when he was younger. i showed manish my son’s picture and he couldn’t believe it. he remembered celebrating his first birthday. it was such a pleasure to reconnect after so many years. ah, how similar we continue to be, we indians and pakistanis. borders don’t change a thing.

dinner with manish and fam

February 19, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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Mass sexual assaults by refugees in Frankfurt ‘completely made up’

knew this all along. i remember discussing it with my husband. the impossibility, absolute impossibility, of extremely vulnerable refugees, people of color with no rights and aware of their precarity, committing such aggressive, public violence against white women. yet most people accepted the story without question. msm loved it and went into islamophobic overdrive. and of course, there’s no way to delete it from collective memory.

— Police confirmed on Tuesday to the Frankfurter Rundschau that their investigation of the allegations had led them to believe that they were spurious. “Interviews with alleged witnesses, guests and employees led to major doubts with the version of events that had been presented,” the police said. “One of the alleged victims was not even in Frankfurt at the time the allegations are said to have taken place.” The police were indeed unequivocal in how they understood the events to have unfolded. “Masses of refugees were not responsible for any sexual assaults in the Fressgass over New Year. The accusations are completely baseless,” the police said. More here.

February 16, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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Imran Qureshi’s Where the Shadows are so Deep

For his first major London commission, Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi presented Where the Shadows are so Deep, a series of exquisite miniature paintings, drawing upon The Curve (at the Barbican) as a motif in this tradition. Beginning with gentle scenes of nature, the sequence of works gradually introduces darker elements, subtly implying the uncertainty of what lies around the bend. Hung at varying heights along the dramatic 90-metre span of the space, these delicate, jewel-like paintings lure the visitor in, demanding an altogether different kind of looking.

February 16, 2017
by mara.ahmed
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At least 50 dead as bomb rips through Lal Shahbaz shrine in Sehwan, Sindh

heartbreaking. just heartbreaking.

“So far 70 people have been killed and more than 150 have been wounded,” Inspector General Police Sindh A.D. Khawaja said. “Many of the wounded are in critical condition and they will be shifted to Karachi as soon as navy helicopters and the C-130 plane reach the nearest airport.” Medical Superintendant Dr Moinuddin Siddiqui of Sehwan Taluka Hospital confirmed that 61 bodies were received by the hospital. More here.