Memory Grid at Westbury Arts

Excited that my mixed media piece, ‘Memory Grid,’ has been selected for a juried exhibition at Westbury Arts! The theme is ‘Uncovered Treasures,’ a celebration of mixed-media art and assemblage.

Memory Grid is inspired by the idea of caching memories inside a data grid. It’s engineered to replicate computing architecture where vast amounts of data are sorted and stored using grid technology. But instead of binary data, the piece is meant to archive pictures, colors, and textures. Instead of neat partitions, the elements in each compartment overflow and overlap with adjacent cells, creating complex patterns and whimsical moods. The intent is to create an emotional landscape that beckons and moves on account of these transgressions.

Newsprint, fabric and acrylic paint on illustration board fitted inside an upcycled metal grille
Dim: 27 ½ in x 22 in

The opening reception will be on Sunday, September 4th, 2022 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at 255 Schrenck Ave, in Westbury. Tickets are free but pls register.

#westburyarts #uncoveredtreasures #artexhibition #mixedmedia #assemblage #assemblageart #maraahmed #memorygrid #westburyny #longisland

Memory Grid, Mixed Media Object by Mara Ahmed

Emancipated Breath: A Prelude

Dear friends, I am thrilled to share this brilliant dance shot by Jesus Duprey at High Falls (Rochester, NY), choreographed and performed by Andrew Evans, title by Erica Jae, with original music composed by Tom Davis. This is a prelude to The Injured Body: A Film about Racism in America. I am back at work editing this documentary and listening to some pretty badass women of color. I created the trailer for the film back in 2020 but then life happened (we moved thrice in two years during the pandemic). I am excited to come back to this beautiful project. I will be sharing as I edit and hope for your support throughout this delicate process. My goal is to complete the film in 2022. But first, here is Emancipated Breath.

#prelude #theinjuredbody #documentary #emancipatedbreath #highfallsny #rochesterny #dance #tomdavis #andrewdavid #maraahmed #thebreathisthebridge #thebodyspeaks

The Way Forward by Teresa Werth | The Warp & Weft

Friends, I’m happy to share a new Warp & Weft story today. It’s a unique retelling of the pandemic from the perspective of a funeral celebrant. Written and read beautifully by Terry Werth, pls listen to ‘The Way Forward’:

“I worked to control my outrage, fear, and ignorance by focusing on the skills I had to help people navigate their loss, grief and trauma in healthy and effective ways. I validated their despair (and my own) by stepping back to try and see the big picture: what can we learn from this experience? How can we heal ourselves and help others heal?”

Listen and read here.

#thewarpweft #thewarpandweft #archive #audioarchive #multilingualarchive #storytelling #oralhistories #yearofthepandemic #terrywerth #teresawerth #wayforward #maraahmedstudio #maraahmed #rochesterny #newyork #unitedstates #2020andbeyond #covid19 #funeralcelebrant #pandemic #healing #helpingothers #loss #lovedones #sayinggoodbye #grief #trauma

My essay for Ready to Wear – an online exhibition

The Ready to Wear online exhibition is now open! You can check out a virtual exhibition space, download the catalog, and read my essay under Explore Exhibiting Artists here.

“In the 1960s, when my parents (Nilofar Rashid and Saleem Murtza) met in college, fell in love, and got married, Pakistan was still a relatively new country. My parents’ generation was the first to be solidly grounded in Pakistan. Having been recently introduced to the world at large, those who hailed from the bourgeoisie saw themselves as “progressive” and were influenced by western culture. Fashion became a way to express their newly minted national identity.

Young men adopted the Teddy Boy style of the Beatles, with boxy jackets and fitted trousers. Young women wore the traditional shalwar kameez but switched it up by making the kameez shorter and tighter, aligning it with the shift dresses they saw in fashion magazines. The bottom edge of the shalwar became narrower in keeping with men’s tapered pants. They wore head scarves and oversized shades like Audrey Hepburn and Bollywood’s Saira Banu and Mumtaz.

This hybrid sense of fashion seemed to cross borders and crack open binaries such as east and west. My mother wore a gauze dupatta over her short, dress-like kameez. She refused to give up the dainty sandals that went with her outfits but would wear socks when it got cold in Lahore. For his wedding, my father paired a gaudy sehra (headdress commonly worn by the groom) with a tailored suit. He sits proudly with his elder brother, Eitizaz Hussein.

Borders and partitions are recent aberrations. A broad span of history, that goes beyond the creation of nation states, can give us a better sense of our complex, intertwined realities, and allow us to imagine better futures.”

Eitizaz Hussein and Saleem Murtza
Nilofar Rashid – 3
Nilofar Rashid and Saleem Murtza – 1

Ready to Wear online exhibition

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

Leaving Kabul by Marzia Rezaee | The Warp & Weft

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.

#thewarpweft #thewarpandweft #archive #audioarchive #multilingualarchive #storytelling #oralhistories #yearofthepandemic #maraahmedstudio #maraahmed #kabul #afghanistan #borders #rochesterny #newyork #unitedstates #2020andbeyond #story #dari #immigration #family #war #militaryoccupation

Reasons For Being Alive by Afsoon | The Warp & Weft

Friends, as you know, The Warp & Weft archive of multilingual audio stories from across the world is an ongoing project. Today I am honored to share a new story by London-based artist Afsoon, whose work I have seen and enjoyed in NYC. She writes about seclusion, art, dreams within dreams, and the tenuous line between reality and fantasy. It’s a beautifully layered, carefully measured story and includes poetry by Forugh Farrokhzad. Listen to Afsoon talking about the shifts our minds go through in isolation.

#afsoon #afsoonart #thewarpweft #thewarpandweft #archive #audioarchive #multilingualarchive #storytelling #oralhistories #yearofthepandemic #maraahmedstudio #maraahmed #art #dreams #london #2020andbeyond #poetry #farsi #forughfarrokhzad

Dasht-e-Tanhai – A Desert Soundscape

Dasht-e-Tanhai (The Desert of my Solitude) is one of my favorite poems. It was written by the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I translated the poem in English more than a decade ago, in 2009. This year I took a recording of that translation and the original Urdu poem to Darien Lamen, a genius at sound design (and much else), and together we created the soundscape for Dasht-e-Tanhai. I wrote about the poem, my translation, and our collab in this piece. The audio and text were published today in The Markaz Review. This is the kind of work I love. Pls read the piece but most of all, listen to Dasht-e-Tanhai here.

“To me it’s a love poem brimming with scents, sounds, landscapes, and textures. It speaks to movement and physical phenomena, to disconnection and union. Perhaps to the cyclical nature of life itself. Faiz wrote the poem while in prison, from a place of sensory deprivation and seclusion, and therefore all the physical world’s vividness and intensity are contained in his words. The poem demands more coloring in, more relief than words on a page.

[…] For me personally, as someone who is permanently déracinée, who lives in between homes and languages, and feels a particular ache for Pakistan, Faiz’s words of love and wistfulness set off untold emotions. I tried to read Dasht-e-Tanhai in Urdu at the Spirit Room, in Rochester, New York, in 2018. I could see my parents and husband in the audience. The import of releasing Urdu poetry into a wintry space, a world away from the fragrant jasmine Faiz describes, overwhelmed me. This recording is a way to be able to say all the words, finally.”

Photo by Rabah al-Shammary

opening of ‘uncommon threads’

at the opening of ‘uncommon threads’ at huntington arts council today with my mom and dad. so lovely to connect with the art community on long island, where i’ve felt very welcome so far. and what a treat that my dad got to see this tribute to his mom as part of an exhibition in huntington, ny (my mixed media piece is at the center) <3

#uncommonthreads #juriedexhibition #huntington #longislandartists #longislandartistscommunity #longislandartgallery #opening #maraahmed

Colonial Extractivism and Epistemic Geologies in the Congo

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.

Read The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali

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.”

Photograph by David Maine

#mcnallyjackson #seaportdistrictnyc #themiraculoustruehistoryofnomiali #uzmaaslamkhan #colonialhistory #alternativeknowing #decolonialhistory #exile #imprisonment #penalcolony #beautyofresilience #poweroflanguage

dinner last night

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.

#themiraculoustruehistoryofnomiali #uzmaaslamkhan #mcnallyjackson #seaportdistrictnyc #decolonialhistory #decolonialhealing

book discussion at mcnally jackson seaport in nyc

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!

Interview with Director Mara Ahmed about A Thin Wall – A Documentary about the Partition of India

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).