MoMA PS1 presents two recent film works by British-Bangladeshi artist Naeem Mohaiemen.
Art Radar has a look at the artist’s latest solo exhibition in New York, “There Is No Last Man”, featuring Tripoli Cancelled (2017) and Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism) (2016).
“There is No Last Man”, currently on view at MoMA PS1, features two recent film works by multimedia artist Naeem Mohaiemen, in an exhibition organised by Chief Curator of MoMA PS1 Peter Eleey and Assistant Curator Jocelyn Miller, and supported by the MoMA PS1 Annual Exhibition Fund.
Naeem Mohaiemen‘s practice embraces methodologies that result in a variety of works across installation, film and essays, among other media. In his projects, he examines the political landscape of past events in South Asia by merging art and writing. Of Bangladeshi origin, Mohaiemen was born in London, United Kingdom in 1969. His Bangladeshi roots provide a source of inspiration for numerous of his groundbreaking works, through the interrogation of the historical narratives played out on a massive scale, and which caused major repercussions for Bangladesh. Mohaiemen’s projects emphasise the psychological processes of memory formation particular to the leftist political party in Bangladesh. The contemporary narratives of decolonisation are additionally of particular interest in his oeuvre, and are used as content in several works throughout his career.
Mohaiemen scrutinises the notion of political utopia, as seen in the two films on show, Tripoli Cancelled and Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism). In these film installations at MoMA PS1, the viewer is confronted with works where the narrators are both entrapped in history and their own solitude, isolation and loneliness. The response that the characters have to such a range of circumstances both internally and externally communicates Mohaiemen’s message that nothing is simple, nothing can really exist without complexity.
Mohaiemen typically employs his figures in his works as a symbolic way to carry out a message over time. For example, the protagonists are often the embodiment of a larger social issue that is being discussed. Through the bodily vessel of the character, a message can be transmitted through a selection of both direct and/or indirect terms. The use of global political narratives and historical accounts culminate to form an archive that would otherwise not exist from his perspective. He furthermore places both the internal and the external aspects to the events surrounding the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, among others. His work speaks about the inability to accurately recognise some events for what they are, which Mohaiemen believes to be an absence of recognition of solidarity from a global perspective. Personal motivations derive from the emotional investment in one’s family, and the way history depicts a place through culture and media, among others. Dramatic elements are inherent in the way perception is formed through a process of fusion, machination, and then dissemination on an international scale.
Exploring history trough personal narratives
The two recent films Tripoli Cancelled (2017) and Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism) (2016) each posses a different narrative, considerations, trajectory and ultimate message. The themes explored are personal narratives and historical trauma, and the individual as catalyst of a larger symbolic message of contemporary society. The exhibition responds directly to the 1992 book The End of History And The Last Man by Francis Fukuyama. The text contained explicit political dialogue subversive to the overtones that permeated the everyday. Fukuyama was interested in communicating the message of a final version of the fate of humanity as an effect of capitalism and liberal democracy from the Western perspective.
The MoMA PS1 press release reads:
Mohaiemen’s work suggests that there will be no “last man” or “end of history” in an era marked by the growing prominence of non-Western histories that acknowledge multiple viewpoints and perspectives on the development of modernity.
This can be seen in the location-specific installations of his films, ranging from India to Greece. His travels and life in various locations across the world have exposed him to different realities. The artist brings attention to conlonialism, imperialism and the imposition of western agendas on the eastern part of the world as complex, multifaceted issues, juxtaposed to personal narratives in an attempt to deconstruct and make sense of history.
The release goes on to elaborate further that
The artist often works through the literature generated in the aftermath of political defeats, bringing the traumas of history into conversation with his own family narratives.
This is a poignant detail regarding the utilisation of language generated in the wake of historical trauma. This element could be interpreted as a warning that Mohaiemen is issuing, for it is commonly believed that history does tend to repeat itself, time and time again. A compelling aspect of the artist’s work is the discussion of the historical impact that events had on countries and regions on a macroscopic scale, and then distilling the conversation back to Mohaiemen’s personal narrative through family history on a microscopic scale. The artist poses questions such as: where is the personal located in the historical, and how does the historical affect the personal?
Escaping the reality of the present
Further, a consistency between the male characters in both Tripoli Canceled as well as Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism) is their shared chosen embrace of fictional narratives to find an escape from the reality of the present.
In the film Tripoli Cancelled, the central character is a man who is undergoing daily rituals of smoking, letter writing to family, pacing and walking. He spends the majority of his time stranded in an abandoned airport, the location of Athens Ellinikon Airport in Greece where the work was filmed. In the film, he takes mannequins that are dressed as airline stewardesses and positions them in various scenes. In 2001 this very airport was abandoned and later used for refugees to stay in as they entered Greece. While the use of the space alternated over time, the complexity remains central to the notion that the location was used as an in-between space for those in transit for the pleasure of travel, or those in transit due to migrating from their country. The site of this airport was more than a temporary space; for a brief time, it became a domestic space.
The other film, Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism), features another narrative focused on a male character presented across a diptych format. The content that is under exploration in this work are writings by Mohaiemen’s great uncle expressing problematic ideologies. These writings take on the physical form of six separate essays, and describe a misunderstanding in regards to military presence. Consistent with many Indian perspectives at the time, the belief was that Nazi Germany would help to liberate India from colonisation, which was at the time under British rule. In this video work, the fascination with and hope in German political ideology is explored through a range of people living in the same period as Mohaiemen’s uncle, looping back again to the connection between the historical and the personal.
“Naeem Mohaiemen: There Is No Last Man” is on view from 22 October 2017 to 11 March 2018 at MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, 46th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens until March 11, 2018.
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