Basir Mahmood     Video     Photo     Installation     Links     Contact


all voices are mine (Installation View), 2018. Video.
Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation


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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


In authors’ space of no physical actions (still), 2018. 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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Observing translators work (still), 2018. 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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


A performed death in a conceived space (still), 2017. Video.

The work was made through a collaboration between the author and a security company in Lahore, Pakistan. The author requested the security company to protect his conceived space.

The company agreed.

It provided seven security guards to participate in the endeavor of preservation. The participants had been trained to protect gated housing communities, the people they comprise and the wealth they hold. They were asked to perform the tasks they normally perform to secure what they normally secure in order for them to protect the author's space.

The participating guards did as instructed.

As the participants guarded, the author waited and observe. He noticed tiredness of his participants grow and begin to resemble a fictional narrative of the work. Soon, the tiredness morphed into stillness; with a camera author held next to him, he record a performed death in a conceived space.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Monument of arrival and return (still), 2016. Video.
Co-produced by Contour Biennale 8.

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 Kullisł 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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Spectators (still), 2016. Video.

A group of people arrives at an unknown place that is walled by moments anticipant of incipiency, and is roofed with belief and expectation. As a mark of reverence before the anonymity of the place, the group takes off its shoes and leaves them at the threshold. Thereupon – having performed its rite of passage – the group enters.

Inside is a lone pregnant goat. The group expects the goat to give birth, and hopes that it may witness creation. The pregnant goat maintains an unreflecting idleness. No birth occurs. The group stands in expectant wonder, staring at the pregnant goat. Together, it drinks of the water it has. Together, it eats bananas and throws the peals onto the floor. Eyes continue to beseech the pregnant goat. It responds merely by eating a cast away peal of a banana. No birth occurs. Performances of the group are fruitless. Yet, the group continues to hold firm its belief that it will witness.

It stands still, unmoving, and unmoved. Tiredness grows. Hope is increasingly fragile; anticipation of occurrence is stubborn. Slowly, expectation and patience transcend into fatigue and drowsiness, and slumber takes over. As the group drifts into unconscious sleep, it continues to hope that realization may soon find hope and expectation, and that it may no longer be a group of spectators.

The work was created with the artist collaborating with a group of people who committed themselves to long working hours which revolve around repetition of gestures to perform tasks. The artist intended to achieve absolute reality by introducing actual physical tiredness of his participants, which could correspond to the factual tiredness of the work.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Power Between Weak (still), 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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Thank You For Coming (still), 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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


A Message to the Sea (still), 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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Lunda Bazaar (Secondhand Clothing Market) (still), 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 (Still), 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 (Still), 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.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

© Basir Mahmood