Borders Can Be Borderlands

My piece in Mason Street’s Winter Issue 2021 published today.

‘It used to be that borders were formed naturally, by oceans and mountains, carved out by the physical contours of the earth’s surface. There was something poetic about these landforms, extending from foothills and valleys, to plains and plateaus, all the way to seafloors. They were shaped by wind and water erosion, pushed up by the collision of tectonic plates, forged by volcanic eruptions, sandblasted and weathered over millions of years. They were substantive, grounded in history.

The borders that came out of the crumbling of empires, in the 20th century, were different. Cartographic inventions meant to divvy up world resources and power, divorced from indigenous logic or priorities. A few sheets of stolen paper.’

More here.

the memes are for us

just to clarify, the bernie memes are for us, hardcore bernie supporters. we’re not posting to defang bernie or minimize his message, but because he’s the real deal. me personally, i am also enjoying the memes because, as jennifer jajeh pointed out, inaugurations are corny. also, settler anthems, flags, expensive peacoats, and other misc pageantry don’t do anything for me. so i am with bernie: apart from the crowd, doing his own thing, aware of the sabotage, but continuing the work. neoliberals, centrists and warren fans who went after bernie, hands off pls:)

seeing ‘the changemakers’ at RMSC

at the rochester museum & science center today where we saw ‘the changemakers’ exhibit which is stunning. recognized so many beautiful women friends who are part of the exhibition. two pieces from my art series ‘this heirloom’ are on display there. one is a graphic collage with my mom and her sister, when they were little girls. the other is called ‘embroidered dreams’ and it’s a tribute to my paternal grandmother, niaz fatima. my grandmother became a widow when she was quite young and struggled to raise and educate her children, in a highly patriarchal family system. i was wondering how she would feel about her picture hanging in a museum in rochester, new york, a tribute by a granddaughter she didn’t see grow up. it felt empowering.
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rmsc #thechangemakers #beachangemaker #womensupportingwomen #womenempowerment #pakistan #rochesteny

robert fisk (1946 – 2020)

i will never forget his searing, disturbing description of what he saw at the sabra and shatila refugee camps, right after the massacre in 1982. he was one of the first journalists on the scene. an incredibly important witness.

“He reported extensively on the first Gulf War basing himself for a time in Baghdad where he was fiercely critical of other foreign correspondents whom he accused of covering the conflict from their hotel rooms. He also covered the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and frequently condemned US involvement in the region.”

gadot as cleopatra

a friend asked me to speak to her class about feminism and islam, something i’ve written about, so i’ve been refreshing my reading of texts by three spectacularly incisive women of color – saba mahmood, houria boutelja and francoise verges. the timing could not be better as the controversy over casting gal gadot, a white israeli actress, in the role of cleopatra continues on social media.

i know this will ruffle feathers, but i’ve been meaning to write this since the new ‘wonder woman’ came out (also played by gal gadot). i grew up in the middle of europe, when wonder woman was on fire (albeit dubbed in french) and i have to say, it never did anything for me. i’ve read ad infinitum how wonder woman changed the lives of western/white women and i’ve always felt completely disconnected from that discourse. wonder woman, as invented by a white man and played by a skinny white woman, did not resonate with me. most of the time, she seemed to be awkwardly balancing herself while twirling, burdened with an impractical costume, and, i felt as a child, more limited in her powers than other super heroes. she did not represent strength to me. the bionic woman (also dubbed in french) seemed more sensible and badass than her.

it’s pretty fitting then that gal gadot, a supporter of IDF and settler colonialism, came to embody white feminism, its artifacts and imagery – something i am indifferent to.
in the same way cleopatra, as delivered by elizabeth taylor, felt sad and campy, so very campy, and failed to project female empowerment. she was obviously conceived and executed by a bunch of men in hollywood. now that we’ve come a long way, in terms of women’s rights, a group of white women want their chance to co-opt the story of an egyptian queen. i’m sure that their counterparts will be inspired, but the rest of us — brown, black, women from the east and the global south — will just have to do our own thing:)

My workouts

wanted to give a shout-out to my trainer Julie Zobel. with all the changes in my life – leaving a community that’s home to me, trying to settle in long island in the midst of a pandemic, being in a small space with all the books/objects that provide continuity, familiarity stored elsewhere, getting used to a different rhythm, pace, place, people and accent (!!!) – the one thing i’ve counted on are my workouts. we do them in a smallish space in my bedroom, but they’re still challenging, designed for me specifically, and never boring. all i use is a mat.

i trained with julie at a gym for a long time, and the transition to virtual workouts has been seamless.

it’s safer to exercise at home. message Julie Zobel to get more info.

The African Gaze

Amy Sall: This course is an exploration of post-independent / post-colonial visual culture in Africa (from the late 1950s onward). We will be looking at the ways in which artistic expression in the form of African cinema and photography engendered discourses concerning identity, power, and self-determination.

Colonial photography deprived Africans of agency, rendered them voiceless and classified them as subaltern. In colonial photography, African people were subjected to a physical positioning and gaze
which took away their autonomy and allowed western viewers to perceive them as primitive.

African photographers and filmmakers from just before independence and onward (and in some cases even earlier), were able to reclaim this power and allow their communities to see themselves as they were, and explore their social, economic, and political conditions from their own perspective.

Drawing from key texts to frame our discussions, as well as important works from influential African photographers and filmmakers such as Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keïta, Ousmane Sembène, Souleymane Cissé and others, we will identify the ways in which The African Gaze was instrumental in reclaiming power, visibility and dispelling colonial myths. More here.

Dividing the Indivisible: Revisiting Partition

THIS review!!! When someone sees, truly sees, your work.

A Thin Wall premiered in 2015, five years ago, but MUBI India just acquired it and made it ‘film of the day’ and Kriti: a development praxis and communication team have been screening it, so entire new audiences are watching it now. It’s more relevant than ever.

What was it like to make A Thin Wall, a film that took seven years to complete?

How does one make a film about ethnic cleansing and violence, yet stitch it together with the movement of delicate saris and dupattas, fabric that hugs and celebrates the bodies of women? How does one tell stories about loss and displacement yet make the language of that telling sing with poignant, thoughtful words articulated by poets, writers, photojournalists, historians and filmmakers? How does one jettison linearity and its oppressive demands for a structure loose enough, capacious enough, to contain multiple layers of pain, memory, politics, history, and emotion? How does one talk about ominous violence, yet intertwine it with hope, with dreams of a better future?

These were some of the contradictions, narratives and sensibilities that were woven together to create A Thin Wall.

Thank you Surbhi Dewan for being my partner in this and for trusting me with the stories of your family. Thank you Mitun Gomes, Zubair Tanoli and Adam Netsky for your lyrical cinematography, Gayane Okhota for breathtaking animation, and Hassan Zaman, Nivedhan Singh and Zeshan M Bagewadi for beautiful original music. Thank you John Siddique, Uzma Aslam Khan, Ajay Bhardwaj, Asim Rafiqui, Jimmy Engineer and Urvashi Butalia for lending your genius to this project.

Thank you to everyone who supported our crowdfunding campaign, worked on post-production, and helped in myriad other ways in Pakistan, India and the United States. Last but not least, thank you to the family and friends we interviewed, some of whom have left us already, and who spoke with such generosity, truth and courage. So grateful for all of you, and for being able to make films.

Read review here.

In conversation with the Filmmakers Mara Ahmed and Surbhi Dewan

Kriti Film Club is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting as part of its Weekend Watch of the documentary, A THIN WALL
Topic: In conversation with the Filmmakers, Mara Ahmed and Surbhi Dewan
Date/ Time: Sunday, Aug 16, 2020 07:15 PM, India
Join our Zoom Meeting