New exhibition at Huntington’s History & Decorative Arts Museum

Today I was able to hang the art exhibition ‘Return to Sender’ at Huntington’s History & Decorative Arts Museum with the amazing Emily Werner! 16 gorgeous photographs by Dylan Toombs and myself, 3 digital collages that celebrate South Asian architecture and fabric made by yours truly, quotes from the film that lift the voices of South Asian women, and an exhibition catalog one can access via QR code which details the history behind Orientalist postcards and the colonial male gaze (the catalog also has brilliant and moving personal essays written by my Stony Brook University interns Avina Mathias and Emelyn Pareja-Garcia). Hope you can check it out!

Opening Reception on Sunday October 1st, 12:00 – 1:00 pm
Exhibit will be on display from September 17th to October 15th
Venue: Huntington’s History & Decorative Arts Museum
at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building, 228 Main Street, Huntington
Hours: Tuesdays through Sundays (12:00 – 4:00 pm)
Pls call 631-427-7045 to see the exhibit outside regular visiting hours

A Thin Wall at Westbury Arts

I am thrilled to announce that A THIN WALL, my film about the partition of India, co-produced by Surbhi Dewan, will be screened at Westbury Arts on October 13 at 7:00 PM. The film has been screened all over the world, most recently in London (just this past month). I will be there to lead a discussion afterwards and my mother will be present too. Her stories about this important chapter in human history, and those of other remarkable South Asian women, animate the film. This will be the first time she’ll be at an official screening of the film. Means everything to me. You can register now and buy tickets for reserved seats – pls click here. Hope to see you there!

Return to Sender in Look Long Island

A wonderful story about my film, ‘RETURN TO SENDER: Women of Color in Colonial Postcards and the Politics of Representation’ in Look Long Island magazine! pls check them out and join us for the film premiere on Oct 1st, 2-4pm, at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. For tickets, click here.

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.

mughal-e-azam

i have been so insanely busy working on talks, an art exhibition and a film, and promoting as well as collaborating on the execution of numerous events, that i have not spent much time simply hanging out with ammi abbu. last night i took a small break. made some barbecue chicken pizza and a big salad with a spicy mango dressing. then watched mughal-e-azam (1960) with my parents. an indian classic set in emperor akbar’s court, the film is kitschy of course and requires the suspension of disbelief, but i have to say, i was captivated by madhubala. her real name was mumtaz jehan begum dehlavi. she was born in delhi in 1933. not just a beauty. there’s something magnetic about her screen presence. the film is two hours long and we were up until midnight but what a lovely way to spend an evening with my ammi abbu. #grateful

My presentation today

with the brilliant stephanie godard, executive director of the huntington historical society at the end of my presentation today. there were some technical glitches but we pulled thru, due to the strength of the material and gorgeous artwork. at the end of the talk, i gave separate questions to each table and asked them to discuss and respond. the result was vigorous engagement and hopefully some questioning of how we view the ‘other.’ this was at matteo’s of huntington. i will be giving another talk at the conklin farmhouse and barn, 2 high street, huntington, on sept 27, 6-8:00pm. this one will be more cozy and even more interactive. pls register at huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org and join us!

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.

my talk coming up on thursday

my upcoming talk on sept 7th at 12pm at matteo’s of huntington is in the huntington patch.

spent the whole day at the library yesterday writing my talk and organizing beautiful images and videos.

i will be sharing radical art and the work of malek alloula, ramon grosfoguel, laura mulvey, jean paul sartre, john berger, edward said, gilles teulie, frantz fanon, lalla essaydi, and aida muluneh.

we will be talking about the male gaze, the colonial lens, orientalist postcards, and ways of subverting or ‘returning’ that gaze. pls join us and be a part of the discussion.

u can register at huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org – hope to see u there!

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.

Tickets are on sale

I am excited to announce that you can now buy tickets to the premiere of Return to Sender: Women of Color in Colonial Postcards & the Politics of Representation at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY, on Oct 1st at 2pm! Tickets are inexpensive because we want to include everyone. Reserve your spot now and pls share with friends and fam.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion led by three brilliant women. More about the panelists soon. Here is a film synopsis:

Return to Sender: Women of Color in Colonial Postcards & the Politics of Representation is a short, experimental film directed and produced by Mara Ahmed. It pushes the documentary medium in unexpected ways by opening with three contemporary South Asian American women who recreate British colonial postcards from the early 20th century. Dressed in lavish traditional attire and jewelry and shot exquisitely in a darkened studio, the women emulate the awkward poses of the postcard women, only to subvert the colonial male gaze and acquire autonomy by choosing an action of their own. This symbolic ‘returning’ of the Orientalist gaze is layered with discussions about Eurocentric beauty standards, representations of South Asian women in media and culture, stereotypes, othering, identity and belonging. The film hopes to create community by facilitating conversations about erasure and the politics of representation.

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.

Return to Sender: Lunch & Learn coming up

I will be talking about my upcoming film ‘Return to Sender: Women of Color in Colonial Postcards & the Politics of Representaiton’ at the @huntingtonhistoricalsociety’s Lunch & Learn on Sept 7th at Matteo’s of Huntington. Pls join us. Tickets at HuntingtonHistoricalSociety.org

Best known for her non-linear interdisciplinary work, filmmaker Mara Ahmed produces documentaries, soundscapes, and artwork that trespass political borders and challenge colonial logics. Mara was born in Lahore and educated in Belgium, Pakistan, and the US. Her art practice reflects these displacements and multiplicities. Her documentaries have been broadcast on PBS and screened at international film festivals. She is currently working on The Injured Body, a documentary about racism in America. Mara will make a multimedia presentation about her NYSCA-funded project, Return to Sender: Women of Color in Colonial Postcards & the Politics of Representation.

She will provide some historical context for this project including the decision to focus on colonial postcards from the early 20th century, the construction of women of color as a phantasm, the male gaze and the objectification of women, as well as decolonial ways to challenge stereotypes. The presentation will include video, images, and literary excerpts. It will be designed to encourage a vibrant discussion.

Pricing: Members: $50, Non-Members: $60 [Includes three-course meal + wine + dessert]

When: Thursday Sept 7th, 12-2pm

Where: Matteo’s of Huntington, 300 W Jericho Turnpike, Huntington Station, NY

Register at HuntingtonHistoricalSociety.org

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.

writing obits is easy

my feed, on all platforms, is still enriched by sinéad, the beautiful shuhada’ sadaqat. people are reminiscing and sharing personal stories, others are writing about her courageous, unflinching activism, her incomparable, transcendent voice and music, her deliberate decision not to embrace commercial success and its oppressive demands, her painful childhood and mental health struggles, but also her unique, unforgettable, otherworldly presence, her incredible generosity… i cannot help but think how this kind of validation/admiration would have meant so much to her when she was alive. a warm blanket made of countless memories, words and emotions that could have held her. perhaps it’s easier to write obits and tributes than to be there for people. it shouldn’t be that way.

photo: getty images/ringer illustration

A Thin Wall – UK screenings in August

Super excited that our film, A Thin Wall (which I co-produced with Surbhi Dewan), will be shown at the Museum At One Garden City in the UK. The screenings will be at 12pm, 3pm, and 6pm on Saturday August 26. These screenings are part of South Asian Heritage Month at the Museum. Pls attend if you are in the area.
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Repost from @reeln_uk:

ReelN presents South Asian Heritage Month at Museum At One Garden City, with an introductory exhibition featuring local South Asian stories and their contribution to the world’s first garden city!

This is an ongoing project and we want to hear from South Asian residents to record their stories of living and growing up in Letchworth Garden City.

The exhibition will be on display following a private launch event on Friday 21st July to August end and will be free to attend. Featuring stories about local football heroes, ‘Singh Sabha FC’, Dance celebrities ‘The Twilight Players’ and community members who have contributed to South Asian life and industry locally.

The exhibition closing event will also feature India, Pakistan documentary film, ‘A Thin Wall’ by filmmakers Mara Ahmed and Surbhi to be shown at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm on Saturday 26th August, also at the museum and free to attend.

There will be a full ‘Singh Sabha FC’ exhibition in collaboration with the museum in May 2024! -you heard it here first!

Join us to celebrate these local heroes!

Please direct any questions to hello@reeln.co.uk

my review: cold war

cold war is based on pawel pawlikowski’s own parents and their stormy relationship. in fact, the main characters have the same names as his mother and father.

the narrative of the film is polished, airtight, condensed — scenes are whittled down to their essence. for example, much of what happens to zula and wiktor when they’re apart remains off camera and is cut out of the film.

it is a fleeting, repeatedly interrupted romance that collides against broader political agitation. the lovers have to constantly move across borders, across the iron curtain itself, to be with each other. everything feels delicate and risky, close to imploding.
although the political conflicts that push the two lovers together and then apart, are squeezed out of the frame, their presence is felt strongly. there is constant dialogue between the story and the geopolitical changes that surround it.

music too enfolds them, brings them together, separates them, and evolves over time with them.

the film’s cinematography is stunning – a shimmering black and white, the contrast so rich that the black in the footage feels like velvet. the characters seem to push against this purity.

the boxy, 4:3 aspect ratio, might be a tribute to older films and a bygone historical era, but it also produces a sense of enclosure.

the love story at the center of the film is shaped by passion, insecurity and disappointment. when both characters meet in paris, one would have thought that all their problems would be solved. but i liked how we see a different side of immigration — the difficulty of leaving home and losing a part of oneself.

we witness a more nuanced difference between communism and individualism. in paris, wiktor has to master the art of commerce, selling and branding, whereas in communist poland, it’s more about ingratiating and appeasing people in power.
in spite of the film’s tight narrative control, it is open to interpretation. although it’s rooted in ideas about art, truth, love and politics, these themes are mostly suggested. they are not clarified or resolved. it’s almost like the film is some kind of gorgeously tragic metaphor.

my review: un coeur en hiver

how to describe ‘un coeur en hiver’? it’s an elegant film about a love triangle and although it is filled with wonderful music (ravel and debussy) it is not a spectacle of swelling passions. rather it takes its cue from western classical music, unfolding within a balanced composition, with organization and sangfroid. perhaps it emulates stephane, the enigmatic character at the heart of the film, played beautifully by daniel auteuil. an instrument maker who excels at delicate, complex work, he is reticent and ambivalent. perhaps this is what attracts camille, a gifted violinist who is dating stephane’s business partner maxime. not only do they both seem to express their emotions through their work, but she also desires his professional approval.

when camille gathers the courage to articulate her feelings, stephane rejects her. he tells her about his manipulative seduction which was meant to get back at maxime. stephane’s description of his relationship with maxime is surprising. it seems to be a substanceless, symbiotic partnership that he refuses to call friendship.

stephane’s words are hard to believe. perhaps he is also lying to himself. when he visits the apartment maxime and camille plan to share together, he is visibly shaken. therefore, a cold premeditated ploy seems unlikely.

there are many ways to understand stephane’s rebuff. did camille disturb the perfect synchronization between him and maxime? was stephane wary of disturbing the equilibrium in his own life, arranged meticulously like the furniture and tools in his workshop? or does he find it impossible to make a decision? his willpower at the end of the film, when he performs a difficult but compassionate act, seems to belie such passivity or indecision.

in some interviews, the director, claude sautet, has compared stephane to iago (the famous antagonist in shakespeare’s othello). but that comparison does not ring true. stephane is hardly a psychopath. just un coeur en hiver.