opening of the warp & weft [face to face] at roco

the opening of the warp & weft [ face to face ] at @roco137 was all about community. and the rochester community did not disappoint. so many people i love gathered in one space to listen to and connect with an archive of stories in all its splendid human diversity. thank u rochester <3 more pictures on instagram @mara__ahmed

#warpweft #warpweftf2f #thewarpweft #archiveofstories #audioarchive #storytelling #oralstorytelling #multilingualarchive #community #artandcommunity #rochestercontemporaryartcenter #rochesterny #artandactivism #wearethearchive

my review: winter sleep

i watched a wonderful film last night: ‘winter sleep’ by nuri bilge ceylan, one of my favorite directors. it’s 3 hours long but one doesn’t get bored for a second. there are so many unforgettable scenes with uncontrived yet constantly engaging talk, their intimacy and small, fleshed-out details contrasted with the vastness and breathtaking beauty of snow-covered cappadocia, a region where houses are carved into rock.

the cinematography is gorgeous, as always (watch ‘once upon a time in anatolia’), the acting seamless. as justin chang said in his excellent review: ‘the supreme visual achievement of “winter sleep” may well be the beauty it finds in the crags and contours of its actors’ marvelously expressive faces.’

ceylan is a genius. the subtlety with which he paints places and people, the way he lights a room, the easy exchange between characters where the difference in their social status or the years of conflict and bitterness between them begin to surface ever so gently.

he co-wrote the script with his wife ebru ceylan. it’s a character study inspired by chekhov’s short story, “the wife’” and one of the subplots in dostoyevsky’s “the brothers karamazov”. justin chang: ‘what’s remarkable is the manner in which the script steers away from run-of-the-mill plot mechanics in favor of a more revealing and no less absorbing immersion in the conversations — long, glorious, generously overflowing, superbly sculpted and acted conversations’.

and then there’s schubert’s piano sonata no. 20, the only music played in the film, just a few times. perfection. it fills one with muted sadness and seemed to connect back to something. so i researched. one of the reviews mentioned it was a nod to bresson’s ‘au hasard balthazar,’ one of the saddest and most beautiful films i’ve ever seen.

a masterclass in filmmaking.

From Lost or Found

‘I have been lucky so far. I have not lost anyone in my immediate family, although I have lost most of my aunts and uncles – my parents’ siblings. Living in the U.S., away from extended family, it is difficult to mourn loved ones back in Pakistan and make such losses real. It’s like being in a state of suspension – unmoored and unsubstantial. Like you, I have lost cities, continents, friends, homes, communities, and languages. Always there is this ache in one’s heart. A sorrowful mourning.
Recently, I lost Rochester, New York, a city I knew and loved for 18 years. A city where my kids grew up and where I became an activist filmmaker.’

From Lost or Found, my collab with art historian Claudia Pretelin, published in Mason Street Literary Magazine.

#masonstreet #literarymagazine #lostorfound #conversation #exchange #art #memory #places #languages #becoming #home #migration #mexico #pakistan #belgium #unitedstates #photographs #photography #images #collage #literature #culture #instrumentsofmemory #claudiapretelin #maraahmed

wedding in west hartford

beautiful wedding in west hartford, connecticut! congratulations fizza and rizwan – u make a lovely couple mashallah. so wonderful to spend time with family. am wearing my mother’s vintage sari, chiffon from paris, 1970s

#wedding #familywedding #familygettogether #pakistaniwedding #shadimubarak #westhartford #connecticut #mubarikho #vintagesari #frenchchiffon #1970s

Lost or Found

So proud of this beautiful conversation and exchange of memories, places, languages and photographs between myself and my dearest friend Claudia Pretelin (an accomplished art historian). Thank you to Kathleen Kern for her editing support and to Celeste Schantz for publishing this gorgeous issue. Always an honor to work with brilliant women <3

From Lost or Found, in Mason Street Literary Magazine:

‘The following is a portion of the correspondence between Mara Ahmed and Claudia Pretelin. Ahmed is an interdisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker based on Long Island, New York. Claudia is an art historian, independent researcher, and arts administrator based in Los Angeles, California. The two women collaborated on several projects, starting with Current Seen, Rochester’s biennial for contemporary art. In 2020, Claudia interviewed Ahmed for Instruments of Memory, a site she curates and which documents conversations with women in the arts. As a response, Ahmed decided to interview Pretelin about her work, but in the form of a dialogue about art, memory, language, and becoming. They hope to continue this conversation over the years and capture the continuing shifts in their lives and work. Their correspondence is a collage of text, images, and references both literary and cultural. It is intimate and global, straddling distances between Mexico, Pakistan, Belgium and the US.‘

War Hurts Everyone

This is happening today with a list of brilliant speakers headed by Olena Prokopovych. At 5:00 PM, Federal Building in Rochester. Pls join us!

From our Press Release:

This rally will bring together frontline organizers, activists, and community members to highlight Rochester’s solidarity with Ukraine. Horrified by the atrocities perpetuated against the people of Ukraine and the discrimination and violence inflicted on African, Asian, and Caribbean students and citizens attempting to flee the war, activists will recognize that the struggle against war, militarism, and racism, transcends national boundaries be it in Ukraine, the United States, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, or Palestine.

Their inspiration will be drawn from movements advocating for a more just and equitable world, including the thousands of anti-war activists in Russia and Ukraine calling for an end to state-sponsored violence, the movements advocating for Black Liberation here in the US and around the world, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine.

As the voices of those who have been directly affected by war, militarism, and racism must continue to be centered, a diverse group of speakers will share their experiences about how both war and resistance to invasion and occupation are presented through a racist lens. Western media and politicians have described Ukrainian refugees as intelligent, car-owning Europeans, distinguishing them from “migrants” from the Global South who are seen as a threat to European safety. This contrast in terminology plays out in real life when people of color are allowed to drown rather than reach fortress Europe.

Activists will locate the war on Ukraine within the broader context of imperial interventions, military adventurism, and the lucrative business of war. They will seek to draw attention to the defense industry raking in obscene profits by manufacturing weapons. In short, this rally aims to deepen the scope of discussions about what’s happening in Ukraine. Rather than a disconnected narrative that fails to make connections between global power structures and their violence on some of the most vulnerable people in the world, this rally will endeavor to model a cohesive and inclusive position that’s both explicitly anti-war and anti-racism.

For questions, pls contact Pamela Kim, Elora Kang, or myself.

in rochester for art exhibition opening

what a fabulous day! art and life talk with two brilliant artist friends with whom i had coffee and then iranian food, long convos about arabic and urdu poetry and iraqi mannasama (“manna from heaven”) with a family i love, some spicy vegetable soup and a tour of her new home with another dear friend, and finally late night catching up over hot chocolate with two beautiful women i love and admire. heaven <3

i was in rochester from march 30-april 2nd. more pictures and details on instagram @mara__ahmed

stop wars everywhere

it’s hard to be a person of color, someone whose identity’s foundational stone was set in the non-western world and engage with media, history, or culture produced by the west. one is constantly negotiating a minefield. with all its politico-historical analysis and feeling, the russian invasion of ukraine is not a global south problem. it does not, for the most part, involve people of color. yet western commentators, media and politicians found ways of dragging in the other and raising their glass to racism.

first the bulgarian PM said something like: ‘these are not the refugees we are used to. they are european, intelligent, educated people, some are IT programmers…this is not the usual refugee wave of people with an unknown past. no european country is afraid of them.’

in the british telegraph, daniel hannan wrote emotionally: ‘they seem so like us. that is what makes it so shocking. war is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. it can happen to anyone.’

on france’s BFM TV, a commentator pontificated: ‘we’re not talking here about syrians fleeing the bombing of the syrian regime backed by putin, we’re talking about europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.’

and on america’s CBS news a world-weary guy declared: ‘this is not a place like iraq or afghanistan…’ he was generous enough to call ukrainian cities ‘relatively civilized’ and ‘relatively european,’ confessing how he had to choose those words carefully.

to hell with these people and their parochial, racist worldview. posting this graphic to remind everyone that folx are the same everywhere, war is always repugnant, and some of the most grotesque violence in the world is funded and wielded by the ‘civilized’ west.

stop wars everywhere. and let people move freely and safely.

#waronukraine #russianwar #ukraine #russia #warsucks #stopwars #syria #iraq #afghanistan #refugeesarehumanbeings #europeanracism #europeanexceptionalism #westernmedia #europeanpolitics #racistinfrastructure #racisthistory

my review: the tragedy of macbeth

joel coen’s ‘the tragedy of macbeth’ is stunning. i will take a risk and say that i love how americans do shakespeare, at least on film. there is something earthy and unpretentious, something instinctually physical and meaty in how it’s performed and collated. the mise en scene, art direction, and cinematography usually fit like a glove. i am thinking of two films in particular: julie taymor’s ‘titus’ and now this new take on macbeth.

part horror film, part psychological thriller beset with political intrigue, macbeth straddles many dimensions. it’s a topsy turvy world where ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair.’ coen creates this backdrop in black and white, with the distorted perspective, enclosed spaces and illusory beauty of an MC escher print.

the audio visual construction of the film is spot on. as isaac butler describes: ‘the circling crows. the fog out of which characters emerge. the ominous strings of carter burwell’s score. the dripping and knocking and pounding. these fragments remain, like the shards of a dream, one you’re happy to have awakened from but also long to return to, so you can discover what profundities lie within.’

the acting is top-notch throughout the film, but i want to write about denzel washington, one of the most effortless AND sophisticated, subtle AND volcanic actors in the world. he plays macbeth as an older, world-weary man such that lines like ‘it is a tale/ told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ signifying nothing’ make a lot of sense. his voice smooth and placid like velvet contrasts vividly with his descent into tyranny, madness, and then despair. a wonderfully dialed down, textured performance.

this is what i love about shakespeare in an american accent. there is an ease to it, a visceral understanding and physicality. and absolutely no need for telegraphing too much.

#thetragedyofmacbeth #thetragedyofmacbethmovie #filmreview #joelcoen #macbeth #denzelwashington #denzel #shakespeare #film

my review: south of the border, west of the sun

finished reading ‘south of the border, west of the sun’ last night, my second book by haruki murakami. i’ve also read ‘norwegian wood’ which my daughter and i agreed was uncomfortably cringy on account of the graphic, borderline pushy sex the male narrator has with women who are mentally and emotionally fragile, depressed or broken. it reads like abuse.

‘south of the border’ follows the same pattern in that the female characters are poorly drawn. they are tragic victims of hormone-driven male misadventures and blend inelegantly into background noise, or they’re mysterious sex goddesses dedicated to male pleasure in its oddest configurations (they disappear soon after the male narrator has climaxed), or they are the good girlfriends and wives who endure unimaginable pain and humiliation but remain devoted to whatever relationship the male narrator can manage.

according to katarina kio, murakami’s work is ‘incredibly gendered’:
‘The perniciousness of… women as “mediums” becomes evident in Murakami’s novels. Women in his work are often constructed as solely vessels for the self-actualisation of men. One-dimensional female characters orbit around existentially challenged male leads, experiencing relatively little character development of their own.’

murakami is not alone. sex, its depiction and language, and the power dynamics it inscribes are equally unsettling in other universally admired writers such as gabriel garcia marquez, v. s. naipaul, philip roth and michel houellebecq.

they make me feel like i’ve stepped into an outdated, highly misogynistic male fantasy. it’s alienating and unpleasant. makes me realize how grateful i am for writers like elena ferrante whose work i devoured as soon as it became known to the english-speaking world. it was like stepping into another dimension. a place were women were central and in focus, where their thoughts, desires and relationships could begin to be articulated and made real, where they were flesh and blood rather than hollow specters subservient to the quirks of male psychology and anatomy.

to women writers and an alternative literary canon.

#harukimurakami #southoftheborder #elenaferrante #alternativeliterature #womenwriters

after the snowstorm

at frank melville memorial park with ammi, to check out the aftereffects of the snowstorm. the sun is shining with abandon today and the sky this glorious, uninterrupted, intense blue. no filter. birds are making merry and lending a melodious dimension to sun and sky. life is beautiful.

#frankmelvillememorialpark #frankmelvillepark #bombogenesis #snowstorm #sunandsky #bluestsky #sunshine #snowphotography #snowinstagram

chai and methai at the beach

this evening we made some chai and got some methai from bengali sweets, in hicksville, and then went and watched the sunset at west meadow beach, right next to our house. a delicious mix of cold wind, hot tea, and radiant sky and water. sister, ammi, abbu, and the husband – what could be better?

#chaiislove #methai #bengalisweets #hicksville #sunsets #sunsetsofinstagram #sunsetphotography #sunsetlover #coldwind #hotchai #sweetmethai #westmeadowbeach #setauket #setauketny #familyiseverything

happy birthday saba

happy birthday to one of my closest friends in college. saba could always be counted on to do the right thing, right by her family and friends. everything done seamlessly and with grace. she and her family were central to my years at IBA and later when i worked in karachi. they anchored me. i have learned so much from them. happy birthday dear saba. u are one of a kind <3