More to post about Providence, but wanted to share that my artwork has been selected for an international juried exhibition. Hosted by Arts To Hearts Project and guest curated by artist Celine Gabrielle, this online exhibition will open on August 12th.
The topic, Ready to Wear, was a bit different for me. But it struck me that many of the collages from “This Heirloom” speak to fashion in Pakistan in the 1960s. What an interesting time that was – soon after the heartbreak of the 1947 partition but also in the afterglow of what a break from British colonialism could mean. So I wrote about fashion, national identities, and borders, and submitted three artworks. They were selected and will be part of an online group show.
The opening is on Friday Aug 12, and the show will be online until September 12th. Can’t wait to share my write-up and artwork with you all <3
Today I’d like to share an important addition to the Warp & Weft – a poignant story by Marzia Rezaee. In “Leaving Kabul,” Marzia describes what it’s like to be wrenched away from home and family, to be transported to other worlds, and have no control over such critical, life-changing decisions. I am grateful to Marzia for sharing such a personal story and working closely with me to finalize it when there is so much going on in her life. I am also thankful to Noelle E. C. Evans for introducing us. Pls listen to/read Marzia’s story in Dari and English and leave a comment if you like.
went to see ‘elvis’ yesterday with my sister and nephew. first baz luhrmann film i’ve ever liked. it’s obvious that he’s a devoted fan, so he reins in his frenetic (sometimes grotesque) filmmaking. three things: austin butler is electric – he plays elvis with intense physical and emotional energy and heart. i love that elvis’s career and music are situated bang in the middle of black culture and musical brilliance. and finally, the film allows us to connect to elvis as a human being. that might seem superfluous but for someone who was turned into a larger-than-life brand and money-making machine, it’s moving to break through all that dazzle/packaging and come face to face with human vulnerability. the hold his agent, colonel parker, had on elvis feels abusive and suffocating. reminded me of brittney spears and her struggles and how fame in a hyper-capitalist society can trap, oppress and even destroy.
more about elvis in the film vs in real life here.
Sonya Dalton: Ruth Asawa, a Japanese American artist, was born in 1926 and lived her whole life in Southern California until 1942 when she and her family were forced into an Arkansas internment camp for 18 months. Describing internment, Asawa notes, “I would not be who I am today had it not been for the Internment, and I like who I am.” Asawa is well known for her sculptures.
One piece, “Faces on a Wall”, has involved collecting plaster masks made from the faces of her friends and family for 45 years. Internment camps and prisons represent a system that seeks to dehumanize and amass individuals into a group—in Asawa’s case, internment sought to label all Japanese Americans as threats to the US. In this piece with over 300 masks, each still holds its own unique details. The conversion of these human faces into artwork forces the viewer to pay close attention to the differences. Despite the large number of masks, this piece is a fierce assertion of individuality. Asawa seeks to re-establish humanity within a mass of people. This piece comes from someone who knows that every person who undergoes a process of systematic dehumanization is still an individual.
friends, i’d like to draw ur attention to ‘ms marvel.’ so i’m not a fan of the marvel universe – i find all of it as inspiring as a coke commercial. but i appreciated representation in ‘black panther’ and i am stunned by the unprecedented, unapologetic and bold brownness, easternness, global southness, south asianness, muslimness, and girlness of ms marvel.
based on sana amanat’s pakistani american marvel superhero kamala khan, the series is a coming of age story but in a context we’ve never seen before. there’s talk about the hijab, scenes at the local mosque, plenty of bismillahs and mashallahs, protective south asian parents, etc but none of this is self-conscious or cartoonish or an existential crisis (such as in ‘ramy’). there’s also clear-eyed depictions of islamophobia (police surveillance and bigoted FBI agents) but they’re all part of what our superhero must vanquish and come packaged with wit and humor.
the cultural and linguistic references are vibrant and real (nazia hassan, what???) and the 1947 partition is at the center of the story. love how the lower third in flashback scenes specifies ‘british-occupied india.’
also love how kamala’s family history holds the key to her powers, but only her matrilineal history, going back all the way to her great grandmother aisha. her nani is played by samina ahmed (another wonderful treat) who lives in an old mansion in karachi.
oh, and the graphics and music are brilliant.
the creators of the series are all brown people from south asia and the middle east. i know it’s disney, but this is a strong step forward that should be supported. we can do it thru viewership and by giving it 10 stars on IMDB. believe it or not they are tracking all that stuff and deciding ms marvel has flopped because too ethnic, too unrelatable, too childish (yeah, only white men or skinny white ladies in sexy costumes are universal).
show u want more diversity by watching the series, creating an IMDB account (super easy) and ranking/reviewing. i wish our kids could have plugged into such stories when they were growing up. but it’s not too late for generations to come.
i recently posted an interview i did with Theodore Forsyth back in 2015 in which we talked about colonial borders and partitions. in that interview i talked about the continent of africa and how some of the same ‘divide and rule’ mechanisms were used there, including random borders justified by colonial extraction and control and the creation of ethno-religious silos.
in this excellent interview, congolese artist sammy baloji brings up many of the same points and much more. a must read.
COLONIAL EXTRACTIVISM AND EPISTEMIC GEOLOGIES IN THE CONGO:
Those categorical studies can be geological or geographical, they can focus on minerals or establish typologies of ethnies… For instance, these studies are at the source of why we talk about 400 ethnic groups in the Congo today. This is not necessarily true because the way pre-colonial societies defined themselves and the way in which they negotiated their territories do not correspond to the way in which so-called “objective” statistical data are established. Earlier, I spoke about Katanga’s secession. This secession created a sort of Katangese identity, for example. Yet, this identity that still exists today only emerged in the 1960s and with interests that are external to itself somehow.
Similarly, part of my work has been on urban planning, for instance, and as I was mentioned earlier, on these Native quarters. The streets where they were located used to take the names of ethnies or ethnical groups that were supposed to live in these extra-customary centers. But this was only a nomenclature; in the end it did not necessarily mean that it was these people who lived there. What it does however is to produce an awareness of ethnies as an identification element. This allows the establishment of rules and ability to divide and conquer. It then becomes in the interest of each worker to be affiliated to his community to exist in this stratified space. It is a space of confrontation and still today, we can see it in the electoral sphere. Elections operate based on ethnic identities, but those are colonial inventions! What I’m interested in doing in my work is to underline these elements and this framework that belong to a context of occupation, from which we don’t seem to be able to exit. This is why I say that I’m not interested in the colonial apparatus as something of the past. We still operate in the same system.
…we can talk about borders. If you look at the Congo for instance, we share nine borders [with the Republic of Congo, Central Arican Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola], but many communities are split by those borders established during the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference. And so you find Lunda people in Angola who were colonized by the Portuguese, others in the Congo who were colonized by the Belgians, and others in Zambia who were colonized by the British. But originally, they’re all the same people who speak the same language, share the same culture and embrace their common genealogy. I don’t know how we can now deal with these separations that colonialism produced.
Alex Greenberger: At stake in Lorenza Böttner’s art was often the concept of beauty itself—what it means to be aesthetically pleasing, and who gets to be considered as such. Western male artists throughout art history have often personified beauty in the form of a nondisabled cisgender white woman—think Praxiteles’s sculptures of Aphrodite or Peter Paul Rubens’s voluptuous females. Böttner’s paintings and performances put that notion to the test by attacking bourgeois images of this sort and cleaving open gender binaries.
[…] One recurring figure in Böttner’s work is the Venus de Milo, the millennia-old ancient Greek sculpture that has been considered a paragon of beauty for many. In its current state, the sculpture lacks arms, much like Böttner. Why, she wondered, do so many people still considered the work beautiful, even if they wouldn’t say the same of her body? To accompany one performance, first staged in 1982, in which she took on the sculpture’s guise, she discussed that paradox. “A sculpture is always admired even if limbs are missing, whereas a handicapped human being arouses feelings of uncertainness and shame,” she wrote in a pamphlet explaining the work. “Changing from sculpture into human being, I want to make people aware of this problem.”
More ‘Lorenza Böttner: Requiem for the Norm’ at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in NYC <3
“Lorenza Böttner: Requiem for the Norm is the first U.S. presentation of the work of Chilean/German artist Lorenza Böttner (1959-1994). Born in Chile, Böttner lost both arms in an accident at the age of eight. Institutionalized in Germany, where she moved with her mother for treatment, she rejected prosthetics intended to compensate for her supposed disability. In art school, she started presenting as female and assumed the name Lorenza. Although her career spanned just sixteen years, Böttner created hundreds of individual works, painting with her feet and mouth and using dance, photography, street performance, drawing, and installation to celebrate the complexity of embodiment and gender expression. Casting herself as a ballerina, a mother, a young man with glass arms, a Greek statue, Böttner’s work is irreverent and hedonistic, filled with the artist’s joy in her own body.”
When in NYC (even for one or two days), I can’t help but go to at least one art exhibition. This time I went to the Leslie-Lohman Museum (‘a dynamic and safe space where the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies engage in meaningful and authentic art experiences’) to see Lorenza Böttner: Requiem for the Norm. I was captivated by her work, her life, and her energy. It’s a small museum but I spent more than an hour there, visiting and revisiting her work and feeling her beauty and joie de vivre. Her arms were amputated at the shoulders after a horrible accident when she was a child but she refused prosthetics and wanted to be accepted for who she was in her ‘extreme’ form. She moved freely between names, gender expressions and identities. Sometimes she became an armless Venus, other times wings grew out of her shoulders. She painted with her feet and mouth, worked in multiple media, wrote, danced, and was a beguiling performer. A force of nature.
Still thinking about this wonderful evening and Uzma‘s book. Read ‘The miraculous true history of Nomi Ali’ and learn about “interventions of knowing” that subvert the colonial script. Learn about exile, imprisonment and resistance. From the book: “She tries to remember colours, sunlight, the breezes that tease the crops of open fields. She tries to catch new rain on her tongue. She tries to remember the song of the koel. She tries to forget what she has left. This effort to remember and to forget comes like the waves she cannot hear but can feel, they are there, under her chains. If she could look outside, just once.”
last night after the event @mcnallyjackson seaport in which we discussed ‘the miraculous true history of nomi ali’ by the incredible Uzma Aslam Khan. thank u to all the lovely friends who joined us and to my daughter who made it as well. a beautiful celebration of a unique and powerful book.
dear friends in and around nyc, this is happening tomorrow evening at 7pm @mcnallyjackson seaport in ny. i cannot wait to discuss ‘the miraculous true history of nomi ali’ with uzma aslam khan. it’s an extraordinary book that restores to life forgotten histories. pls join us and be a part of the discussion. link to tickets here. hope to see u then!
a short version of my very interesting interview with rochester indymedia’s Theodore Forsyth back in 2015. the topic was my film ‘a thin wall’ so we ended up discussing colonialism, partitions, nation states, nationalism, capitalism, and the process of decolonization (beyond borders/silos/labels). u can now listen to an edited portion of the audio.
thank u ted for all ur work on this and for the excellent excellent questions <3
u can watch ‘a thin wall’ on amazon (usa, uk, canada) or on vimeo on demand (the rest of the world).
on a day such as this, when a woman’s right to do as she pleases with her own body is taken away, what a pleasure to be in community with women. after dropping off my artwork at the huntington arts council, i had lunch with a friend from high school. the last time we met was decades ago in islamabad where we studied together for two years. she was one of the most brilliant girls in my class and unsurprisingly is now a brilliant doctor, with brilliant kids mashallah. i still remember the radical ideas we shared as very young women, the questions we had about accepted norms and precepts, how i read a lot of bertrand russell back then but also allama iqbal and the rubáiyát of omar khayyám. i still remember our discussions, activated by azra’s probing questions and skepticism. such thrilling times when our confidence was extreme and we could ace the world. maybe we still can. it’s just a matter of perception.