Twenty Years Since 9/11: An Activist Filmmaker’s Take

Although I’ve written for the Socialist Worker, Mondoweiss, Counterpunch, Mason Street and other publications, I had never written for an academic journal before. The wonderful Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt changed all that when she asked me to be part of a segment she was curating for South Asian Review, for the upcoming 20th Anniversary of 9/11. The full print issue, with essays by Mohamad Junaid, Deepa Kumar, Maimuna Islam and myself, will be out in December.

Here is my piece, written from the perspective of an activist filmmaker and someone who tries to unpack Islamophobia. I so appreciate Reshmi’s curation (her excellent introduction is here) and her willingness to open up the conversation and hear from culture-makers. I enjoyed working on this short piece even though citations are a killer:) It’s almost 20 years since 9/11…

“I became an activist in the run-up to the war on Iraq. The Bush administration’s battle cry was transparently depraved and indifferent to facts or anti-war protests. Mainstream media became obsessed with Islam and Muslims even before the War on Terror hit its stride. They dispensed images and soundbites surreal in their exaggerated reincarnations, ripped from their political contexts, and glued to the air we were breathing. It became hard to read the news or negotiate a cultural milieu choked by anti-Muslim bigotry.” More here.

The Warp & Weft – Fifth Set of Stories

4 new stories from the Warp & Weft including a poem by Shadia Nilforoush, a story about ableism, isolation and risk-taking by Luticha A Doucette, a story from Belgium by Pascale Lorette, and another about the importance of touch by Roberta Schwartz Arlo Baldo. Finally, a beautiful response to the archive by Kirin Makker. Listen, read, engage with art and stories from the human family here.

Repost from Rochester Contemporary Art Center:

Head over to maraahmedstudio.com and listen to the newest stories from The Warp & Weft archive!

An Identity in Tendrils by Shadia Heenan Nilforoush
Chota Bhai, my baby brother
His skin is four shades – possibly seven – darker than mine. [Photo: Luke Seward]

Risk by Luticha Andre Doucette
In the beforetimes, I took a risk. Social isolation is not something that is new to me as a disabled person. When I think back on the course of my life, the majority of it has been spent in isolation. This isolation is due to no fault of my own, it is just a function of ableism in this country. [Photo: Erica Jae]

Coronavirus, l’épidémie à nos portes par Pascale Lorette
Coronavirus, the epidemic at our doorstep by Pascale Lorette: I should also mention those magical moments, every evening at 8 p.m., throughout Belgium, when we would meet at our windows or on our terraces to applaud healthcare workers. What beautiful sharing, what an emotion! [Artwork: Sam Sam]

It’s About The Touch by Roberta Schwartz
While sewing those masks made from delicately woven fabric as filmy as a cobweb, I felt the presence of the Jewish tailors and seamstresses who came before me in my family, and the textile workers in Hebron, who struggle to survive. [Photo: Adam Eaton]

Touch by Kirin Makker: An artistic response to the archive

The Warp & Weft is a multilingual archive of stories that seeks to capture the 2020 zeitgeist. The archive is curated by interdisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker @mara__ahmed. A set of new stories will be released each week via RoCo and Mara’s social media, during the course of ‘Last Year on Earth.’

The Warp & Weft – Fourth Set of Stories

4 new warp & weft stories today including one from gaza (palestine) by Ashwaq Auf, one from the gambia by Khadee’ja Fatty, another from toronto by way of london by Amra Jamal-Ahmad, and one about healing the collective body by Michael Boucher. finally a beautiful poetic response to the archive by Andrea Anderson Gluckman. pls read and listen.

Repost from Rochester Contemporary Art Center:

Head over to maraahmedstudio.com and listen to the newest stories from The Warp & Weft archive!

Harsher Than War by Ashwaq Abualoof
The feeling of being isolated from the outside world because we live in the cage of the Gaza Strip has become a feeling of impenetrability, as if we are immune to the spread of the coronavirus. [Photo: Soltan Khaled]

Pay It Forward by Kaddijatou Fatty
My keen interest in the performing arts, as a tool for social development in The Gambia, has motivated me to pursue training in the arts. Since 2011, I have received intensive training in acting, speech and voice production, singing, stage management and scriptwriting. I have discovered that the arts are a much more effective means of communicating with people, especially when working with children and youths.

Wistful While I Work by Amra Jamal-Ahmad
I have been a commuter for my entire working life. That’s 32 years of trains, subway trains and buses getting me to my job in the city. For 27 years that city was London, England, and now since 2016, it is Toronto, Canada.

Our Body is Trying to Heal by Mike Boucher
I have been reflecting on healing and hope in recent years, in part because my work as a social worker and counselor immerses me in this conversation on a daily basis. [Photo: Lynne Boucher]

“wadi” by andrea a. gluckman: A poetic response to the archive

Listen to/read the full stories here.

The Warp & Weft is a multilingual archive of stories that seeks to capture the 2020 zeitgeist. The archive is curated by interdisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker @maraahmed. A set of new stories will be released each week via RoCo and Mara’s social media, during the course of ‘Last Year on Earth.’

The Warp & Weft on Reclaiming the Narrative

Dear all, Reclaiming the Narrative has been kindly broadcasting some of the Warp & Weft stories as the last segment of their weekly show on WXIR (Fridays at 1pm and Saturdays at 7:30am) and on WAYO (Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays at 7pm).
All their shows are available on Soundcloud. Last Friday (March 19) they shared ‘El Lenguaje es mi Tierra, mi Identidad’ by Tania Day-Magallon, the Friday before (March 12), they aired ‘Celebrate With Me’ by Erica Bryant, and finally, on Friday, March 5, they shared ‘Black Futures Matter’ by Quajay Donnell. Thank you RTN for sending these powerful stories out in the world via multiple channels.

The Warp & Weft – Third Set of Stories

4 new warp & weft stories today including one from kashmir by Akmal Hanan, one about post world war II germany from ireland by Renate Debrun, a powerful poem by Selena Fleming, a raw, courageous story by Annette Ramos, and a beautiful dance response by Alaina Olivieri. pls listen and watch here.

Repost from Rochester Contemporary Art Center:

Today the third set of stories from the Warp & Weft archive launch! Head over to maraahmedstudio.com and listen to:

Because Every Goliath Meets Its David by Selena Fleming
I’m fresh off the boat—the one fashioned from ramparts of a journey laden with trauma, ugly-fulfilling prophecies, can’t-get-it-together tendencies and shoulders that have borne more than any one person should ever be allowed to bear.

If Mountains Were Oceans by Akmal Hanan
The world has seven continents and more than 190 countries, but destiny decreed that I was born in a landlocked country called Kashmir. [Photo: Shahnawaz Shah]

COVID Rebirth by Annette Ramos
Two years before COVID-19 spread around the world I was already facing one of the biggest challenges of my life. My creative life was in transformation.

Gertrud by Renate Debrun
In old family photographs I sometimes catch a glimpse of her: a stolid, middle-aged woman always in the background or at the margins. All that remains of her life now is in a small cardboard box in my sister’s attic: some papers, postcards, photographs, a bible. This is Gertrud. [Photo: Raymond Deane]

Empty Spaces by Alaina Olivieri: A dance response to the archive

Listen to/read the full stories at maraahmedstudio.com
The Warp & Weft is a multilingual archive of stories that seeks to capture the 2020 zeitgeist. The archive is curated by interdisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker Mara Ahmed (@mara__ahmed). A set of new stories will be released each week via RoCo and Mara’s social media, during the course of ‘Last Year on Earth.’

My art video ‘Le Mot Juste’ is here

My experimental/art video is here! Check out Le Mot Juste along with 20 other works of art! I created this piece out of footage shot by Rajesh Barnabas and a dance performance by Mariko Yamada and Cloria Sutton <3

Enter the Diasporic Rhizome to experience the works of 21 artists who are reexamining our histories, commenting on current social issues, and dreaming of new realities. The collective works in this virtual exhibition use innovation and imagination as change agents where the digital space becomes the apparatus for community building, challenging the world around us to transform and address our growing needs.

The 21 participating artists in Diasporic Rhizome were selected from an open call by the following jury: Faisal Anwar, Ambika Trasi, Brendan Fernandes. (Ambika Trasi curated the Salman Toor exhibition that I loved at the Whitney Museum)

Diasporic Rhizome is produced by South Asia Institute.

The Warp & Weft – Second Set of Stories

4 more stories today, including one in Spanish, and a 3-part artistic response by Andrea Vazquez-Aguirre Kaufmann! Stories by Tania Day-Magallon, Erica Bryant, Darien Lamen and Charlotte Clarke. Listen here and pls ‘refresh’ if it takes time to load.


El Lenguaje es mi Tierra, mi Identidad por Tania Day-Magallon
Language is my Land, my Identity by Tania Day-Magallon: Language is my land, my home, my mother; and these three elements are feminine in Spanish. When you strip me of my language, it takes away my form of expression. A part of me and my Divine Feminine is left bone-dry. My identity is not only changed – I migrate out of myself and end up farther away from home, which is already physically distant, on the other side of the wall.

Celebrate With Me by Erica Bryant
I have one photograph of my great grandfather, Roscoe Foster. He is sitting in a rocking chair, on the porch of his home in Columbia, Mississippi, with a black dog. Family says that when the Ku Klux Klan was riding near, he would sit on that porch with a shotgun.

Time Travelers by Charlotte Clarke
Time. It is stamped upon our birth certificate upon arrival and upon our death certificate at departure. It is also the container for everything in between.

A Cover Story by Darien Lamen
Sometimes I feel like a ghost, haunting the ruins of respectable society. My name is Darien Lamen, PhD. But Lamen isn’t my real name – it’s a cover story.

A Three-Part Response to the Archive by Andrea Vazquez-Aguirre Kaufmann: A dance and video response

The Warp & Weft is a multilingual archive of stories that seeks to capture the 2020 zeitgeist. The archive is curated by interdisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker Mara Ahmed. A set of new stories will be released each week via RoCo and Mara’s social media, during the course of ‘Last Year on Earth.’

The Warp & Weft – First Set of Stories

The wait is over! The Warp & Weft is coming to life! Here are the first 4 stories and a musical response. Pls listen here.


My Story by Lauren Jimerson
I have a story for you and, I am sorry to say, it is not a happy one. My son and I completed work for a BIPOC art show, at a local gallery. I submitted a self-portrait that depicts a human alien. It’s a visual representation of the alienation I experience being out in the world.

My Love Affair with Food by Debora McDell-Hernandez
My relationship with food is a story of a quest for culinary euphoria, but there are many chapters in this story such as family traditions, friendships, travel, love, grief, comfort, and survival.

Black Futures Matter by Quajay Donnell
Growing up, I don’t recall sitting down with my mother and stepfather talking about the birds and bees, but I do remember the other talk. The one about how to respond and act when dealing with the police. That talk is one of survival if you find yourself face-to-face with the law. I remember it vividly.

Moja djeca, gdje duša na?e mi smiraj – Alma Omerhodzic
My Children: Where My Soul Finds Peace by Alma Omerhodzic: It always starts this way. Suddenly, without warning, and right in the deepest core of my being. Sometimes it is a smell, sometimes a taste, and other times, I am not even sure why, but a word will hit me in the depths of my soul, depths that I didn’t know existed.

Lost Property by Sarah Gillespie: A musical response to the archive

The Warp & Weft is a multilingual archive of stories that seeks to capture the 2020 zeitgeist. The archive is curated by interdisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker Mara Ahmed (@mara__ahmed). A set of new stories will be released each week via RoCo and Mara’s social media, during the course of ‘Last Year on Earth.’

Decolonizing Art for Art’s Sake – The Markaz Review

My piece about decolonizing art for art’s sake in The Markaz Review today! It looks at Rameau’s opéra-ballet, ‘Les Indes Gallantes,’ and compares a stunning production choreographed by Bintou Dembélé (she uses street dance to subvert the colonialist ideology of the opéra) with two underwhelming mainstream white performances that somehow made it to prestigious stages. It’s a look at racism in the arts and how it leads to the recycling of sub-par work. To more art and narratives by people of color. Read here.

dance and collab/community

on friday i taught a combined ‘dance performance and collaboration’ & ‘dance and community’ class at nazareth college where my dear friend Mariko Yamada invited me to share work on my new film The Injured Body: A Film about Racism in America.

most of the students were dance students so at the end of my presentation, i shared the video portion of a multimedia piece mariko and i presented at the fringe festival in 2017. it’s a fusion of text, sound effects, film clips, music and dance that convey the oppressive impact of racism on the human body. i asked the students to reflect on the piece and come up with a movement phrase inspired by what they experienced.

as always, they blew me away. one student talked about the entwining of blackness and queerness, and created a powerful dance accompanied by words recorded in 20 min. amazing. students talked about the abruptness of the fringe piece in which breathing accelerates and climaxes as loud sounds are mixed with hectic footage. they compared it to a panic attack.

they described micro aggressions as a ‘cycle’ one is stuck in against one’s will and a ‘pill’ one is forced to swallow every day. students talked about BIPOCs being watched relentlessly and the self-consciousness and stress that comes from that policing. they incorporated the ‘hands up’ movement in their dance, to mirror gestures used by protestors.

one student talked about the effects of holding in too much, not being able to breathe freely, and how that can lead to mental health issues and medical problems. we talked about the heaviness of racist micro aggressions and how a just vision for the future can give us hope.

and so do bright young people <3

editing a film trailer

editing a feature length documentary again, after 6 years! finished working on ‘a thin wall’ in 2015. getting the hang of premiere pro (still learning) thx to Rajesh Barnabas and creating a beautiful, exceptionally long trailer (can’t fit all this richness in 2 min). so grateful for this work and the people it highlights, in this case more than 20 women of color, thru interviews and dance. it’s always hard to get started (transcription, getting all the materials aligned, technical obstacles, the sheer magnitude of the task) but once i do, i can’t stop. art-making elevates everything. it gives one hope <3

[Ayni Ali photographed for ‘the injured body’ by Arleen Thaler]