delusions of the twitterati

all social media platforms are terrible (including FB, IG, whatsapp, etc) but i find twitter particularly unsettling. it’s not just the vicious back-stabbing and habitual fightiness, it’s also the unbearable snobbery. this idea that twitter is better than other social media for its 280-character repartees from the woke literati. some are better than others, but puleeezzz…

The Stranger by Albert Camus

From ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus

Illustration by Yeji Yun

-There was the same dazzling red glare. The sea gasped for air with each shallow, stifled little wave that broke on the sand. I was walking slowly toward the rocks and I could feel my forehead swelling under the sun. All that heat was pressing down on me and making it hard for me to go on. And every time I felt a blast of its hot breath strike my face, I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists in my trouser pockets, and strained every nerve in order to overcome the sun and the thick drunkenness it was spilling over me. With every blade of light that flashed off the sand, from a bleached shell or a piece of broken glass, my jaws tightened.

-But most of the time, he was just a form shimmering before my eyes in the fiery air. The sound of the waves was even lazier, more drawn out than at noon. It was the same sun, the same light still shining on the same sand as before. For two hours the day had stood still; for two hours it had been anchored in a sea of molten lead.

-All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead and, indistinctly, indistinctly, the dazzling spear flying up from the knife in front of me.

-When I was first imprisoned, the hardest thing was that my thoughts were still those of a free man. For example, I would suddenly have the urge to be on a beach and to walk down to the water. As I imagined the sound of the first waves under my feet, my body entering the water and the sense of relief it would give me, all of a sudden I would feel just how closed in I was by the walls of my cell. But that only lasted a few months. Afterwards my only thoughts were those of a prisoner.

my review: elvis

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.

#elvis #elvismovie #elvispresley #bazluhrmann #austinbutler #filmreview #maraahmed

my review: ms marvel

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.

What is beauty anyway?

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

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.”

Lorenza Böttner: Requiem for the Norm

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.

#lorenzaböttner #leslielohmanmuseum #whatisnormalanyway #alternativebeauty #quintessentialartist #forceofnature #nyc

A convo with Uzma Aslam Khan at McNally Jackson Seaport

I am honored to engage in conversation with the brilliant Uzma Aslam Khan about her new book, The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali, on June 28th (7pm) at McNally Jackson Seaport (4 Fulton St) in NYC.

Beautifully written and part of the important process of decolonizing history and literature, Uzma’s book brings to life revolutions that have been erased and forgotten, and exposes (oh so eloquently) the mechanics of colonial oppression. It’s a stunning book that demands a rich convo.

Pls join us for a discussion, reading and book signing in NYC. Tickets are available here. Pls invite others and share widely!

Article in Newsday about our exhibition

Article in Newsday about our exhibition at Westbury Arts:
“Honoring the Past and Creating the Future”

WHEN | WHERE Through May 27, 2-6 p.m. Friday and 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Westbury Arts, 255 Schenck Ave.

Six Long Island women artists whose cultural heritages stretch across the globe share works that reference identity, immigration, history and fantasy. In her “This Heirloom” series, Brookhaven artist and filmmaker Mara Ahmed creates layered images full of texture, color and memories – some remembered, some imagined.
“Art,” she stated, “allows us to imagine alternative futures”

More here.

#asianamericanpacificislander #asianamericanpacificislanderheritagemonth #artexhibition #openingreception #westburyarts #westbury #longisland

The Reassuring Hand Gestures of Big Men, Small Men, All Men

‘Berlin-based Pakistani artist Bani Abidi’s photographic work, The Reassuring Hand Gestures of Big Men, Small Men, All Men (2021), is one that gently chips away at longstanding mythologies of male power. And like those myths, it works by endless repetition, in this case, and as the title suggests, of the hand gestures that have, for millennia, been an essential component of the performance of politics.’
Some of the individuals featured in this work: Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Ronald Reagan, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Alexander Lukashenko, Jair Bolsonaro, Tony Blair, Imran Khan, Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Joseph Stalin, Hun Sen, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-un, Idi Amin, Benjamin Netanyahu, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Omar Al-Bashir, Fidel Castro, Boris Johnson, Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein, Haile Selassie, Jorge Rafael Videla, Pervez Musharraf, Muhammad Ayub Khan, Augusto Pinochet, Than Shwe, Kim Jong-un, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Muammar Gaddafi, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, etc

seagull at the steppenwolf theatre

tuesday night (may 10th) my sister and i went to see ‘seagull’ at the steppenwolf’s new in-the-round theater. sadly, yasen peyankov’s adaptation of the chekhov classic didn’t quite work for us.

the brisk pacing, economy of language, and non-stop humor created a disconnect between some of the messed up relationships in the play (that can evoke heartbreak) and the constant, almost canned, laughter coming from the audience. to me ‘the seagull’ is not exactly seinfeld. it’s dark humor no doubt, but it’s delivered thru sarcasm and innuendo. making the dialogue clipped and direct removes some of the layers needed to make the play work as a tragicomedy.

the actors were good but they were stuck with a less than stellar adaptation. an experience nonetheless.

#seagull #theseagull #chekhov #play #steppenwolf #steppenwolftheatre #chicago #intheroundtheatre #antonchekhov #theatreisback #theatreislife

The Man Who Talked Until He Disappeared

The exhibit at MCA takes its name from Bani Abidi’s watercolor series “The Man Who Talked Until He Disappeared” which depicts writers, political leaders and bloggers from Pakistan who have been disappeared on account of their activism over the past decade. In this minimalist delicate series, we see them disappear gradually on paper with the last watercolor portraying threadbare, eyeless, bodiless specters that continue to haunt us.

#baniabidi #mca #museumofcontemporaryart #chicago #pakistan #pakistaniartist #disappearances #politicaldisappeared #politicalviolence #stateviolence #militaryviolence #thedisappeared #themanwhotalkeduntilhedisappeared

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