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Sunsets, everyday, 2020, Video (Excerpt).
Commissioned and produced by Foundation 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)


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Death, at least once, 2020, Video (Excerpt).


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.

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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.


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 moon-sighting, 2019, Video (Excerpt).
Commissioned by the University of Leeds and the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Basir Mahmood’s recent visit to Bradford and Mirpur triggered ‘new curiosities’ about self-defined identity and ‘otherness’, particularly within the United Kingdom-based, Azad Kashmir-origin Mirpuri community. He explores these ‘new curiosities’ in his new video work “moon-sighting”. The epiphanic moment that led to creation of the work was the realization that what we deemed to be ‘Mirpuri’ in United Kingdom can be defined as ‘British’ in Mirpur. He, thus, notes that 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 center 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, later, removed due to combative reactions from viewers.

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Good ended happily, 2018, Video (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.

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

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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.

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Observing translators work, 2018, Video (Excerpt).

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.


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

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.


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


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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.


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Power Between Weak, 2014, Video (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.

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Thank You For Coming, 2013, Video (Excerpt).

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.


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

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.


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Lunda Bazaar (Secondhand Clothing Market), 2010, Video (Excerpt).


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.


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My Father, 2010, Video (Excerpt).

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.


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Manmade, 2010, Video (Excerpt).

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.
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© Basir Mahmood 2021