immersive van gogh in nyc

immersive van gogh at pier 36 felt like a touristy thing to do, but i got to see my lovely kids and have brunch with them, so what could be better? my deep connection to van gogh: i read “lust for life,” irving stone’s biography (a comprehensive tome on van gogh’s life and work but also on impressionism broadly) when i was in high school. his tragic story and gorgeous art (it pulsates with color and intensity) have been with me all my life and perhaps became a lens through which i learned to appreciate all art.

at the end of the show, we finally come face to face with van gogh’s self portraits, to the sound of handel’s saraband, and it strikes one what a hard, sometimes brutal, life he lived and how commercially profitable his art has become now. i hope that his brother’s family is getting a piece of it still, his brother theo who supported him through all the illnesses and crises.

pier 36’s “75,000 square foot waterfront space located in manhattan’s lower east side” didn’t really work for me. i prefer the intimacy of arttechouse for a truly immersive experience, but this is a great instagram opportunity.

imaginary man

shahzia sikander. miniature in mughal style: imaginary man, 1991 (vegetable color, watercolor, tea, and gold leaf on wasli paper, 11 x 8 inches). this piece made me tear up. its exquisite detail, the subdued color palette, the delicate hands and fingers, the otherworldly beauty of this serene male figure — a bearded, muslim figure and all that it has come to mean in the western imaginary, yet here it is, portrayed as something distinguished and light, frail rather than threatening, gossamer rather than immovable. i stood there for a long time, coming close to the piece and connecting with the arduous, detail-oriented work that went into creating this dazzling art. it took sikander years to complete it.

shahzia sikander: extraordinary realities

this past weekend, my sister, daughter and i went to see ‘shahzia sikander: extraordinary realities’ at the morgan library and museum in nyc. a tremendous exhibition even though it spans the first 15 years of her work only. she moved to the US the same year i did, in 1993, and i’ve been following her work since the 90s. rooted in rigorous research, filled with symbolism and iconography, unafraid to engage with the politics of empire, race and patriarchy, bent on creating a unique and personal vocabulary, sikander’s work is bold, original, and always ahead of its time. it is also beautiful – many pieces painted painstakingly over years. the details are astonishing, the overall impact of her images almost mystical (in how they simultaneously activate the mind and enchant the eyes), and the narrative intricacies of her work (with its rich subtext and references) demand attention. that she is an artist from lahore, educated at the national college of arts (NCA), who studied miniature painting under the tutelage of professor bashir ahmad, makes her all the more special to pakistanis. my daughter read every art label and took pictures of every artwork. she told me it was the best exhibition she’d ever been to. it’s moving to encounter extraordinary art. it’s sublime to recognize bits and pieces of oneself in it. i will be sharing images in several posts. as molly crabapple has said: if u are in ny, u owe it to yourself to see this exhibition.

goodbye dear david

rochester has lost David Dornford, an anti-war activist who showed up at every community discussion, rally and protest. i remember how he would always sit in the back and catch up personally at the end. he was soft-spoken, a gentle presence, yet consistently there to validate and uplift social justice work. in a world where we are taught to compete against one another to merely survive, where steve jobs and jeff bezos represent ultimate success, where selling products and selling ourselves have become a way of life, and preemptive aggression is thought to be the only way to be ‘safe,’ david exemplified an alternative ethos. kindliness, composure, sagacity and humility. however ruthless the systems we live under, the qualities david embodied will outlast all the machismo and sales spiels. they will continue to shine. rest in power dear david. thank u Anna-Kristina Pfeifer for capturing him so beautifully.

David from Visions and Voices on Vimeo.

Free Khalida Jarrar

The sudden loss of one’s 31-year old beautiful, vibrant, activist daughter is pain that’s hard to even imagine. And then not be able to see her, hold her one last time, bid her farewell. To be imprisoned by the settler colony, once again, and be at the mercy of its occupying military. Cruelty, inhumanity, violence. Words are not enough.

Najwan Berekdar: At this horrendous moment of the tragic loss of her daughter, Khalida Jarrar, Palestinian revolutionary, parliamentarian & organizer, remains imprisoned in Israeli jails denied the last chance to kiss her daughter goodbye & the comfort of her loved ones. #FreeKhalidaJarrar

khala bibi passes away

my mother’s sister, my khala rehana sarfraz malik, passed away yesterday. my mom and her four sisters were all beautiful women everyone said, each in their own way, but i always thought khala bibi was particularly charming. elegant, meticulously coiffed and dressed, with a captivating voice that reminded me so much of my own mother. many years ago, when my son was still a toddler, khala bibi spent two weeks with us in west hartford, connecticut, and we had a lovely time together. we went shopping, ate out, and talked all day. she made delicious haleem and got us mango and kulfa ice cream from the local desi store. i took her to mark twain’s house and once, when i was busy with a job interview, aitezaz took her and two of my friends from IBA who were also visiting us to gillette castle state park for a barbecue. what i remember most fondly are the late night chats we would have after everyone went to sleep. i asked her about her life, about being a young woman who lived on her own for a while (back when it wasn’t the norm), about marrying my khaloo, an older man and a widower – the love of her life. she had three step-children when she got married and then two sons of her own. she flourished. my uncle worked for the united nations and was posted to turkey for many years (in ankara, i believe) and khala bibi grew to love that life. she learned turkish and would speak to local officials in their own language. she became an outstanding hostess and a true partner in her husband’s consular work. it was a charmed life, but it didn’t last long. my uncle died unexpectedly in his sleep at a relatively young age, and my khala lived the rest of her life on her own. she was amply provided for and safe, she had her kids and later her grandkids, but she missed her gregarious, big-hearted husband and the lively, cosmopolitan life they had lived together. she was a devoted wife, mother and grandma, a strong woman who had to be stronger on account of what life threw at her, an engaging presence who could pull people into her orbit with ease. may she rest in peace, as she’s finally reunited with her beloved husband. inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.

[khala bibi with some of her siblings. she is the young woman standing on the left]

goodbye dilip kumar

dilip kumar, one of india’s greatest actors, an icon, a legend, loved by many generations of south asian women, passed away at 98. his real name was muhammed yusuf khan, born to a muslim family in peshawar in 1922, before the city became part of pakistan. my mother loved him. there was no one else like him. no one. although i was born too late to fall under dilip’s spell (i preferred sanjeev kumar, and later naseeruddin shah and farooq sheikh) i understood his appeal: the sensitivity with which he approached his craft, less machismo, more intelligence, and that mellifluous voice. he spoke like no other actor. his own cadence, his soft-spoken, almost musical way of delivering dialogue. my mother’s wildest dreams came true when dilip visited quetta at a time when my dad was posted there. my mom got to meet her idol. she couldn’t muster the courage to have a deep conversation with him but she got to shake his hand and tell him what he meant to her. perhaps i should finally watch mughal-e-azam, with dilip kumar and madhubala, a masterpiece i’ve been told many times. something to do with my mom – to think about the good old days and remember dilip fondly. inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.

a monster is dead

a monster is dead, but the death and devastation donald rumsfeld unleashed cannot be reversed. wish it could be. one vile monster for thousands, millions of lives. for the water and air that were poisoned, the soil that was contaminated, the children who were born with congenital anomalies and cancers. and let’s not forget the others: dick cheney, george w. bush, tony blair, irving kristol, richard perle, paul wolfowitz, james woolsey, elliot abrams, robert zoellick, richard armitage, john bolton, condoleeza rice, colin powell, judith miller and countless more – neocons and liars, warmongers and imperial intriguers, islamophobes and racists. may their crimes follow them wherever they go. even in hell.

couldn’t post a picture of the genocidal man so here is an artwork by iraqi photographer and artist halim al karim. it’s called ‘lost memory 4.’

the great cat ashworth retires

my friend Cat Ashworth retired yesterday, after teaching film at RIT for 32 years. that RIT didn’t have the grace to thank her for her stellar work over three long decades is appallingly egregious. it speaks to the larger issue of how work performed by women is systematically diminished and erased. how women themselves are routinely invisibilized, ignored, or minimized.

i took a class with cat many years ago. it was a hands-on documentary workshop during the course of which i edited my first doc, ‘the muslims i know’ – the film that made me a filmmaker. how lucky to have landed in cat’s class at such a crucial juncture in my life.

filmmaking was a second career for me so i was much older than the other students. i came to the class with a decisive goal in mind – to edit a feature length film in just a few weeks. there was an urgency to my task which cat understood instinctively. she supported me every way she could, even asking her assistant to teach me how to use keyframes and create motion paths in final cut pro.

not having formally studied filmmaking, i came at it from a different angle. sometimes i wouldn’t know the technical jargon or my ideas would be too unconventional or politically heavy and uncool. cat always sided with me. she never made me feel like i didn’t belong. she wasn’t annoyed by my drive. that set the tone for the way the other students responded to me. although they could be ruthless in their critique, cat made them believe i was doing something worthwhile and meaningful.

initially, i was thinking of hiring someone to do the film’s voiceover, but cat urged me to do it myself – not to hide but rather to embrace the personal nature of the project. the muslims i had interviewed were my people. islamophobia touched them just as it impacted me and my family. it was ok to own that and speak from that vulnerable position. and she was right. one of the most common reactions to the doc is the feedback i get about the voiceover – its warmth and ability to pull audiences in. only because of cat.

at the end of the class, when i screened the rough cut for RIT’s film faculty, the responses i got from some of the most prominent male professors in positions of power were disappointing. one particularly important one told me i shouldn’t use western classical music in the film because it didn’t fit all this talk about islam and muslims. i guess he was expecting some sitar and tabla. talk about orientalism. once again, cat pushed back publicly and also in private, encouraging me to stay with my ideas and in fact commit to them even more. it’s like she could predict the effect the film would have.

i’ve made two other films after it, but 15 years later, ‘the muslims i know’ continues to generate abundant viewership. it’s been integrated into college curriculums and i hear from professors who tell me how they use it in their class.

how many stories like this there must be from cat’s students and colleagues who have benefited from her generosity, attention and brilliance for 32 years. i am not even listing the outstanding work she has produced as an astute filmmaker and artist or her behind-the-scenes efforts to diversify RIT faculty.

thank u cat. we love u. enjoy ur retirement and know that u helped shape many lives and careers.

interview with mats grorud and dr. dina matar

had the honor of interviewing filmmaker mats grorud (who directed ‘the tower’) and dr. dina matar (chair of the centre for palestine studies at SOAS) for witness palestine film festival today. a brilliant conversation that we hope to share soon. went for a walk to port jefferson afterwards and got a chocolate ganache raspberry cake from la bonne boulangerie. i’m sold on long island folx. all i need now is for all my friends to move here.

our lives are not disposible

this picture broke my heart. three generations of this beautiful family, a family that looks like mine and so many other families i love, were killed violently by a white man in canada. what hatred and dehumanization have to be deployed for someone to drive their truck into human bodies, bodies made of flesh and bones just like their own. how can someone endure the sickening shock of that murderous, uneven impact? the horrible thud of it? i asked those same questions when an israeli soldier drove a bulldozer into rachel corrie’s body in 2003. she was a vibrant 24 year old, a righteous young woman protesting the demolition of palestinian homes in the gaza strip.

anti-muslim racism and palestine. the connections are unshakeable. in palestine too, the brutalization and extermination of the muslim body is systematically normalized. even the smaller, more delicate bodies of muslim children.

as this happened in canada (the land of nice people), some zionist members of the rochester community were going into overdrive, calling #freepalestine the modern-day equivalent of the swastika, going full-throttle against linda sarsour (calling her an antisemite for her anti-racism work and her palestinian american identity), organizing pro-israel rallies, and trying to derail the political careers of local leaders because they dared to speak up for the human rights of palestinians. it is surreal.

additionally, we are not allowed to talk about it. we are not allowed to talk about our own collective death. i will have to write about this in more detail. for now, i just want to send all my love and solidarity to my entire muslim community everywhere in the world. our lives are NOT disposable.

healing hike

for the first time since we moved here, a little over a year ago, we met with a group of people. went on a ‘healing hike’ with the long island progressive coalition to uplands preserve, cold spring harbor, new york. so incredibly beautiful! spent 3 hours discovering how milkweed attracts monarch butterflies, what poison ivy looks like, how the white flowered mountain laurel is difficult to move or transplant on account of its sensitivity to soil chemistry, the subtle perfume of the multiflora rose (a climbing, rambling shrub), how woodpeckers communicate with one another, how the tulip poplar (also called tulip tree) is neither tulip nor poplar but closely related to magnolia trees, and how the american chestnut is super susceptible to chestnut blight, a fungus introduced to north america in the early 1900s which reduced the great american chestnut forests to a simple sucker sprout population that rarely produces any chestnuts. v cool to meet other activists as well – especially nia adams who traveled to rochester during the daniel prude uprising and knew all the brilliant women involved with free the people rochester. it was 81 F but we spent most of our time in fragrant shaded woods so didn’t really feel the heat.