Memorial to Lost Words

This sound installation by Pakistani artist Bani Abidi at MCA brought me to tears. A powerful memorial to the one million South Asian/Indian soldiers who fought in WW1 but have been completely erased. My own great grandfather fought in France, under British colonial rule.

Bani Abidi’s Memorial to Lost Words is a song installation based on letters and songs from the First World War. They are not the well archived memoirs of European and British soldiers, but the words of Indian Soldiers and their womenfolk back home in India. Even a hundred years after the fact, it is a little known fact of WWI history that more than a million Indian soldiers fought in this war. So, clearly, official accounts and memorials are very rarely truthful transmitters of history. This memorial draws from letters that were written home by Indian Soldiers and folk songs that were sung by their wives, mothers and sisters at the time but were censored or forgotten because of their candid condemnation of the war.

#baniabidi #pakistaniartist #mca #museumofcontemporaryart #chicago #worldwar1 #indiansoldiersinww1 #southasiansoldiers #soundinstallation #memorial

The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali

What I’m reading right now: ‘The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali’ by the brilliant Uzma Aslam Khan.

Caught between British and Japanese colonialism, the Andaman Islands (a penal colony often referred to as Kala Pani) in the early 1940s are the setting for Uzma’s fifth novel.

“How is history handed down to us? Who narrates it? And what role does perspective play in shaping facts? Uzma Aslam Khan’s latest novel, The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali, is a vibrant defiance of traditionally accepted histories. Through a rejection of historically privileged perspectives, well-rounded and responsible research, and a lyrical narrative that a reader can effortlessly float through, Khan gives a voice to the marginalised and oft forgotten.”

#uzmaaslamkhan #novel #books #bookstagram #themiraculoustruehistoryofnomiali #adamanislands #kalapani #penalcolony #britishcolonialism #japanesecolonialism #prison #colonialprison #colonialhorrors #india

Iqbal Masih – Pakistan’s child hero

It is often said that Pakistan is a hard country. That it demands too much of its people. Even its children…

Repost from @purana_pakistan:

Iqbal Masih was born in 1983 to a low-income Christian family in Muridke, a commercial city outside of Lahore.

At age four, he was put to work by his family to pay off their debts. Iqbal’s family borrowed 600 rupees ($3.23) from a local employer who owned a carpet weaving business. In return, Iqbal was required to work until the debt was paid off. The work was intensive. Child labourers were bound with chains to carpet looms to prevent escape.

Iqbal worked 14 hours a day, six days a week, with only a 30-minute break. He made 1 rupee a day, but the loan continued to increase due to interest and his family’s need to take on more loans.

At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labour had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He went to the police to report his employer, Arshad, but the police brought him back to Arshad. Iqbal managed to escape a second time. He attended the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) School for former child slaves where he acquired his education in two years.
Iqbal went on to help over 3,000 Pakistani bonded laborers get freedom and made speeches about child labour throughout the world.

He expressed a desire to become a lawyer and began to visit other countries including Sweden and the United States to share his story and encourage others to join the fight to eradicate child slavery.

Iqbal was fatally shot by Ashraf Hero, a heroin addict, while visiting relatives in Muridke on 16 April 1995, Easter Sunday. He was 12 years old. His mother said she did not believe her son had been the victim of a plot by the “carpet mafia”. However, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front disagreed because Iqbal had received death threats from individuals connected to the Pakistani carpet industry.

His funeral was attended by over 800 mourners. ‘The Little Hero: One Boy’s Fight for Freedom’ tells the story of his legacy.

Meet the Storytellers Behind The Warp & Weft

Last week on April 21st, 11 writers and artists from the Warp & Weft met one another on Zoom and shared important insights about their stories. We had storytellers joining us from Gaza/Palestine, the Gambia, Ireland, California and New York. It was a rich and dynamic discussion. Multidimensional – for the personal is always political. Pls check it out and visit the Warp & Weft [Face to Face] at Rochester Contemporary Art Center. It will be on until May 7th.

bilquis bano edhi – the mother of orphans

a tribute to bilquis bano edhi (august 1947 – april 2022), the mother of orphans, who together with her husband abdul sattar edhi created the edhi foundation, pakistan’s largest welfare organization. the stats are incredible: 50,000 orphans and 20,000 abandoned infants rescued, more than 40,000 nurses trained, a fleet of 1,800 ambulances, 28 rescue boats, and a helicopter for air ambulance service. it all started with Rs 5,000 and the drive to do god’s work and help others. no nobel prize for empowered people from the global south, but today i read a tribute to bilquis edhi by a young woman who was abandoned as an infant, was raised by bari amman (bilquis edhi as she was called by her many adopted children), went to school and won scholarships, studied law and is now a successful executive. thank u bilquis ji for all u have done. the stars will shine brighter as u are welcomed to eternal life. inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.

[artwork by @maria_riaz_illustrates]

#biquisedhi #bilquisbanoedhi #abdulsattaredhi #edhifoundation #godswork #helpingothers #motheroforphans

opening of the warp & weft [face to face] at roco

the opening of the warp & weft [ face to face ] at @roco137 was all about community. and the rochester community did not disappoint. so many people i love gathered in one space to listen to and connect with an archive of stories in all its splendid human diversity. thank u rochester <3 more pictures on instagram @mara__ahmed

#warpweft #warpweftf2f #thewarpweft #archiveofstories #audioarchive #storytelling #oralstorytelling #multilingualarchive #community #artandcommunity #rochestercontemporaryartcenter #rochesterny #artandactivism #wearethearchive

Meet the storytellers behind The Warp & Weft

On April 21st at 6pm EST, join Rochester Contemporary Art Center for a virtual conversation with The Warp & Weft writers, artists and activists. They will share their reflections about 2020 and the inspiration/process behind their stories. Together they will help highlight the importance of archiving diverse voices and the crucial role storytelling can play in times of uncertainty and upheaval.

Our speakers will connect with us from Gaza (Palestine), the Gambia, Ireland, Oakland (California), Rochester (New York) and Long Island. Registration is necessary. Pls register at the RoCo website.

Speakers (in alphabetical order):

Ashwaq Abualoof
Darien Lamen
Deema K. Shehabi
Erica Bryant
Ian Layton
Kaddijatou Fatty
Karen Faris
Quajay Donnell
Rose Pasquarello Beauchamp
Selena Fleming
Zoë Lawlor

The Warp & Weft [Face to Face] at RoCo

In 2020 and later in early 2021, I was honored to work with an international group of truth-tellers, writers, poets, artists and activists who shared their personal stories and reflections. We built a multilingual archive together called the Warp & Weft, because it wove the threads of our thoughts and emotions together. Now a year later, the Warp & Weft [Face to Face] is coming to Rochester Contemporary Art Center as a multimedia exhibition. It opens on April 1st with an artist’s talk at 6:30pm. You will be able to meet some of the brilliant storytellers at a Zoom event on April 21st starting at 6pm. And you will have a chance to see the exhibition at RoCo until May 7th. This is beyond exciting – I hope that you can join us!

‘Visit The Warp & Weft [Face to Face] at RoCo and immerse yourself in a colorful tapestry of stories. You can social distance, yet walk through the material expression of the archive and experience the beauty of human ideas and kinship.’

Thank you Bleu Cease, Rajesh Barnabas, and the RoCo team for all the hard work in bringing this project to life.

#thewarpandweft #thewarpweft #thewarpweftfacetoface #thewwf2f #multilingualarchive #archive #storytelling #oralhistories #yearofthepandemic #roco137 #multimedia #multimediaexhibition #maraahmedstudio #maraahmed

From Lost or Found

‘I have been lucky so far. I have not lost anyone in my immediate family, although I have lost most of my aunts and uncles – my parents’ siblings. Living in the U.S., away from extended family, it is difficult to mourn loved ones back in Pakistan and make such losses real. It’s like being in a state of suspension – unmoored and unsubstantial. Like you, I have lost cities, continents, friends, homes, communities, and languages. Always there is this ache in one’s heart. A sorrowful mourning.
Recently, I lost Rochester, New York, a city I knew and loved for 18 years. A city where my kids grew up and where I became an activist filmmaker.’

From Lost or Found, my collab with art historian Claudia Pretelin, published in Mason Street Literary Magazine.

#masonstreet #literarymagazine #lostorfound #conversation #exchange #art #memory #places #languages #becoming #home #migration #mexico #pakistan #belgium #unitedstates #photographs #photography #images #collage #literature #culture #instrumentsofmemory #claudiapretelin #maraahmed

War Hurts Everyone Rally

Michael Boucher:

Grateful for all of the organizers and speakers who helped to put together the “War Hurts Everyone” rally tonight in front of the Federal Building. So many powerful stories of the intersections of the situation in Ukraine with so many other situations of injustice, displacement, occupation, oppression, human rights violations and war – all sharing threads of the abuse of power, racial capitalism and forms of imperialism.

Places like Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Palestine, Somalia, the strees of the United States (and so many other places) all require our activism and outcry. In so many places, it is our government, our multinationals, our weapons manufacturers, our fossil fuel industry and our military suppliers who have vested interests in these conflicts and displacements.

I know that Mara and Pamela were named organizers of today (thank you!) and I know that many, many others helped to put it together and took risks in speaking their truths so that we might witness the intersections and rise up collectively. War hurts everyone, yes, but it does not hurt everyone in the same way or to the same extent.

International Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day, a tribute to the strength, beauty and resilience of Palestinian and Kashmiri women:

1) Thawra (Revolution). Malak Mattar, 2019
2) Habba Khatoon. Kayehaan Anjum Khan, Ink on Paper

#internationalwomensday #womenday #womensdayiseveryday #palestine #kashmir #palestinianwomen #kashmiriwomen #palestinewillbefree #kashmirwillbefree

War Hurts Everyone

This is happening today with a list of brilliant speakers headed by Olena Prokopovych. At 5:00 PM, Federal Building in Rochester. Pls join us!

From our Press Release:

This rally will bring together frontline organizers, activists, and community members to highlight Rochester’s solidarity with Ukraine. Horrified by the atrocities perpetuated against the people of Ukraine and the discrimination and violence inflicted on African, Asian, and Caribbean students and citizens attempting to flee the war, activists will recognize that the struggle against war, militarism, and racism, transcends national boundaries be it in Ukraine, the United States, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, or Palestine.

Their inspiration will be drawn from movements advocating for a more just and equitable world, including the thousands of anti-war activists in Russia and Ukraine calling for an end to state-sponsored violence, the movements advocating for Black Liberation here in the US and around the world, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine.

As the voices of those who have been directly affected by war, militarism, and racism must continue to be centered, a diverse group of speakers will share their experiences about how both war and resistance to invasion and occupation are presented through a racist lens. Western media and politicians have described Ukrainian refugees as intelligent, car-owning Europeans, distinguishing them from “migrants” from the Global South who are seen as a threat to European safety. This contrast in terminology plays out in real life when people of color are allowed to drown rather than reach fortress Europe.

Activists will locate the war on Ukraine within the broader context of imperial interventions, military adventurism, and the lucrative business of war. They will seek to draw attention to the defense industry raking in obscene profits by manufacturing weapons. In short, this rally aims to deepen the scope of discussions about what’s happening in Ukraine. Rather than a disconnected narrative that fails to make connections between global power structures and their violence on some of the most vulnerable people in the world, this rally will endeavor to model a cohesive and inclusive position that’s both explicitly anti-war and anti-racism.

For questions, pls contact Pamela Kim, Elora Kang, or myself.

What Rashida Tlaib Represents

a profile of @rashidatlaib by the brilliant rozina ali in the @nytimes. we are on the cusp of change.

‘During the 1990s the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization, along with the United States, agreed that the best solution to the conflict was the establishment of two states: a sovereign Palestine and a sovereign Israel coexisting side by side. Though the borders have never been agreed upon, the two-state outcome remains a “core U.S. policy objective,” according to the State Department. But since then, settlements have grown steadily, while military occupation of the Palestinian territories continues. Today, nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers occupy land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which has not only cut off some residents’ access to water and electricity but also left Palestinians with less — and more fragmented — territory for a Palestinian state in any hypothetical future negotiation. This has led Middle East experts like Zaha Hassan from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Steven Cook from the Council on Foreign Relations and commentators like Peter Beinart to publicly give up on a two-state solution as a fair or realistic outcome and turn toward what was once considered a radical prospect in the debate: a single democratic state with equal rights for Arabs and Jews.

Tlaib didn’t seem to have a firm view on the best road to peace before her election. During her 2018 campaign, the liberal pro-Israel group J Street endorsed her candidacy based on a meeting and a policy paper that her team submitted, which argued that a two-state outcome, while increasingly difficult to achieve, was the best aim. Soon after, in an interview with the left-wing magazine In These Times, she reversed herself, questioning the two-state solution. After seeking clarification from Tlaib about her position, J Street pulled its endorsement. By the time Tlaib reached Washington, she was the only member of Congress to publicly back a single, fully democratic state.’

#rashidatlaib #rashidatlaibisabadass #rashidatlaibisright #supportrashidatlaib #palestine #palestinewillbefree #rozinaali #ethicaljournalism #noaidforisrael #bds #bdsmovement

stop wars everywhere

it’s hard to be a person of color, someone whose identity’s foundational stone was set in the non-western world and engage with media, history, or culture produced by the west. one is constantly negotiating a minefield. with all its politico-historical analysis and feeling, the russian invasion of ukraine is not a global south problem. it does not, for the most part, involve people of color. yet western commentators, media and politicians found ways of dragging in the other and raising their glass to racism.

first the bulgarian PM said something like: ‘these are not the refugees we are used to. they are european, intelligent, educated people, some are IT programmers…this is not the usual refugee wave of people with an unknown past. no european country is afraid of them.’

in the british telegraph, daniel hannan wrote emotionally: ‘they seem so like us. that is what makes it so shocking. war is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. it can happen to anyone.’

on france’s BFM TV, a commentator pontificated: ‘we’re not talking here about syrians fleeing the bombing of the syrian regime backed by putin, we’re talking about europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.’

and on america’s CBS news a world-weary guy declared: ‘this is not a place like iraq or afghanistan…’ he was generous enough to call ukrainian cities ‘relatively civilized’ and ‘relatively european,’ confessing how he had to choose those words carefully.

to hell with these people and their parochial, racist worldview. posting this graphic to remind everyone that folx are the same everywhere, war is always repugnant, and some of the most grotesque violence in the world is funded and wielded by the ‘civilized’ west.

stop wars everywhere. and let people move freely and safely.

#waronukraine #russianwar #ukraine #russia #warsucks #stopwars #syria #iraq #afghanistan #refugeesarehumanbeings #europeanracism #europeanexceptionalism #westernmedia #europeanpolitics #racistinfrastructure #racisthistory

my review: south of the border, west of the sun

finished reading ‘south of the border, west of the sun’ last night, my second book by haruki murakami. i’ve also read ‘norwegian wood’ which my daughter and i agreed was uncomfortably cringy on account of the graphic, borderline pushy sex the male narrator has with women who are mentally and emotionally fragile, depressed or broken. it reads like abuse.

‘south of the border’ follows the same pattern in that the female characters are poorly drawn. they are tragic victims of hormone-driven male misadventures and blend inelegantly into background noise, or they’re mysterious sex goddesses dedicated to male pleasure in its oddest configurations (they disappear soon after the male narrator has climaxed), or they are the good girlfriends and wives who endure unimaginable pain and humiliation but remain devoted to whatever relationship the male narrator can manage.

according to katarina kio, murakami’s work is ‘incredibly gendered’:
‘The perniciousness of… women as “mediums” becomes evident in Murakami’s novels. Women in his work are often constructed as solely vessels for the self-actualisation of men. One-dimensional female characters orbit around existentially challenged male leads, experiencing relatively little character development of their own.’

murakami is not alone. sex, its depiction and language, and the power dynamics it inscribes are equally unsettling in other universally admired writers such as gabriel garcia marquez, v. s. naipaul, philip roth and michel houellebecq.

they make me feel like i’ve stepped into an outdated, highly misogynistic male fantasy. it’s alienating and unpleasant. makes me realize how grateful i am for writers like elena ferrante whose work i devoured as soon as it became known to the english-speaking world. it was like stepping into another dimension. a place were women were central and in focus, where their thoughts, desires and relationships could begin to be articulated and made real, where they were flesh and blood rather than hollow specters subservient to the quirks of male psychology and anatomy.

to women writers and an alternative literary canon.

#harukimurakami #southoftheborder #elenaferrante #alternativeliterature #womenwriters