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Brown Bodies in an Open Landscape are Often Migrating, 2024, (excerpt)

Brown Bodies in an Open Landscape are Often Migrating, 2024, (excerpt)

Three-channel video, color, 5.1 sound, 25 minutes. Commissioned and produced by Fondazione In Between Art Film, with additional support from the Mondriaan Fund for the exhibition Nebula at Complesso dell’Ospedaletto, Venice. Through the prism of cinema, the work traces the dangerous journeys of undocumented migrants across vast lands, exploring distance as a condition of diasporic lives just as it is a position intrinsic to the act of filming. The artist invited a crew from the cinema industry of his native Lahore—also known as Lollywood—to script and direct a series of sequences, the narrative of which would be loosely based on videos found online. Recorded by migrants as they travel from South Asia to Europe, such videos give insight into the harshness of their peregrinations––which often last for years and sometimes do not reach the intended destination––as well as offering practical pieces of advice to those who have yet to depart. The artist edited the remade footage into poetic sequences where, however, only the conditions of their assembly are visible. Screenshots of the original videos appear occasionally on the script sheets, while excerpts are played on the crew members’ phones. Rather than attempting to represent the migrants’ experiences, the artist evokes them through the exhaustion of the crew under the scorching sun, the difficulties faced by the cameramen in locating the actors lost in the barren landscape, and the exaggerated gestures of the directors as they coordinate the filming from afar. Entirely created in a recording studio, the soundscape amplifies the divergence between what we see and what we hear, between the near and the far. It is an integral part of an investigation that looks for moments of truth in the mise-en-scène, for facts within fiction. The work considers the landscape thematically, as a physical and existential space through which to navigate in search of salvation, while underlining the distance between the image as testimony and the image as product, between those who experience dislocation and those who are spectators to it.
A Feast of Sacrifice, 2022. (excerpt)

A Feast of Sacrifice, 2022. (excerpt)

Every year, Muslims around the world celebrate one of their two annual holy festivals – the Eid-al-Adha, or “Feast of Sacrifice” – on the tenth day of the twelfth month of the Arab lunar calendar. It honors the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to Allah's command. However, before Ibrahim could sacrifice his own son, Allah provided him with a lamb to kill because of his willingness to sacrifice his son in the name of Allah. In commemoration of this absolute devotion, millions of animals have been ritually sacrificed to date. Meat from the sacrificed animals is considered intended for communal consumption, and some two-thirds of it is distributed among relatives, neighbors, and the poor. This is done despite the substantial costs that average households bear in buying and maintaining sacrificial animals. In fact, many believe that the longer the sacrificial animal is cared for, the greater the value of its sacrifice. As a result, many people buy animals well in advance of Eid, often months in advance, and lavish them with care and attention. The artist, just a day before the due sacrifice, invited animals and their owners to observe their relationship of days and months. The artist, via a designed narrative, intends to witness a bond that embodies love, care, and affection and, at the same time, ownership, power, and consumption. That is to say, the owner loves the animal but must also exercise the power of ownership to put it to death. By the time the film was edited and shown, all the animals present in it were sacrificed, shared, and possibly fully consumed.
Sunsets, everyday, 2020. (excerpt)

Sunsets, everyday, 2020. (excerpt)

Commissioned and produced by Fondazione In Between Art Film for the project Mascarilla 19 – Codes of Domestic Violence. Sunsets, everyday is the result of an investigation that the artist undertook of the process, both physical and cinematic, involved in creating images of domestic violence. During the lockdown, some victims courageously used social media to share photos of their faces, as a way of encouraging other women to report such crimes. The marks on their bodies were the only tangible proof of the blows and pain they had suffered, and the artist took these as a point of departure for thinking about all the things that happen out of sight. Mahmood commissioned a production team in Lahore to create and film, in his absence, a repeated scene of domestic violence, based on his instructions and images of injuries that women shared. While the main crew was busy with this task, two camera operators were asked to constantly film the entire process and the elements of the set, down to the last detail. This method of working from a distance, invites a reflection on the artist’s role and authorship, turning him into a witness and observer of his own work. The process of staging violence is what generates the images on the screen, but the act itself is almost completely hidden from the viewer. We see only narrow closeups and small portions of women’s bodies. Rejecting spectacularization, the artist focuses instead on the cinematic process and the codes of its language. In this metacinema of violence, the onlookers are technicians, crewmembers, present settings and objects struggling with his exhausting work for sixteen straight hours of shooting. The camera explores the settings with a forensic gaze, and the objects that compose it are put on an equal footing with the people. Both are forced to witness to the violence enacted before them. The almost obsessive repetition of identical actions, like cleaning the floor, becomes a way of expressing the routine nature of violence. An act that is repeated with tragic continuity. Every day, as inevitable as the sunset. (text by Leonardo Bigazzi)
Good ended happily, 2018. (excerpt)

Good ended happily, 2018. (excerpt)

The artist has a growing interest in not making his own work himself. Rather, he likes to draw larger parameters within which his work may be performed by such collaborators as he may involve in the process of conceiving a work. Thus, for the present work, he had a film crew associated with Pakistan’s Lahore-based film industry, known as Lollywood, to collaborate with him. They were required to help him build a narrative for the work. In this, he assigned them the task of recreating and filming the after-images of the American Special Forces operation that resulted in the death of the infamous Al Qaeda supremo, Osama Bin Laden. The artist left the execution of the film to the imagination of his crew, allowing them space to reproduce the events as they saw fit. Whereas, the artist only observed the process of recreation that he initiated, his collaborators worked to form a narrative around the said event. Throughout making of the work, including the filming part, the cameraman, his assistant and the director of action wore collar mics as they worked to create fiction. The process of recreation soon started to form its own reality. This new reality rested between the factuality of the actual event and its fictive, and thus, imperfect reproduction; and, between the intention of the artist and its interpretation by the collaborators as they tried to resolve it into a work. This is the second collaboration of the artist with Lollywood, a Lahore-based film industry that is centered only miles away from his home. During its heyday, the film industry was amongst the largest film industries in the world, producing scores of movies every year. However, beginning around 1977, the once vibrant film industry began a dramatic collapse into creative banality, intellectual decadence and popular irrelevance. Today, it maintains a limited, almost peripheral existence in the arena of Pakistan’s socio- cultural production.
all voices are mine, 2018. (excerpt)

all voices are mine, 2018. (excerpt)

The author intends to tell a story of another. The course of re-narration takes place in someone else’s setting of temporal and physical space. What had been carried through time is to be performed again from early morning into the late evening. Participants arrive remembering the performed sequences. The camera now observes recalling of a memory and then the process of forgetting the borrowed narrative. It witnesses a recreation and records it getting subsumed into the narrative that no one keeps but the non-participating initiator. As the narrative plays out, he stays and waits to observe a reconciliation. While waiting, he recalls a song he grew up listening to which had been written by his father for a film. Both the author and his father were and remain unaware of the settings in which the song was to be placed. The film was never made. -- Beginning in the closing years of the first decade of the new millennium, a new cinema began to emerge in Pakistan, which has inspired hopes of revival of the local film industry. The present author, however, disputes the “newness” of the reviving industry, arguing instead that the idea of a revival is implicit in a return to once was. Lahore-based film industry, during its heyday was amongst the largest film industries in the world. However, beginning around 1977, the once vibrant film industry began a dramatic collapse into creative banality, intellectual decadence and popular irrelevance, marking its end. The new wave has clear differences from what once was. This new cinema wave is led, on the one hand, by a new generation of filmmakers, many of whom have been trained abroad; and on the other, by a generation of actors and technicians, most of whom began their careers on television, or have otherwise remained affiliated with the same. Yet, despite this recent influx of fresh talent, the broader industry itself remains beset by obsolete studios, equipment, cinematic techniques and, actors and extras. Even as the new cinema wave continues to blaze trails across Pakistani cinema skies, the old film industry has struggled to maintain its limited, almost peripheral, existence, with those affiliated with the Old Era now rendered redundant and without work. The author recollected the memories of actors, extras, writers, filmmakers and other associated with Old Era films. Today, many of whom live anonymously, and often carry other professions. With the collected recollections, the author has hoped to construct a narrative which explores ideas of abruptness, imperfection, resemblance, memory, and remembering and forgetting.
Monument of arrival and return, 2016. (excerpt)

Monument of arrival and return, 2016. (excerpt)

A group gathers as the other arrives. One must inform the other, it has been so ordained. Yet, the one who ordained so – the initiator – is not present. And so they wait: unsure, unmoving, still. The initiator is withdrawn from making of his own work to allow his participants to both create and witness creation. To witness creation, the participants must wait, and they must cover a distance – a distance that equals the distance between them and the initiator. And as they wait, the initiator, too waits. And as they wonder, the initiator hopes – he hopes that participants will create and shall carry creation to him. The work now begins. Participants gather in a group; lift personal belongings of the initiator to carry towards him; unsure, unmoving, still. They leave. -- Under the high arches of Lahore’s railway station, trudge about its Kullis. The Kullis were luggage-carriers and porters in England, and came to Lahore when the British brought railways to the Indian subcontinent in the 1800s. Here, the porters shed their skin, became Indian, put on red shirts which sew numbers into their bodies, and became Coolies. In the far old age of 1947’s summer, the British stopped flagging their own trains, and left the subcontinent. The Coolies, now, became Kullis. Soon, the trains stopped breathing smoke, electric wires webbed over the Kullis ̧ and their skins oranged. The author worked with the Kullis of Lahore’s railway station, whom he saw and observed while growing up in the same city. He saw the Kullis as persons who move but do not go. To make the work, author only sent the instructions. The work was made in the absence of the author, who was away waiting for the work to be made and delivered.
Practicing Procedures of Killing, 2016. (excerpt)

Practicing Procedures of Killing, 2016. (excerpt)

The author at the present time is contemplating the story of murder which goes back to a conflict between the two sons of Adam and Eve: Abel and Cain. Cain killed Abel and thus committed the first murder in the history of humankind. When Cain killed Abel, God was both the only witness and the prosecution; and was, at once, the judge and the jury. And at the time, the witness gave testimony; the prosecution prosecuted; the jury deliberated; the judge ruled; and Cain was condemned. The condemnation has reverberated through time – as has the act itself and its implications. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, once remarked: "No soul is wrongfully killed except that some of the burden falls upon the son of Adam, for he was the first to establish the practice of murder." Whereas Muhammad, in this quote, constructs attribution and, perhaps by some stretch of imagination, a chain of blame, there is need to return to the original act of murder itself, and reinterpret it to construct new meanings. “Practicing Procedures of Killing” looks at the first murder in the history to establish the possible last murder on earth and all the others in-between. For the two-channel installation, the author invited young actors to reenact the story of the first murder. Participants were given instructions in a Waiting Room, where they were videotaped as they spoke, waited, ate, rehearsed and left. In the Recording Room, the participants (two at a time) narrated the story in an improvised manner and in so doing, become a part of the story itself in reenacting it. Here, the camera only recorded the end of their performances wherein the participants, unmoving, try to hold their breath so that their death may be established. However, the author continued to observe natural behavior of the participants’ bodies with the help of the camera.
Two Eyes, Not to Blink, 2014. (excerpt)

Two Eyes, Not to Blink, 2014. (excerpt)

On July 25, 2014, I received an email telling me that Bakary Diallo was on the plane that crashed in Mali. It was just two days before my flight. I was traveling to begin my artist’s residency with Bakary at the Sacatar Institute on Itaparica Island in Bahia, Brazil. After that news, it was very tough for me to take the flight. Traveling from Lahore to Itaparica had the strongest impact on me. I was not at all thinking about the work I would be doing during my residency. I think that, for a time, art wasn’t important to me. I had questions for myself, with no answers to any of them. I work with the situations I am in – this has been one of my strategies for sustaining freshness in my work – and that situation was too strong for me to ignore. I realized that perhaps I had already begun making the work; from the time I left home. I was the first fellow to arrive at the residency house. I had three days to stay in the house alone, absorbing everything I had experienced while the staff was getting ready for the other fellows to arrive. I’ve always had this curiosity about the day I die. What would the next day look like? I try to imagine how people I know would receive the news. How would they react? Would everything else be the same? Perhaps yes. The sorrow that exists in this idea interests me - and the grief in the day, the day I will never see. This situation was a chance for me to put myself into such a state of nonbeing, to make a sort of afterlife for myself. In the process, soon the staff in the house became my actors, standing still and trying not to blink. This work is in memory of Bakary and me.
Power Between Weak, 2014. (excerpt)

Power Between Weak, 2014. (excerpt)

A lone man stares, and beyond the curtain of a moment, a group of people stare back, creating a dialogue between the single man and the group. The instant of sustained gazing and unbroken vision continues to become still, and to become true. The narrative asks whether it is the lone subject or the group of people which holds the tension in the moment. As the staring eyes, only sometimes covered in blinks, continue to stare, the moment loses itself. The people in the group take off their clothes, and dissolve into the stymied flow of the moment they are in, merging into the color of clothes that they were wearing. They, then, put their clothes back on again. What has fused, separates: the individual subject continues to stand still and listen to the birdsong that sustains its silent resonance in the background. As an artist, I like to keep shifting my position in relation to my subject. With "Power Between Weak" I wanted to establish my point of view before approaching the work, and later decided I wanted to approach from the position of “the other”. I worked with a group of people who belong Pakistan’s small Christian community, an often persecuted religious minority which comprises just 1.6 percent of the population of Pakistan, a country that has divisive cleavages along the lines of religious beliefs. My work essentially rests between my narrative and its narration by my subjects, on the one hand, and on the other, between the fictional situation of subjects’ presence in a decrepit room and the reality of my subjects as it was, and as it became in relation to the new context that was generated for them for the purpose of this work. I write my own fiction, which I base on my observation of everyday life. I use the construction of my fiction to document changes in social landscapes around me. In this respect, I take people who are not professional actors to act out roles as I set for them in my projects, my purpose being to bring people and often simple, but metaphorically meaningful,situations together, and observing their reconciliation.
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