My questions for Shirly Bahar

The obligatory selfie after a satisfying dinner. It was a full house at Hofstra on Nov 9th for a discussion about Shirly Bahar’s book, ‘Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home,’ and my film, ‘The Injured Body.’ Here are my questions for Shirly:

1) You say that although oppression and racialization have impacted Palestinians and Mizrahim differently, the documentaries you discuss in the book share a political commitment and performative affinities. They defy the removal of the pain of Israel’s marginalized people from public visibility.

You discuss how documentary performances of pain by Palestinians and Mizrahim, when seen together, invite us to contest the segregation of pain and consider reconnection. Could you elaborate on that?

2) There is one sentence in your book which hit me hard. It is the commonly held notion that ‘the trauma of witnessing destruction directly harms the usage of language.’

Meaning that those who are occupied (on whose minds and bodies violence is constantly enacted) are never seen as credible witnesses of their own pain, of their own lived experiences, based on dominant codes of credibility. It’s like the gaslighting I was talking about in the context of microaggressions. You take issue with this notion. Could you tell us more?

3) Since we are talking about language and violence, I also wanted to bring up the constant threat of violence. You talk about Palestinian children experiencing ‘withheld violence.’

Your words reminded me of Fanon of course, and the muscular contraction of the colonized body. What does this imply in the P/I context?

4) I would like to end with something you say in the book, that ‘it takes perpetual learning and training to try and relate to the pain of others in a politically informed and committed manner.’

You also say: ‘More often than not, those who care for the pain of others are found in relative vulnerability themselves—political, physical, mental—thus chancing their becoming further undone.’

I think of the #BLM movement and its principled support for justice in Palestine. Could you expand on this important point.

To become undone is the greatest gift

From Shirly Bahar’s Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home:

More often than not, those who care for the pain of others are found in relative vulnerability themselves—political, physical, mental—thus chancing their becoming further undone. But as Tourmaline inspires us to believe, “if we are to ever make it to the next revolution, it will be through becoming undone, an undoing that touches ourselves and touches each other and all the brokenness we are … to become undone is the greatest gift to ourselves.”

The Injured Body: Palestine, Mizrahi Jews, and the Imperial Politics of Color

The brilliant Shirly Bahar and I will be talking about documentary film, colonialism, racism, and the body at Hofstra University on Nov 9, 4:30-5:45pm. It’s a free event but you need to register. More info below.

Join us for a conversation between Shirly Bahar and Mara Ahmed about their recent scholarly and creative work related to oppression and the body. Bahar’s recent book, “Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home,” and Ahmed’s upcoming film, “The Injured Body,” both explore how colonialism, marginalization, and daily mental and emotional stresses from racism and othering impact the body. The conversation will spotlight documentary language that makes embodied oppression visible in comparative and global perspectives (in the context of settler colonialism and imperialism), touching on the pain of Palestinians, Mizrahi Jews and people of color, especially women, in the United States. The idea is to shift conventional paradigms of war, conflict and segregated geographies by focusing on (and politicizing) lived experiences of pain and understanding their interrelatedness. The evening will also feature film excerpts.

This ‘Issues in Judaism’ lecture is presented by Hofstra Cultural Center and the Dept of Religion and Jewish Studies, in collab with the depts of History, Global Studies & Geography, Comparative Literature, Languages, & Linguistics, and the Women’s Studies and European Studies Programs.

Thank you to the wonderful Santiago Slabodsky for putting this event together.
Venue: Leo Guthart Cultural CenterTheater, Joan and Donald Axinn Library, First Floor, South Campus

To register go to: Or call 516.463.5669. Or go to this link.

from the metamorphosis by franz kafka

it’s incredible that this book (written in 1912) continues to be a propos, fascinating, a literary feat today, in 2022, exactly 110 years later. it provokes disbelief and uproarious laughter, remains steadfast as a masterpiece, and ends with heartbreaking pathos.

there are as many interpretations of ‘the metamorphosis’ as there are readers (and that means a lot). some believe that gregor samsa “like other of kafka’s doomed protagonists, errs by failing to act, instead allowing himself to be acted upon.” others draw comparisons to willy loman from ‘death of a salesman’ and write about the degradation of modern capitalist work. there are those who see a freudian twist to the story and focus on gregor’s overbearing father. still others think the metamorphosis relates to gregor’s sister, grete, and her evolution over the course of the novella.

my take is sobering. to me the metamorphosis is about othering. the idea of otherness has been addressed elsewhere but mostly in terms of gregor’s own alienation, loss of identity, and lack of agency.

i see othering that can make someone seem ugly, disgusting, and less than human. without being threatening, difference can be turned into something dangerous and attacked with impunity. and this change can happen overnight, so that the other can now be crushed underfoot, starved to death, and left to die.

in the same way, children can be arrested, villages bombed, people tortured with the benediction of the law, and those committing the violence whine about being the victims. it’s always the monster who forces their hand.


tomm el-saieh’s work at the clark art institute

i went to the clark institute to see tomm el-saieh’s work.

his paintings are kaleidoscopic, pulsating, shimmering. they push and pull. they embody languages, sounds, hieroglyphics. they feel like sacred scrolls, like maps with districts, neighborhoods, borders and connecting grids, like cities or skin cells that grow, evolve and transform organically, much like his paintings.

he uses patterns, abrasions and erasures. they are disorienting. one must focus and refocus one’s eyes. parts emerge, recede, resurface. they throb, balloon, shift. like a shallow depth of field where the foreground and background keep switching.

the paintings have texture, like quilted fabric. i’ve never wanted to touch a canvas so much.

my favorite is kafou (below) from carrefour, a commune in haiti – i couldn’t stop looking at it. then there was canape vert, vilaj imajine and wanga neges.

tomm el-saieh was born in haiti, where his family has had roots in port-au-prince for 5 generations. his father is palestinian-haitian and his mom israeli. he lives and works in miami.

the berkshires

today we went to the berkshires, a place that’s been close to my heart for almost three decades. from staying at the cranwell and cross country skiing (while my mom and sister kindly babysat our toddler), to enjoying fall with a cousin and her fam, to taking the kids skiing there almost every winter, and to my husband bringing me back (and giving me all the time i needed at mass moca) after my daughter left for college and we became empty nesters, the berkshires have always been a part of our lives. we started going there when we lived in CT, and kept it up from long island and then from rochester.

saw so much beauty today, my eyes couldn’t hold on to all of it. so i took countless pictures because i wanted to remember everything.

we started with the clark art institute in williamstown with its white marble museum building designed by architect daniel perry and its breathtaking reflecting pool (part of a complex hydrological system that reduces water consumption by 50 percent). more about the art i saw later.

#clarkartinstitute #williamstown #massachusetts #berkshires #partofourlives #fallbeauty #fallphotography #fallinstagram #autumnphotography #autumninstagram #marblebuildings #architecture #reflectingpools

From Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Saeed’s father then summoned Nadia into his room and spoke to her without Saeed and said that he was entrusting her with his son’s life, and she, whom he called daughter, must, like a daughter, not fail him, whom she called father, and she must see Saeed through to safety, and he hoped she would one day marry his son and be called mother by his grandchildren, but this was up to them to decide, and all he asked was that she remain by Saeed’s side until Saeed was out of danger, and he asked her to promise this to him, and she said she would promise only if Saeed’s father came with them, and he said again that he could not, but that they must go, he said it softly, like a prayer, and she sat there with him in silence and the minutes passed, and in the end she promised, and it was an easy promise to make because she had at that time no thoughts of leaving Saeed, but it was also a difficult one because in making it she felt she was abandoning the old man, and even if he did have his siblings and his cousins, and might now go live with them or have them come live with him, they could not protect him as Saeed and Nadia could, and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.

—Mohsin Hamid in Exit West

#migration #migrant #tomigrate #immigrate #immigrant #thoseweleavebehind #mohsinhamid #exitwest

the body has memory – a short film

thrilled to share that my short film, the body has memory, has been selected for a juried exhibition at the huntington arts council here on long island.

i created what the brilliant rajesh barnabas calls a ‘video poem’ – a blend of images, dance, music, and poetry i wrote, inspired by work on ‘the injured body,’ my upcoming documentary film.

HAC’s exhibition focuses on the exploration of the human form and will run from november 18 – december 17, 2022. more soon.

interview & playlist | graphic ear

an interview i did for graphic ear (WAYO 104.3 FM) back in july of this year, is now online. it was so much fun to talk to sabra wood and share some of the music i enjoy. what i love most about interviews is that i get to talk about the people who make my work possible. here i talk about june foster, thom marini, rajesh barnabas, darien lamen, bleu cease and also faiz ahmed faiz.

i got to share music by abida parveen, naseebo lal, arif lohar, meesha shafi, chrisstie hynde, julien clerc, ultravox, mashrou’ leila, and stromae.

some berlin history

1) the humboldt forum was just completed last year. it’s a replica of the berliner schloss, the royal palace, built by the hohenzollern dynasty in 1443. the schloss was badly damaged by allied bombing in WWII and demolished in 1950 by the government of communist east germany. it was replaced by the palast der republik, the former east german parliament. but after german reunification (and to the outrage of many east germans), the parliament building was torn down to build the present forum. some see this decision as an attempt to erase germany’s turbulent 20th c history. the forum cost $800 million. it was burdened by construction problems and also by accusations from academics and activists that it hasn’t done enough to determine the provenance of its art objects (housed in museums) that were acquired during the colonial era and should be returned.

2) the altes museum, part of berlin’s museum island, designed by karl friedrich schinkel, a prussian architect whose work is ubiquitous in the city. he also designed schlossbrücke, the bridge to museum island. apparently, hitler liked to give impassioned speeches at the entrance of altes museum.

3) humbolt university, berlin’s oldest university, founded in 1810. marx and engels studied here. 29 nobel prize winners. it was also here that 20,000 books were burned by the nazis in 1933. a plaque with a quote from an 1820 text by heinrich heine: “that was only a prelude; where they burn books, they eventually burn people.”

4) the oldest opera house in berlin, the staatsoper unter den linden.