Ahmedpur East (excerpt), 2022. Video.
In this work, the artist attempts to shape a memorial for the 219 persons who were burned to ashes while collecting fuel from a crashed oil container on July 11, 2017 near Ahmedpur East, Bahawalpur District, Pakistan. A fully laden fuel truck had toppled over when its driver took a rash turn when trying to get on a highway. The fuel it was carrying spilled over onto the road and nearby fields. Soon enough, hundreds of men, women and children from the village rushed to the crash site with kitchen utensils, baskets, plastic bottles, and whatever else they could find, in the hope of collecting some free fuel. However, the fuel caught fire and blew into a fireball that consumed all the free the fuel as well as many of the people trying to collect it. The artist saw this event as an attempt to transfer fuel from one container to the other – from one massive truck carrying 5,500 gallons of the Royal Dutch Shell to hundreds of small household containers meant to help extract as little as a few hundred milliliters for those carrying them. The film records a group of gas station workers associated with a filling station near the artist’s Pakistan production site, as they attempt to fill to their maximum capacity the household containers that the artist brought from his home.
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)
Death, at least once, 2020. (Excerpt). Video.
The work was conceived and later realised by exploring the odd possibility of hiring a group of professional protesters, who are occasionally employed by political parties and other entities to help demonstrate publicly on their behalf. The artist acquired their unconventional service at its usual rate of around 1 dollar per hour and a meal for each participant. The professionals were asked to demonstrate by striking a complete menu of a nearby fast-food restaurant that delivered its fare to the place where the work was created. The artist repeatedly ordered food online through his smartphone. Accordingly, the restaurant responded swiftly each time, taking less than twenty minutes to deliver food. The food was consumed fresh by the work, until the protesters grew tired and decided to leave. The present work invites one’s ability to confront through indirect conflict the skill of efficient production of an other. A collaborating film crew documented collision between the above within the parameters set by the artist. - I have remained interested in the idea of a profession, which one takes to earn his or her living. I have pondered the impressions the doing of a job leaves on people over time, setting up certain ways of thinking, influencing actions or even at times manifesting in ones’ physical characteristics. I borrow only temporarily others’ idea of work into my own idea of an artwork.
moon-sighting (excerpt), 2019. Video.
Basir Mahmood’s recent visit to Bradford and Mirpur triggered ‘new curiosities’ about self-defined identity and ‘otherness’ particularly within the Bradford Mirpuri community, explored in his new video work “moon-sighting”. His epiphany was the realisation that what we deem to be Mirpuri in Bradford can be defined as British in Mirpur. Identities become viewpoints through which the ‘other’ is viewed. The world of social media enables him to create an other-dimensional third space that allows re-imagination and performance of identities while facilitating a fluid switching of standpoints. A car becomes a narrative device by inhabiting the neutral space of a green-screen film studio. Mahmood has placed his collaborators and himself physically and metaphorically within the centre of this work, implicating himself in a narrative of confusion and aggression. Within his work, Mahmood made a music video with Mirpur- based YouTube star Arslan Shabir. While Mahmood’s work was shown in a museum, Shabir’s music video went viral and was removed to due combative reactions.
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.
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.
Observing translators work, 2018. (Excerpt). Video.
A group of professional translators and interpreters of various languages enter into the author’s settings, which he generated for them to convey what was written here a while ago. An email invite was sent a week earlier, the few that replied came. They partook in the process of mediation between the artist’s intention and the meaning of the work, between form and context and, language and image. The procedure begins: the observing author is present with his camera as they enter one after the other. They breathe and stare away; hold the papers that are distributed to them; blink as they read what must be read; eat the sandwiches that are served; drink the water that is poured in cups for everyone; wait remaining unmoving; and, exit as they came. In the afternoon, participants leave the told narrative. The author however continues to practice his observation in a conceived space of no doors or windows.
In authors’ space of no physical actions, 2018. (Excerpt). Video.
Author attempted to replicate his thinking space in other spaces of production. Here, the artist invited athletes to temporarily inhabit his studio space where no physical action had taken place otherwise. Therefore, the space that had produced no creation visible to others, and had remained stilled and inactive, became a site of production with introduction of outsiders. The group's initial movements are abrupt but calculated as in the author's intended narrative. As this narrative is told, the author observes it play out through a camera he holds next to him. The athletes stand and work; sweat and breathe; eat and swallow; and they repeat.
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.
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.
Power Between Weak (excerpt), 2014. Video.
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.
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.
Thank You For Coming (excerpt), 2013. Video.
I worked in collaboration with a person from a different background to set-up a situation that treads the thin line between fiction and reality. He brought in his relatives, friends and acquaintances, none of whom I knew and all of whom were alien to me, for a celebration, the name or title, occasion and purpose of which is never revealed to the participants. I accorded my contact, who had gathered these people together, the role of an architect, who directed much of what was being done by the gathered people and how it was being done. By bringing these people together I wanted to build a basic structure which is filled up and extended by the little gestures of the people, and which, in turn, creates for the viewer a social situation – which, in this case, is the narrative of a celebration – from within which to understand the structure of human interaction. The end result of this project was quite unexpected. Initially, I wanted to put together a social gathering so as to study the interaction between individuals. However, I feel, I probably I broke the structure I wanted to build, by positioning myself with a camera. The camera put the participants ill at ease. Thus, what appears in the video is a group of aliens who are even unknown to each other.
Excerpt_Gehen wir nach Hause (Lets Go Home)_2012.
Video ‘Gehen wir nach Hause (Lets Go Home)’ came out of a video clip, which was taken during a protest in Berlin, Germany. Work is a response to a gesture of walk as a collective expression of disapproval or objection to action or words, which symbolize as a move towards a better side. Video is in reverse audio and video to find an opposite meaning of a same act.
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.
In a Move, to the Better Side, 2012. (Excerpt). Video Installation.
‘In a move, to the better side’, is inspired by a true incident. This took place in 2011, in Pakistan. A group of people wanted to immigrate to Europe in search of a better life. They were hidden in a container, and somewhere on the journey, a long way from home, their bodies were discovered. All had died of suffocation. I interpreted this incident using three basic elements: weight, movement and repetition. Weight as ideology, movement as hope to reach a better side and repetition as belief or ritual. These three elements hold the work together. What made them move? Did the object move them or did their ideology make it move? The repetition represents their stubborn belief in the possibility of change and the efficacy of movement. This becomes an end in itself. My arrival and first experience of Europe triggered my interest in this incident. Perhaps my own brief ‘move to a better side’ made me more than an observer? This question helped me to position myself to formalize the work. From here I started to look at the incident not from out side but from inside. I replaced suffocation with openness and movement with stillness.
Lunda Bazaar (Secondhand Clothing Market) (excerpt), 2010. Video.
Video work ‘Lunda Bazaar’ is a study of the secondhand clothing market in Lahore, that gave me the opportunity to study the transformation that occurs when an object of clothing moves from one body to the other, from one culture to another implying both memory and change. Lunda Bazaar captures, in slow motion, a succession of men and one woman trying on clothing. Shot from afar with long lens-to ensure the subjects were unaware of the filmmaker-the image is cropped to present each person’s torso, their heads often just out of frame as they shrug themselves into jumpers and jackets, straightening lapels and collars and fitting the garments to their body. The ambient sound of the market is slowed to form a soundscape, an indistinct muted roar, increasing the sense of time and space distilled. The clothing sold in Lunda Bazaar is typically from the United Kingdom, United States and other countries within the region, such as Korea, Japan, and India. Originally made of different climate and cultures, the garments are transformed through the act of wearing-retaining the memory of the past at the same time they are made new.
My Father (excerpt), 2010. Video.
I was born to a father who was forty-five years older than me, and as I grew up and grew stronger, I saw him grow older and weaker. “My Father” is an expression of a very personalized impression of my relationship with my father. The video shows an old man trying to thread a needle: a simple task per se, but not for an old man, as the video would show. Through the course of the video, the old man continues to attempt to thread the needle but cannot succeed. I chose a small display size deliberately by filming the act of a needle being threaded: the small size of the needle is intended to underscore the intensity of an action that would appear as every day, and therefore insignificant, and its repetition as driven merely by the vanity of hope. The former signifies struggles of everyday life, which we usually view as trivial, but which are struggles of importance and worth, nevertheless, when viewed within the context of time and mortality. The latter signifies the gradual crumble down of human abilities with age, and how even the faculties of hope and determination dissolve into the mists of life’s twilight.
Manmade (excerpt), 2010. Video.
“Manmade” revolves around a man putting on a three-piece formal suit for the first time. Seemingly simple to most, the task of putting on the suit turns out to be a strenuous, time-consuming and complicated task for the man who is having to perform it. The suit in question does not belong to the man, and he must become someone he is not to fit into clothes that are not his. Throughout the video, the man continues to talk to someone behind the scene, appearing to seek reassurance in not only that, what he is doing is being done right, but reassurance that he must continue to do what he is doing. However, you cannot hear what he says. The screen remains divided into two frames: one showing the process of metamorphosis into something alien to the being of the man, and the other showing its final outcome. “Manmade” explores identity and perceptions of the self by bringing the perception of self and identity of the man in the video into conflict with himself by having him perform an action that requires him to internalize something that is external to him, and reconcile with it.
“I’m on the ‘us’ side and you are on the other” (Wahga Border)
The Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan is the site of a daily military custom known as the “lowering of the flags” ceremony. It takes place every evening before sunset just before security forces on either side close the gates. Thousands of spectators gather every day to watch the ceremony. I’m on the “us” side and you are on the other looks at what this ceremony says about the groups that watch it and what unites them. The installation is composed in such a way that the viewer is subsumed into the crowd.