writing obits is easy

my feed, on all platforms, is still enriched by sinéad, the beautiful shuhada’ sadaqat. people are reminiscing and sharing personal stories, others are writing about her courageous, unflinching activism, her incomparable, transcendent voice and music, her deliberate decision not to embrace commercial success and its oppressive demands, her painful childhood and mental health struggles, but also her unique, unforgettable, otherworldly presence, her incredible generosity… i cannot help but think how this kind of validation/admiration would have meant so much to her when she was alive. a warm blanket made of countless memories, words and emotions that could have held her. perhaps it’s easier to write obits and tributes than to be there for people. it shouldn’t be that way.

photo: getty images/ringer illustration

concert in brooklyn

spent the day in brooklyn yesterday hanging out with my cousin and close friend aliya apa. dinner at one more charm thai (where the massaman curry and eggplant with basil were yummy but the cheesecake right out of the freezer) and then off to prospect park to catch a ‘BRIC celebrate brooklyn’ concert featuring pakistani music star ali sethi. the park was full of people and alive with singing and dancing. sethi’s song ‘pasoori’ was a huge hit. stayed till the end then got some cranberry juice at barbes where there was more live music. this morning, i was super excited to learn that pakistan’s hamza khan has won the world junior squash championship in melbourne, becoming the first pakistani player to win the event since jansher khan 37 years ago. amazing!!!

my review: barbie movie

saw the barbie movie by greta gerwig today. full house with joyous applause at the end. here are some thoughts. the movie is trippy but doesn’t go all the way. it’s not ‘everything everywhere all at once’ by any means. there is some pseudo feminist talk, but the film’s not committed to it. it’s hard not to see the entire enterprise as a huge marketing ploy with staggering merch opportunities. i mean barbie is still being sold, so it’s not some kind of nostalgic look at or PC reframing of the past. the film is hilarious in parts (thank u ryan gosling and kate mckinnon) but also awkwardly ennuyeux and disconnected. for example, we could have done without the mattel storyline entirely (what a waste of will ferell’s talents). enjoyed america ferrera and hope to see her more, in leading roles.

my review: cold war

cold war is based on pawel pawlikowski’s own parents and their stormy relationship. in fact, the main characters have the same names as his mother and father.

the narrative of the film is polished, airtight, condensed — scenes are whittled down to their essence. for example, much of what happens to zula and wiktor when they’re apart remains off camera and is cut out of the film.

it is a fleeting, repeatedly interrupted romance that collides against broader political agitation. the lovers have to constantly move across borders, across the iron curtain itself, to be with each other. everything feels delicate and risky, close to imploding.
although the political conflicts that push the two lovers together and then apart, are squeezed out of the frame, their presence is felt strongly. there is constant dialogue between the story and the geopolitical changes that surround it.

music too enfolds them, brings them together, separates them, and evolves over time with them.

the film’s cinematography is stunning – a shimmering black and white, the contrast so rich that the black in the footage feels like velvet. the characters seem to push against this purity.

the boxy, 4:3 aspect ratio, might be a tribute to older films and a bygone historical era, but it also produces a sense of enclosure.

the love story at the center of the film is shaped by passion, insecurity and disappointment. when both characters meet in paris, one would have thought that all their problems would be solved. but i liked how we see a different side of immigration — the difficulty of leaving home and losing a part of oneself.

we witness a more nuanced difference between communism and individualism. in paris, wiktor has to master the art of commerce, selling and branding, whereas in communist poland, it’s more about ingratiating and appeasing people in power.
in spite of the film’s tight narrative control, it is open to interpretation. although it’s rooted in ideas about art, truth, love and politics, these themes are mostly suggested. they are not clarified or resolved. it’s almost like the film is some kind of gorgeously tragic metaphor.

my review: un coeur en hiver

how to describe ‘un coeur en hiver’? it’s an elegant film about a love triangle and although it is filled with wonderful music (ravel and debussy) it is not a spectacle of swelling passions. rather it takes its cue from western classical music, unfolding within a balanced composition, with organization and sangfroid. perhaps it emulates stephane, the enigmatic character at the heart of the film, played beautifully by daniel auteuil. an instrument maker who excels at delicate, complex work, he is reticent and ambivalent. perhaps this is what attracts camille, a gifted violinist who is dating stephane’s business partner maxime. not only do they both seem to express their emotions through their work, but she also desires his professional approval.

when camille gathers the courage to articulate her feelings, stephane rejects her. he tells her about his manipulative seduction which was meant to get back at maxime. stephane’s description of his relationship with maxime is surprising. it seems to be a substanceless, symbiotic partnership that he refuses to call friendship.

stephane’s words are hard to believe. perhaps he is also lying to himself. when he visits the apartment maxime and camille plan to share together, he is visibly shaken. therefore, a cold premeditated ploy seems unlikely.

there are many ways to understand stephane’s rebuff. did camille disturb the perfect synchronization between him and maxime? was stephane wary of disturbing the equilibrium in his own life, arranged meticulously like the furniture and tools in his workshop? or does he find it impossible to make a decision? his willpower at the end of the film, when he performs a difficult but compassionate act, seems to belie such passivity or indecision.

in some interviews, the director, claude sautet, has compared stephane to iago (the famous antagonist in shakespeare’s othello). but that comparison does not ring true. stephane is hardly a psychopath. just un coeur en hiver.

all human lives are not equal

fortress europe’s racism and contempt for human life shouldn’t shock us anymore. but it does. more than 700 people – including children – might have drowned in the mediterranean sea. many pakistanis were forced below deck. cannot imagine the horror and grief of their families. all this criminal neglect and inhumanity while rescuers ‘race against time’ and ‘massive search and rescue’ missions are underway to find 5 hyper rich people checking out the titanic’s wreckage. the contrast is obscene.

my review: taste of cherry

rewatched abbas kiarostami’s ‘taste of cherry’ after many years and enjoyed it much more this time. the premise of the film is a bit absurd and persnickety, but it should be understood as a folktale rather than a precise representation of reality. i was mesmerized by the conversations between mr badii (the main character) and the passengers in his car, who all react differently to mr badii’s appeal. each character is played to perfection: the nervous young soldier, the seminarist who relies on religious texts for steadiness, and finally the older taxidermist (the film’s most richly sketched character) who radiates compassion and uses his own life along with poetry, song and humor to change mr badii’s mind. he’s the only one who accepts mr badii’s unusual (ungodly?) request.

kiarostami chooses to focus on the periphery rather than on what is at the center. the soldier is a kurd and mr badii reminds him of kurdish strength and resilience in the face of persecution. the seminarist is an afghan refugee who talks about war and dislocation. finally, the taxidermist is an azarbaijani turk. all minorities. all on the margins, not at the center of society. a subtle way to provide political context and address issues that would otherwise be censored.

the film is shot in the outskirts of tehran where there is new construction. we are constantly immersed (buried?) in the dust and noise produced by bulldozers and dump trucks. we are on the outside (where everything shifts and is unsettled), not in the innermost sanctum of the city.

kiarostami’s enthusiasm for cars is on display, much like in ‘ten,’ ‘certified copy’ and the ‘kokar trilogy.’ there is something intimate about placing the camera inside a car.

the end of the film is genius. it reminded me of cezanne — his use of thick brushstrokes and flat shapes, his reinvention of perspective, the unpainted corners and pencil outlines in his work, all make the tools of his trade visible. similarly, kiarostami reveals himself, his film crew, and the cameras, shotgun mics, boom poles, and megaphones which make filmmaking possible. it allows us to take a step back and hope for a more cheerful ending to ‘taste of cherry.’

springboard, a collage

today on world collage day, i’d like to share a collage i created for my son’s upcoming birthday. it’s a nostalgic visual memory of my son jumping into canandaigua lake many summers ago when we had a gorgeous lake house there. to me it epitomizes family fun and a time of togetherness which hopefully launched our kids in life the right way. spent all of yesterday working on it, but 8 hours of bending over it and cutting my finger while framing it, were worth it. esp since my son has always valued my artwork and used it extensively to decorate his apartment. to my beautiful son and to more active, outdoors, meaningful family time <3

mara ahmed. springboard, may 2023, print and paper collage on cardboard, 14”x10”

working with interns

i’m so excited that two stony brook students will be doing an internship with me this summer. they will help curate an art exhibition at huntington’s history & decorative arts museum which will be shown in concert with the short film ‘return to sender: women of color in colonial postcards & the politics of representation.’

the students will collaborate with me in telling the story of the exhibition and create a digital catalog. my vision is to provide more context for the film thru this exhibition but also to create and display beautiful art.

thank u to the @huntingtonhistoricalsociety and stephanie gotard in particular for being my community partner. thank u stony brook faculty for setting the internships up. and thank u huntington arts council for facilitating every facet of getting a nysca grant for this project.

Return our stuff

“I want Africanist anthropologists to write about the coronation in England in the same ethnographic language they use to write about African cultural practices.

You watch this spectacle in England celebrating one of the most vicious and genocidal empires and you wonder if there will ever be justice in this world.”
—JP@grosmorne29 on Twitter

BTW the pendant in the necklace worn by all British queens at their coronation since Victoria, was stolen from Lahore (my city of birth) along with everything else in the Lahore treasury. It’s called the Lahore diamond. An apt symbol of how most European wealth (remember the Golden Age or la Belle Epoque?) comes from looting, whether it be piracy, slavery or colonialism.

russell’s memorial service

a wonderful memorial service at the university of rochester’s interfaith chapel today, for the larger-than-life professor and human extraordinaire, russell peck. a fitting tribute with reminiscences from his children and colleagues and wonderful music and readings by his grandchildren. meant so much to me to see ruth again after many years and meet some of their family. russell’s love for literature, scholarship, innovation, performance, gardening, nature, and the outdoors, emanated from the beauty and music inside of him, everyone said. he fell in love with ruth and married her in paris, where she was studying at the sorbonne, after he saw her play rachmaninoff. what could be more beautiful. one of his students said, “he saw me.” i think that’s how i feel too. as i sat quietly in their living room waiting for my kids to finish their piano lessons with ruth, year after year, he saw me. he would discuss plays with me. he insisted i join them for their theatre in london course. he also urged me to put a book together with all of my artwork. that thought is still with me. as many said, he knew what u were meant to do, before u knew it yourself. an astounding legacy. thank u russell <3

my review: joyland

finally saw joyland, the pakistani film that has taken international festivals and audiences by storm. it’s an unflinching study of the quiet horrors of heteropatriarchy – its rigid roles and antiquated hierarchies (that revolve around ridiculous notions of masculinity), its antilife rules and strictures, claustrophobia and mendacity.

yet with its vibrant ensemble cast, snappy writing, and intimate cinematography, the film is also filled with flashes of love, hope and human connection. it shows people who are desperately lost but also the grit and audacity it takes to have sovereignty over one’s life and body.

it’s a heartbreaking reminder that all of us need to be seen. even those of us who seem to be the strongest, the most reliable and least demanding, can break delicately once they become invisible.

Hopeful Art & Artful Hope

So energizing to be part of the Artists Round Table today and talk about Hopeful Art & Artful Hope. The convo was moderated by the wonderful Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli and I learned so much about the work of amazing artists/activists like Michaela Oteri, TL Luke, Kristy Lisle, Kierston Ghaznavi, Yvette Pino, and Della Wells. From important struggles such as disability and reproductive rights, to representations of Black women in art and culture, to body types and using art to talk about politics, I felt like I was surrounded/sustained by artists using their art to challenge and enlighten.

The Women’s & Gender Studies Conference ‘Sustaining Hope: Feminisms, Freedom, and the Future’ is happening virtually for one last day tomorrow, April 15th.

It’s organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and held under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace as part of a global UN platform. It is free.

You can register here. And don’t forget to check out the artwork under ‘Artist Exhibition 2023.’

[Artwork by Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli]

nick cave at the goog

everyone has seen nick cave’s famous soundsuits, but did u know he designed his first suit out of twigs after rodney king was violently beaten by police in 1991?

he has created more than 500 suits since. they have grown alongside his practice, evolving from a form of protective layer (that covers/hides the body) to an expression of confidence and exuberance pushing the limits of visibility.

in his work, cave uses everyday, found objects and racist memorabilia. he doesn’t believe that this history should be erased. he repurposes such ‘relics’ – taking them out of circulation and giving them new meaning.

it’s difficult to look at these objects. for example, the awful spittoon at the center of ‘sea sick’ does in fact induce nausea.

his mixed media sculptures look like soft fur, but in reality the patterns are painted on short, sharp wire fragments. the designs represent a layered cartography of cataclysmic weather patterns on top of brain scans of young black people suffering from ptsd as a result of gun violence.

that’s the remarkable thing about cave’s work – his art is harsh, abrasive, and contains an incredibly violent history, but it’s also gorgeous. at first glance, his work seems simple, joyous, full of color, sparkles and flowers, but it is also unsettling, complex, disturbing.

there was a line written on one of the walls at the goog which hit me hard. it said something like:

if we can turn junk into art, what grace can we extend to people who are most devalued by society?