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“I want Africanist anthropologists to write about the coronation in England in the same ethnographic language they use to write about African cultural practices.

You watch this spectacle in England celebrating one of the most vicious and genocidal empires and you wonder if there will ever be justice in this world.”
—JP@grosmorne29 on Twitter

BTW the pendant in the necklace worn by all British queens at their coronation since Victoria, was stolen from Lahore (my city of birth) along with everything else in the Lahore treasury. It’s called the Lahore diamond. An apt symbol of how most European wealth (remember the Golden Age or la Belle Epoque?) comes from looting, whether it be piracy, slavery or colonialism.

Make a difference

Dear all, we often talk about what we can do to support anti-colonial struggles and further movements for justice. Here is an easy and direct way.

Lift the voices of Palestinian artists/filmmakers and educate audiences worldwide on the subject of Palestine — support the Palestinian Film Festival Amsterdam (PFFA).

This year the festival will commemorate 75 years of the Nakba, the Great Catastrophe, which saw the mass expulsion of indigenous Palestinians in 1948.

The founder of the festival, my dear friend Nihal Rabbani, has applied to the Amsterdam Fund For The Arts for most of the funding, but 25% of the festival’s budget still needs to be raised in order to cover essential costs. Even if you donate the minimum amount of €10, it will help.

Pls share widely on social media and within your network. Thank you.

APAA exhibit at city hall

i am so honored to be part of the asian pacific islander american association of greater rochester’s 2023 pioneers, innovators, and entrepreneurs exhibit at rochester city hall. the exhibition is curated by the wonderful Mimi Lee and Lily Lee and will be on display until may 31st. thank u dearest Debora McDell Hernandez for taking this picture and for being honored as ally and friend of the APAA community <3

my review: joyland

finally saw joyland, the pakistani film that has taken international festivals and audiences by storm. it’s an unflinching study of the quiet horrors of heteropatriarchy – its rigid roles and antiquated hierarchies (that revolve around ridiculous notions of masculinity), its antilife rules and strictures, claustrophobia and mendacity.

yet with its vibrant ensemble cast, snappy writing, and intimate cinematography, the film is also filled with flashes of love, hope and human connection. it shows people who are desperately lost but also the grit and audacity it takes to have sovereignty over one’s life and body.

it’s a heartbreaking reminder that all of us need to be seen. even those of us who seem to be the strongest, the most reliable and least demanding, can break delicately once they become invisible.

Hopeful Art & Artful Hope

So energizing to be part of the Artists Round Table today and talk about Hopeful Art & Artful Hope. The convo was moderated by the wonderful Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli and I learned so much about the work of amazing artists/activists like Michaela Oteri, TL Luke, Kristy Lisle, Kierston Ghaznavi, Yvette Pino, and Della Wells. From important struggles such as disability and reproductive rights, to representations of Black women in art and culture, to body types and using art to talk about politics, I felt like I was surrounded/sustained by artists using their art to challenge and enlighten.

The Women’s & Gender Studies Conference ‘Sustaining Hope: Feminisms, Freedom, and the Future’ is happening virtually for one last day tomorrow, April 15th.

It’s organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and held under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace as part of a global UN platform. It is free.

You can register here. And don’t forget to check out the artwork under ‘Artist Exhibition 2023.’

[Artwork by Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli]

nick cave at the goog

everyone has seen nick cave’s famous soundsuits, but did u know he designed his first suit out of twigs after rodney king was violently beaten by police in 1991?

he has created more than 500 suits since. they have grown alongside his practice, evolving from a form of protective layer (that covers/hides the body) to an expression of confidence and exuberance pushing the limits of visibility.

in his work, cave uses everyday, found objects and racist memorabilia. he doesn’t believe that this history should be erased. he repurposes such ‘relics’ – taking them out of circulation and giving them new meaning.

it’s difficult to look at these objects. for example, the awful spittoon at the center of ‘sea sick’ does in fact induce nausea.

his mixed media sculptures look like soft fur, but in reality the patterns are painted on short, sharp wire fragments. the designs represent a layered cartography of cataclysmic weather patterns on top of brain scans of young black people suffering from ptsd as a result of gun violence.

that’s the remarkable thing about cave’s work – his art is harsh, abrasive, and contains an incredibly violent history, but it’s also gorgeous. at first glance, his work seems simple, joyous, full of color, sparkles and flowers, but it is also unsettling, complex, disturbing.

there was a line written on one of the walls at the goog which hit me hard. it said something like:

if we can turn junk into art, what grace can we extend to people who are most devalued by society?

Women’s & Gender Studies Consortium

I am super excited to be a part of the Women’s & Gender Studies Consortium ‘Sustaining Hope: Feminisms, Freedom, and the Future’ happening completely virtually, April 13-15. I will participate in the Artists’ Round Table on April 14th – starts at 3:30pm CTS (4:30pm EST).

This conference, organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and held under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace as part of a global UN platform, is free.

You can register here and you can look at the conference schedule here.

You can also check out at my artist page. Hope you can join us!

a rough cut for ‘return to sender’

my short film, return to sender (about colonial postcards and orientalist representations of women from the colonies), is coming along well! i have a rough cut and have received feedback from women friends/filmmakers i’ve trusted for decades. thank u cat ashworth, surbhi dewan, nancy ghertner, kate kressmann-kehoe, and linda moroney. i also got permissions from publishing houses and insightful scholars to quote their work. most of all, i’m blown away, once again, by the sharp analysis and complete honesty of the three women who are at the center of the film. thank u Fatimah Arshad, Urvashi Bhattacharya and Sumayia Islam for ur brilliance and beauty <3

[photo: urvashi bhattacharya in ‘return to sender,’ photographed by mara ahmed]

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.

The Body Has Memory

This short video was part of the Huntington Arts Council’s juried exhibition about the exploration of the human body. It won best in show. It’s finally public. Pls watch.

In her book, Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine says: “Yes, and the body has memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight.”

Biological memory can be understood as a cellular response to a transient stimulus, a response that becomes lasting if chemical changes ensue. Body memory can be transmitted genetically via DNA and helps explain generational trauma.

This poem is about the multiformity of the human body and its many contexts. Some of the visual language in the text is inspired by a viewing of “52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone” at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, in Connecticut. Hence the reference to detached limbs and strewn body parts, but also the need to reconstitute the female body, a powerful site for resistance and healing.

This video is closed captioned. Thank you Rajesh Barnabas, Mariko Yamada, Cloria Sutton, and Rochester City School District students <3

our piece in contending modernities

we have been working on this piece off and on since the beginning of 2023. so proud of this conversation with dr shirly bahar about performativity, solidarity across activist spaces, the relationship between trauma and language, and the importance of reconceptualizing feelings of powerlessness as public and political so as to pursue change. thank u shirly for ur brilliance and vision, thank u Santiago Slabodsky for bringing our work together at hofstra university and activating this piece, thank u josh lupo and atalia omer at Contending Modernities, university of notre dame, for ur editorial support and for publishing our work. to radical politics and solidarity.

my review: agua by pina bausch

so finally, here is my review of pina bausch’s “agua,” which i just saw at BAM. apart from the beauty of her dance language, which i find mesmerizing, there are some issues with this work.

created during a residency in brazil in 2001, agua is supposed to be a refraction of the “landscapes, sounds, movements, and music she encountered into a color-saturated fantasy.”

yet the film projections that act as backdrop to and inspiration for bausch’s choreographed dances are too facile, too superficial. thundering waterfalls, swaying palm trees, jaguars and monkeys in the jungle, along with gigantic amazonian plants and exotic birds all come together to exoticize without the benefit of a more complex, political encounter.

even more problematic is footage of young men from the favelas lost in intense drumming and nude indigenous people swimming seamlessly in rivers, used as background or wallpaper. it reminded me of the colonial gaze that’s evident throughout “out of africa,” where faraway landscapes merge with the flora, fauna, and othered bodies of african people to create a vivid contrast against which white european stories can unfurl.

although bausch’s dancers are famously diverse (ethnically but also in terms of height, body type, and skill set), her work is still quintessentially european and so is her gaze in this piece.

the scenes she creates embody stereotypical touristy images of white people on vacation in a tropical country: people in swimsuits with funny beach towels lounging at a resort, hanging out, getting drunk, having a water fight (in a country where potable water is scarce), having sex outdoors, and dancing the night away.

as thomas hahn has written in his excellent critique, « Agua » : Pina, le Brésil et le réel:

Les images de nature paradisiaque, de tourisme de plaisance, d’ivresse en lounge, et autres fêtes d’une classe aisée dans Agua révèlent aujourd’hui à quel point cette pièce passe à côté de la réalité du pays. Agua est l’œuvre la plus superficielle de Pina Bausch. En 2001 on a pu apercevoir, avec beaucoup de bonne volonté, un semblant d’ironie ? Aujourd‘hui, cela ne tient plus.

pina bausch: a new dance language

pina bausch created a new dance language. u can see its syntax in the fractured phrases and speech elements she configured in her work, held together by a logical structure, with extensions, explorations, and repetitions. modern dance itself developed against the codified tenets of ballet and its male-dominated companies, but pina pushed the genre further, combining dance with theatre, art and music, and completely transforming the european dance landscape.

pina has been criticized for the acts of brutality and humiliation found in her work, and for creating a “theatre of dejection” that embraces the pornography of pain. i can see it both ways.

i understand that she’s reflecting the world we live in by creating rigid gender binaries – women in colorful slip dresses, long hair flowing wildly, and men in suits or slacks with bare torsos. since gender consists of repeated, performative acts (according to judith butler) and depends on “fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and discursive means,” bausch is simply establishing the acts that mark someone as “man” or “woman.” many times, the men are aggressive, manipulative, menacing, or mere props to climb on or be carried by.

the women are softer, non-confrontational but strong and athletic. many scenes have the intensity of ritual sacrifice. sometimes the women and men indulge in a dance of mechanical symbiosis, like pulleys and belts that fit and turn together.

there is a “hysterical” woman who rages and screams and wants what’s impossible. many of these ideas (including sexual harassment, frustration and madness) were present in agua, even if they were presented as humorous rather than troubling. there is always a layer of discomfort underneath.

but i can also see how recycling misogyny/violence without presenting an alternative world, can seem to normalize, magnify, and even promote it. more about agua specifically in next post.

tanztheater wuppertal in brooklyn

i’ve been a fan of pina bausch since 2011, when wim wenders’ brilliant film came out, which included interviews with her dancers and performances of her best known, strongest works. what a treat then to be able to see ‘agua’ at brooklyn academy of music yesterday. i found a lone seat, center mezzanine, in the first row, and probably had one of the best views in the entire opera house.
bausch’s work is not always easy to experience, but this is supposed to be her lightest, most joyful, lush and visually spectacular work. more about that later, but i still cannot believe i got to see tanztheater wuppertal dancers live on stage, in brooklyn