Abdullah MI Syed
For the series of works that are part of Wit(h)ness, the pairing of a ‘poetic expression’ of Islamic gender ideal as jalāl (majesty) and jamāl (beauty) and the construct of these dual concepts as concurrent identities, where one cannot be without the other, have been a defining idea. Flare I and II in one way, is an appropriation of an object, topi (skull cap), but symbolically the images in light and dark are essentially unknowable: like halos in the sky, a life from the depth of the seas, the floating dots that form in my eye after glaring at the sun or moon, the blank spaces that define a pattern, or the punctured holes on a target surface. I prefer not to see these works as a diptych but rather as duo or a pair, not unlike jalāl and jamāl. In terms of form and context, the extended lines (threads) of each cap gives the prints a resemblance to a woven prayer rug or a gridded mosque floor on which the prayers/wearers stand shoulder to shoulder in rows and prostrate. Bodies and minds from all ages, background, ethnicities, colours and social strata comes to gather and pray at a designated time towards Kab’ba. In this sense the horizontal grid suggest this unity where as the vertical lines indicate the direction towards Kab’ba.
In the ‘I am’ series of drawings, jalāl and jamāl is translated into dualities in typed words as a performative masqh (exercise in writing/drawn lines) and has been applied to my construction of masculine identity. I have been using a typewriter as one of the most basic mechanical reproduction methods of writing, which requires a performance of precision, patience and dexterity.
For me, on several levels this is a continued exploration of the notion of home. I have previously thought about home as an emotional space that manifests itself through time wherever I go (in the context of contemporary mobilities). Right now I am faced with the notion that I am someone’s physical home and emotional home too for the foreseeable future as the process of separation really does begin at birth. It is also a contemplation of my pregnant body and what it is doing at the moment. I have not documented this change quite as much as other expectant mothers may be doing. I have done self portraiture through a familial and recursive matrilineal lens.
The installation features plaited old saris that draw from the traditional hairstyles of Indian women and considers concepts of cultural (also lost) identity, cultural genealogy and adornment. The saris are consciously chosen as found, unknown, coming from no specific source. They tell stories of loss, displacement, migration, memories and heritage. These personal objects can be seen as a part of someone’s biography with cultural memories and feeling. I give the lost saris a new life. And possible stories too. Here they are treated as an individual persona. Each one stands for someone as a fictional character with narrative, emotion, and surreal undertones. I transfer the saris into hair braids. I make the identity of the particular object dysfunctional. This hybrid sari subverts the genre; blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, self and persona. The object /sari stimulate our intellect; allow us to interpret ideas in our own personal way. This new persona of half sari-half braid presents an opportunity to impose a personal narrative upon it with the universal emotion by the viewer. The stories of the forgotten and lost women from past can be seen and heard with no particular memories but as a collective voice. It's a carnival. These transcended saris are for celebration.
My research though at a personal as well as academic level into the role of photography engages with the different meanings that photography, inhabits, often dealing with the notions of memory wherein the personal archive inhabits a fundamental space, both aesthetically and practically within non-western cultures. It surrounds the idea that the objective of a photograph in South Asia ponders an evolving interplay between its fragile and fugitive existence. In Sri Lanka, the place of my ethnic origin, humidity leads the object of a photograph into a painful slow and unstoppable deterioration process until it vanishes completely, as though it had never existed. From the Missing Metamemory of Trincomallee bears exactly this lack of materiality and the resulting void in my own contemporary identity based upon the missing visual traces of my immediate family history and the almost forensic search for traces to escape this void. Post-colonial Trincomalee, the Eastern Province capital of Sri Lanka builds the backdrop of this search. In the family history it is my fathers birthplace, which he left behind 1956 by the age of four and never returned.
In Sri Lanka’s collective memory it is a synonym for what was to become the war ravaged North. These tender almost non-existing autobiographical memories are the fragile traces that lead me on the journey to find a naked nothingness.
Personal Shrine and Watching The Watcher are results of extended engagement with the residents of select localities within Androon Lahore. I sought to re-frame not only views found within personal spaces but also my own process of consuming these through a camera and through my role as artist. Personal Shrines seeks to redisplay displays within homes – subtly re-aestheticizing the overly aesthetic, from personal to gallery. It is a result of observations made of personal lives, summarized best within a mere shelf or cabinet. Watching The Watcher, on the other hand, touches upon that which exists behind the camera; the process of quantitatively “collecting” the aesthetic displays, reproducing my entire experience, both very engaged yet disengaged. Overall, both works quantitatively encapsulate a larger activity and process of interpersonal engagement. The final visuals however remove both the residents and myself, yet also hinting at our presence.
These books can be read through the materials utilized. Sometimes you will be able to read deeper in to the concept of these books, and sometimes you will be taken further away from them, awaking various symbolic, contextual and inter-contextual meanings. The civil war in Sri Lanka that lasted over three decades linger as dead memories, a ruin of empty bullets among preaching by politicians about reconciliation. The objects that remain after an explosion do not retain the same value as before. The scattered pieces have lost their original meaning. What remains is the destruction from the explosion. Is wisdom able to persist through holes, cracks, general damage, charred remains, ash and marks? In the aftermath of the war, we behave as if we are confronted with an archaeological object. To what extend will we be able to find the 'same‘ (structuring of pieces) again? Especially when faced with capitalist motivations to breach reconciliation.