Amos Oz, Israel’s most beloved writer and intellectual, was here in Rochester a few weeks ago. He gave a lecture on “Zionism: Conflicting Dreams” at the University of Rochester which provoked many thoughts and emotions in me. I wrote about it. It was published by Mondoweiss today. More here.
finally saw “the florida project” which manages to talk about important issues like poverty and housing, but is shot in lush colors and seen through the joyful eyes of kids over a high-spirited summer.
spent the day at the #albrightknoxartgallery in #buffalo to see this:
Focusing on the #work of #black #women #artists, We Wanted a #Revolution: Black #Radical Women, 1965–85 examines the #political, #social, #cultural, and #aesthetic priorities of women of #color from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. It is the first #exhibition to highlight the voices and experiences of women of color—distinct from the primarily white, middle-class mainstream #feminist #movement in order to reorient conversations around #race, #feminism, political #action, #art #production, and art #history in this significant historical period.
May 8th: Loved the first film screened at MAG as part of The Reel Mind Film Series 2018 – “Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405” is a documentary about Mindy Alper, who suffers from severe depression and anxiety, and her stunning artwork. And what a treat to walk by Sarah C. Rutherford’s beautiful mural celebrating outstanding Rochester women on our way to the auditorium 🙂
The day started with a visit to Amra’s niece and her brand new daughter, who is absolutely gorgeous mashallah. Had a lovely brunch at Figo Toronto (baked eggs and ricotta pancakes), then off to Kensington Market where we spent most of the day. Kensington is an amazing old Toronto neighborhood full of small Victorian houses built in the 1880s for Irish and Scottish laborers. Immigrants from all over the world have passed thru or continue to live here, from Eastern European Jews, to immigrants from the Caribbean, East Asia, Central America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran, Vietnam, and Chile. Not only is Kensington Market famous for its vibrant diversity, mix of foods, and art scene but it’s also home to Trotskyites and radical politics. We walked around the neighborhood, visited old book stores and a silver jewelry shop, had some strawberry rhubarb pie at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, and then sat around waiting for live music at Poetry Jazz Cafe. Although the decor is cool, their website was dramatically off (it said the cafe would open at 430pm when it actually opened at 7pm and the music started at 10). One would have thought that they’d be rather chill for being so badly organized, but we found the establishment to be aggressively money-grubbing. Music was ok, but at the end of the day, Miles Davis posters are not enough. Jazz comes with a certain history and culture. There’s nothing free-spirited or ground-breaking about shoving customers from place to place in order to squeeze in more people (a bouncer-type loud character from London was assigned that job), whilst collecting a cover charge and hard selling drinks. Oy vey. Had some vegetarian empanadas for dinner and then back to the hotel.
Today Damien-Adia Marassa and I went to the Visual Studies Workshop to see “an installation and screening of Go-Rilla Means War by artist and writer Crystal Z Campbell. Featuring 35mm footage salvaged from a now demolished black civil rights theater in Brooklyn, New York, Go-Rilla Means War is an experimental short that merges fact and fiction. The film is a relic of gentrification, and highlights the complex intersections of development, cultural preservation, and erasure in the form of an intricately woven parable and celluloid frames weathered by decades of urban neglect.” It’s on until tomorrow. Check it out.
Beautiful commentary/thread about A Thin Wall by the brilliant Aarti Kohli whom i had the pleasure of meeting at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center where she moderated the post-screening discussion about #colonial #partitions, #borders and #nationalism. Aarti is the Executive Director of Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.
Sophie Chamas: In Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report, Saba Mahmood argues that by solidifying religious divisions and emphasizing differences, modern secularism itself has heightened tensions in countries like Egypt. The modern state and the secular political rationality that animates it, she argues, has paradoxically made religion a more, rather than less, significant part of the lives and subjectivities of those who belong to both minority and majority communities.
In Mahmood’s view, while political secularism extricates religion from politics and relegates it to the private sphere, it positions religion as an essential aspect of individual and collective identity, thereby emphasizing rather than de-emphasizing religion, increasing rather than decreasing its importance. As it promises to free the state from religion and religion from the state, secularism, by defining and limiting religion’s appropriate place in society as private, personal belief, restricts and polices the practice of religion. Secularism thus reserves itself the right to adjudicate on what constitutes an integral aspect of a “belief system” and is therefore entitled to protection under the state’s commitment to religious freedom and equality.
[…] Religious Difference in a Secular Age persuasively highlights the ways in which the modern secular state cultivates religious difference, reinscribes religious inequality, and prioritizes majoritarian values and sensibilities over those of its minorities while claiming to be a neutral arbiter between communities. The author acknowledges that secularism is not something that can be done away with, any more than modernity can be. Though Mahmood declines or fails to envision an alternative, she argues that depriving secularism of its “innocence and neutrality” can help craft a different future. More here.
Una mujer fantástica – best film of the year. by far. with the alluring city of santiago as backdrop. such beautiful restraint, such poetry in Daniela Vega’s gorgeous performance. i felt the same thrill at experiencing an alternative (non-hollywood) aesthetic and narrative world as when i saw Moonlight. eloquent filmmaking. what filmmaking should be.
Samah Selim: The book is thus both an anthropology of the women’s mosque movement in Cairo in the mid-nineties and an elaborate philosophical critique of secular concepts of agency in a post-9/11 arena where “Islam” is increasingly manufactured by liberal western elites as the antithesis of “reason,” “enlightenment,” and human emancipation, and where “feminist politics runs the danger of being reduced to a rhetorical display of the placard of Islam’s abuses.” The ethnography is framed by a major political statement about the role of academic research in the world at large, and the meaning of resistance to regimes of oppression.
Saba Mahmood’s startling answer to the feminist dilemma raised by the mosque movement is to sever the idea of women’s agency from “resistance to relations of domination, and the concomitant naturalization of freedom as a social ideal,” or more broadly speaking, from “the goals of progressive politics.” (In other words, there is no inherent reason why women must resist their oppression, since agency can be fully articulated in an embodied ethical practice that transcends western liberal distinctions of public and private). She does this by proposing the practice of da’wa in women’s circles in Cairo as an example of “lifeworlds” that altogether escape the antinomies of liberal thought, including feminist ones. More here.
saw “loving vincent” – what an experience to penetrate van gogh’s arresting work and meet many of the characters he knew and painted. i read irving stone’s “lust for life” when i was quite young and was captivated by the life, art and person of vincent van gogh. i was particularly taken by his guilelessness and generosity and the love between him and his brother theo. my dad bought us an art book full of well-known western art and i pored over that book for hours, focusing on van gogh’s work in particular, and wanting to be absorbed into the dazzling, dizzying magic he created – something raw, something true. it’s unbelievable that every frame in the film is painted by hand. it’s also interesting that the story is not so much about the excessively dramatic and emotional ups and downs in van gogh’s life (lavish material for any film) but rather it’s a detective story about the circumstances of his death. the film ends with a cover of don mclean’s song, which i discovered much later in college while still in love with van gogh’s art, and a notebook full of paintings, sketches and actual photographs of the people we meet in the film, such as père tanguy and dr gachet. what a treat for an addict like myself.
my eye is still healing but what a fun trip to nyc over the weekend. got to see my son and together, all 4 of us, saw sylvia khoury’s “against the hillside,” an excellent play partly based in waziristan, pakistan, which is the primary location for US drone strikes. the reason we went to see the play was simple: rajesh bose, whose performance in the last scene was unforgettable. will write more about the play which i’m still thinking about. ate great salmon at the smith midtown, where we returned the next day at midnight for some sticky toffee pudding. on sunday we had breakfast at john’s coffee shop and left for NJ to see my brother and his family. got to attend my nephews’ first gig with their brand new band at dingbatz. unbelievable energy. back home close to midnight but what a jam-packed weekend!
Was feeling down last night so my daughter took me to see “Black Panther”. 11pm show. 3D. I’m not into super hero movies but the celebration of African cultures, the use of words like colonial theft, systemic oppression, struggle for justice, etc, a beautiful almost exclusively Black cast packed with kick-ass women, the sound of isiXhosa (one of South Africa’s 11 official languages), kente cloth as magnetic shield, the highlighting of Black ingenuity and Africa’s rich land and resources, all of this was a treat. Don’t miss it.
Spent two of the funniest, most intelligent hours at Strong Auditorium tonight: Hasan Minhaj is in Rochester, New York! My daughter got to ask him a question and talk to him. Best moment of her life so far, she says. I guess it’s true – brown culture is popping!
Beautiful commentary and analysis by Rashna Batliwala Singh who saw A Thin Wall at Colorado College:
Most films about the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent are dramatic and inevitably show the horrific violence that ensued. In Deepa Mehta’s feature film, “Earth,” a little girl asks her mother “Can you break a country?” and demonstrates what that may look like by flinging down a china plate and breaking it into pieces. The answer to her question is yes, yes you can break a country if you are the colonial power. You can send an aristocrat with little knowledge and no experience of the subcontinent to do so, using but a map, census data, and the flow of a river.
Although the partitioning was conducted on the basis of religion, Cyril John Radcliffe, 1st Viscount Radcliffe GBE, PC, QC, FBA, was able to make arbitrary decisions and award a Muslim majority sector to India and a Hindu majority sector to Pakistan. His decision would be irrevocable and would decide the fate of millions: the one million who perished and the at least twenty million who were displaced in both Bengal and Punjab. This was the largest forced migration in human history. At the age of 48, Sir Cyril was sent to New Delhi in the monsoon season of 1947, barely 37 days before India would be partitioned into two independent nations. Apparently, he was soon struck by Delhi belly, which could hardly have facilitated judicious decisions. He was appointed Chairman of the Boundary Commission whose sole job was to submit a report that would contain “the partition map.” Now that’s imperial arrogance. [See https://enblog.mukto-mona.com/author/jaffor/ for further information.]
Pakistani American filmmaker Mara Ahmed’s documentary, “A Thin Wall,” produced in collaboration with an Indian filmmaker, Surbhi Dewan, was shot on both sides of Sir Cyril’s border line. What the imperial powers shattered, the film attempts to restore and recuperate through the power of personal memory. Clearly, the subcontinent can never be whole again and, in fact, seems to be fragmenting further and further. But in this film reconciliation becomes possible through the simple force of good faith. None of this is sentimental or simply nostalgic. There are so many stories about Pakistani taxi drivers refusing fares for Indians who return to visit their ancestral homes in Pakistan, and Pakistani children who come to India for medical treatment overwhelmed with cards and toys. The film is a poem to the power of people, not people as a mass, but person to person, in the creation of goodwill and resolution of conflict.
The stories that the people in the film tell are, intentionally, family stories, and family stories are what we grew up hearing. Urvashi Butalia’s ground breaking book “The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India” uses testimonio, a powerful and potent mode for recording history. Ahmed’s film, which she screened on the Colorado College campus on Tuesday, January 30, 2018, uses the oral history rendered by family members. As someone who belongs to the first generation of Indians born after independence, Ahmed’s family members, and Dewan’s, sounded familiar to me. They could have been my relatives and family friends. My Aunty Sulochana came from a Tamil Brahmin family that was domiciled in Lahore, and all her stories were about the unrivalled culture of Lahore. Her cultural sensibility had much more to do with Lahore Muslim than Tamil Brahmin. Other “aunts” and “uncles” (in the subcontinent all your parents’ friends are aunts and uncles) told us stories of the homes they left behind in West Punjab and East Bengal.
As a Parsi family domiciled in Madras (now Chennai) at the time, Partition did not affect my parents directly. Parsis mostly stayed put and were not seen as oppositional or threatening to any group. But Partition touched my extended family. My father’s sister (now deceased) remained in Karachi, and I never once met her, although I knew my father’s other siblings, all seven of my paternal aunts and uncles, very well. My Karachi aunt’s son visited us once as a young man, but I have never seen her daughter, my other first cousin, Farida, who still resides in Karachi. I want to visit, but getting a visa for Pakistan for an Indian citizen will be a huge hassle. My mother was planning to visit my aunt in 1961, and consult a famous gynaecologist in Bombay on the way to Karachi about some symptoms she was experiencing. But the 1961 war between India and China broke out, and India and Pakistan closed their borders, forcing her to cancel her trip. My beloved mother died of ovarian cancer in 1963. At the time we were living near Calcutta, and it was never properly diagnosed by the gynaecologist she consulted there instead. What would have happened if she had consulted the famous gynaecologist in Bombay? War has a way of intervening in people’s lives.
I thought about all this while watching “A Thin Wall,” because by using poetry, narrative and artwork this lyrical film, by its very modality, demonstrates the power of non-violent means. So much animosity has arisen between these two nations that were once one, so much hostility, so many trolls on both sides conducting wars in cyberspace. These are mostly younger people. Ahmed’s film reminds us that the very generation that suffered the most because of Partition can yet talk about their pasts with love and longing.