Sunsets, Everday, 2020. (Excerpt). Video.

Sunsets, Everday, 2020. (Excerpt). Video.

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 (excerpt), 2018. Video.

Good ended happily (excerpt), 2018. Video.

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 (excerpt), 2018. Video.

all voices are mine (excerpt), 2018. Video.

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 (excerpt), 2016. Video.

Monument of arrival and return (excerpt), 2016. Video.

'I am interested in exploring my position as an artist by adopting multiple roles including: an author who writes narratives; an initiator who sets in motion collisions of people and improvised scenarios to create original stories; as an observer who teleports in or out of the everyday situations he is observing to see intimately: from within and from without; and a withdrawn subject, at times, such as a disengaged onlooker on a main street. In my recent work for Contour Biennale 8, Monument of Arrival and Return (2016), I have attempted to withdraw from the direct making of the film, instead positioning myself as a dramaturge setting up a scene where the protagonists – a group of railway porters and luggage carriers (locally referred to as 'coolies' in keeping with the British colonial expression) – are invited to engage and improvise with a set of domestic objects and personal items. I remotely produced the film with a local crew in Lahore, Pakistan, who received a series of sketches and narrative instructions while remaining far away from the actual shoot, and only later received the intuitively performed footage as a 'delivery package' to carry out the editing process. My own journey as filmmaker thereby, becomes inscribed by the longer history of the movement of coolies ('Kuli') who were transported as indentured labor during the British Empire across plantations, industrial units, shipyards, and railway platforms. Today-wearing red shirts bearing sewn numbers-the porters at Lahore's railway station continue to wait for the rumbling trains to arrive, then call out and rush toward incoming travelers to transport their belongings from the stone-laid platforms to the asphalt road outside.'
Practicing Procedures of Killing (excerpt), 2016. Video Installation.

Practicing Procedures of Killing (excerpt), 2016. Video Installation.

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 (excerpt), 2014. Video.

Two Eyes, Not To Blink (excerpt), 2014. Video.

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.
A Message to the Sea (excerpt), 2012. Video.

A Message to the Sea (excerpt), 2012. Video.

In a fishermen’s settlement I stayed awhile, and I saw the horizon turned crimson red by daybreak, and sheet of the sea dyed in purple hues by evening; and I saw the fishermen haul out their boats when the sand glowed gold, and I saw the fishermen haul their boats in, as the horizon broke into a thousand glimmering mirrors reflecting sunlight. By the babble of the waves, and amidst the odd song of the seagulls, I realized how dependent the fishermen were on the sea for their livelihood, and I resolved to create a dialogue between men and the sea. It was thus that I developed the idea for “A Message to the Sea”: I strove to create the intended dialogue by sending a message back to the sea. I believe in approaching subjects directly, albeit using indirect metaphors, making my work easily accessible, and yet open to interpretation by the viewers. “A Message to the Sea”, then, has a fisherman send out a message to sea: a boat which is set off to sail into the distant horizon, until it disappears, signifying the receipt and assimilation of the message: understanding. A boat is the channel through which a fisherman interacts with the sea, which is a source of livelihood for him, which, in turn, sustains his life. I pose questions of belonging and dependence upon the surroundings to explore the connection between Man and his surroundings, between life and that which sustains it, and the interaction that makes both a singular whole.