Urvashi Bahuguna: In her poem “Lightness of Being in a Heavily Militarised Zone”, whose title is inspired by Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, Kashmiri poet, filmmaker and academic Asiya Zahoor writes:
“before they lay barbed wire across our tongues let’s sing of almond blossoms”
More than a month after the abrupt abrogation of Article 370 and the plunging of Kashmir into a state of lockdown, without internet connectivity or functioning telephone lines, Zahoor’s writing is instructive and perceptive, tackling the history and landscape of a place that has known devastating strife for decades. There is an urgency in Zahoor’s poems that feels particularly pertinent at this moment in history – time and freedom are both running out.
Born and raised in Baramulla, in the west of Kashmir, where she currently teaches, Zahoor’s newly published book of poems, Serpents Under My Veil, opens with “Medusa In A Burkha”, a radical reimagining of the Greek myth that perceived a certain kind of woman as dangerous.
The burkha-wearing Medusa is a threat twice over – she is both a woman and part of a religious minority that is often at the receiving end of suspicion and bigotry. Dreams, reimaginings, and personifications recur in Zahoor’s poems. More here.
saw ‘au revoir les enfants’ for the third time and loved it even more. there is a simplicity and natural rhythm to it that’s incredibly difficult to orchestrate and capture on film. it’s unaffected.
there is a universality to the film. although it’s semi-autobiographical (louis malle went to a boarding school during the german occupation of france in the second world war), the film at its core is about difference. how it seduces and threatens, how it must be rooted out and disappeared, how it’s delineated and construed by power.
there is also an important socio-economic subtext to the story. the rich are so easily beautiful. even children seem to sense it.
the scene at the end, when children are picked out of a school assembly (their names read from a list), and asked to separate from the group and go stand against a wall, is a clear comment on the arbitrariness of who is deemed valuable or not, who ends up on the right side of the state or not, how easy it is to cross that liminal space, and how war intensifies the good vs evil binary. without intrusive music or sentimentality, ‘au revoir les enfants’ moves deeply. on hbo max and youtube.
Repost from Instruments of Memory • “Inspired by the words in ‘Snowmen’, a poem by Agha Shahid Ali, This Heirloom explores notions of identity by recreating Mara Ahmed’s family history using photographs of her ancestors and juxtaposing them against South Asian architectural details. The vivid and colorful montages contrast with black and white images of Ahmed’s parents, Nilofar Rashid and Saleem Murtza, her maternal grandfather, Rashid Ahmad Qureshi, her maternal great grandfather, Adbul Majeed Qureshi, and her paternal grandmother, Niaz Fatima. By placing her subjects on the wrong side of the India-Pakistan border, Ahmed defies the dividing lines that separated territories more than seventy years ago.” . . Learn more in @mara__ahmed Mara Ahmed’s two-part interview (see comments) . #instrumentsofmemory#womeninthearts#conversationswithwomeninthearts#artist#filmmakers#activist#filmmaker#MaraAhmed#ThisHeirloom#ThePartition
Friends, I am excited to share that The Injured Body: A Film about Racism in America is now fiscally sponsored by New York Women in Film & Television (see below) and that we recently got a grant from First Unitarian Church of Rochester for post-production. We are also updating our website (will share soon). There is still a lot of work to do, but we are moving forward. More here.
“It was about five years ago when water entered my life,” says Los Angeles-based painter Calida Rawles. Pregnant with her third daughter, she began swimming. “It started as exercise, and then it became almost like a therapy. I learned how to really swim as an adult. My breathing became more meditative. I felt so much better in the water.”
Soon after, she embarked on creating the body of work for which she has subsequently become celebrated: gorgeous, photorealistic paintings of black figures immersed in turquoise waters.
Rawles says she feels that her compositions are, above all, celebratory. “In my culture, seeing black bodies in water is special.” While for her personally, swimming might be a tool for self-care—a means of escaping both the immediate demands of family life and, more broadly, the pressures of contemporary black life in America—black bodies have not historically been associated with swimming pools. There are complex reasons why—even today, sixty-four percent of African American children are not able to swim—and these are rooted in racial segregation, Jim Crow laws and economic disparity. A painting such as Little Swimmer (2016), showing a young black girl surging beneath the surface of the water, is therefore a vision of hope and freedom.
We did this interview in early May, before George Floyd’s murder and the uprising that followed. But I’m glad Claudia asked me about the pandemic and its impact on immigrants and communities of color. Here is the second part of my interview with Instruments of Memory:
It is uncertain how we are going to overcome the recent health and economic crisis that has hit immigrant communities and people of color the hardest.
When I asked Ahmed what would be a way to engage and support these communities at this time, she admits: “This is a big question. Many have said how the pandemic is a great equalizer. Sadly, it’s quite the opposite. The pandemic throws into sharp relief the gross inequities and cruelties of a maniacally greedy, profit-oriented, dehumanizing capitalist system. Income and wealth inequalities in the US are obscene. The global distribution of wealth is even more distorted and disturbing. It’s a suicidal system.
At this time of crisis, we need to provide resources to the most vulnerable: large public projects that provide employment and housing, healthcare, testing and personal protective equipment for all, and equal access to technology, which is essential for remote learning, online work, and social distancing. People’s lives depend on this.
We should also keep in mind that pre-corona life is NOT what we want to return to. This is the time to imagine and organize a just, kind, and decolonial world. We must be wary of disaster capitalism and remain committed to our vision, even in the midst of a disorienting crisis. It can’t be said often enough that we are all in this together.” More here.
As I end my Instruments of Memory IG takeover, I would like to thank my team. Filmmaking is all about teamwork and I am lucky to have collaborated with some exceptionally gifted artists and human beings on ‘The Injured Body.’
I will continue to edit and transcribe interviews and I will be posting images and thoughts on my IG. Please follow me @mara__ahmed to stay in touch and learn more about the film. At this historic moment in our country (and around the world), let’s vow to eradicate racism in our families and communities, but also within ourselves. A better world is possible.
Thank you once again to Instruments of Memory and Claudia Pretelin for this wonderful opportunity.
Photographs of Rajesh Barnabas [Cinematography], Mariko Yamada [Dance Choreography], Erica Jae [Photography], Tom Davis [Musical Score], Imani Sewell [Soprano], Darien Lamen [Sound Design, Photo by Aaron Winters] and Jesus Duprey [Additional Camera] (see more photos on IG)
From Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric:
‘Perhaps each sigh is drawn into existence to pull in, pull under, who knows; truth be told, you could no more control those sighs than that which brings the sighs about. // The sigh is the pathway to breath; it allows breathing. That’s just self-preservation. No one fabricates that. You sit down, you sigh. You stand up, you sigh. The sighing is a worrying exhale of an ache. You wouldn’t call it an illness; still it is not the iteration of a free being.’
‘The Injured Body’ weaves together an alternative narrative strand told through dance and movement, mostly choreographed by Mariko Yamada. Since prejudice is largely a matter of reading bodies in particular ways and racism is received by and carried in the body, dance is the perfect medium to underline and explore the personal stories shared in the film.
Film stills with Mariko Yamada, Joyce Edwards, Nanako Horikawa, Andrea Vazquez-Aguirre Kaufmann, Cloria Iampretty, Sraddha Prativadi, Sejal Shah, María José Rodríguez-Torrado, Alaina Olivieri, Rosalie M. Jones, and Andrew David Photography by Mara Ahmed @mara__ahmed
Claudia Rankine in ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’: ‘Yes, and the body has memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight. The body is a threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through…’
The women interviewed for ‘The Injured Body’ share stories of micro-aggressions and parse their cumulative effect on the mind and body, but they also describe their visions for a world without racism or violence. This is a crucial part of the film, as imagining a better world is an important step towards achieving it.
In order to include a diversity of voices, we interviewed women one-on-one but also in groups, where the conversation was more fluid and informal. Here are some of our panelists.
Luticha A Doucette, Marcella Davis, Khadija Mehter, Muna Lisa, Yogi Indrani, Pamela Kim, Tianna Mañón, Mercedes Phelan, and Erica Bryant All photography by Erica Jae (see all photos on IG)
My new documentary, The Injured Body, examines racism though the lens of micro-aggressions: slights, slips of the tongue, or intentional offenses that accumulate over a lifetime and impede a person’s ability to function and thrive in the world.
I chose to approach racism by focusing on micro-aggressions because of two reasons. Firstly, as Claudia Rankine explains, we seem to understand structural racism somewhat, but are baffled by racism coming from friends. It is disorienting because it is unmarked. ‘The Injured Body’ hopes to home in on the language needed to ‘mark the unmarked.’ Secondly, personal stories lend themselves to filmmaking because they can help create intimacy and trust, and lay the groundwork for a paradigm shift.
The film spotlights the voices of women of color not only because their stories are misrepresented and frequently ignored by mainstream media, but also because they operate at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression and can articulate the complexity of those experiences. Their testimony and analysis can help broaden traditional understandings of feminism as well as anti-racism work.
Film stills/photographs of Ayni Ali, Amanda Chestnut , Sady Fischer, Lu LutonyaRachel Highsmith, Lauren Jemison, Elizabeth Nicolas, Greta Aiyu Niu, and Tonya Noel
Ayni Ali’s photograph by Arleen Thaler, all other photography by Erica Jae (pls see on IG)