'Last Man in Dhaka Central', 2015
video 82mins (loop)
image courtesy of Naeem Mohaiemen, Experimenter (India), and LUX (UK) and EVA International
Naeem Mohaiemen (b. 1969, United Kingdom) is a writer and artist who lives and works in London and Dhaka, Bangladesh. He graduated with a BA in Economics (with a concentration in history) from Oberlin College, Ohio, in 1993, and was a member of the college’s Board of Trustees between 1994–96. He is currently a PhD candidate in Historical Anthropology at Columbia University and 2014–15 Guggenheim Fellow (film). He cofounded Visible Collective in 2004, a New York–based collective of artists and lawyers investigating security panic.In his work, he uses essays, films, and installations to research borders, wars, and people who belong at the edge of postcolonial markers. His ongoing film project The Young Man Was (2006–present) considers the revolutionary Left as a form of tragic utopia. Films from this series have been shown as part of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015) and the Sharjah Biennial (2011); and screened at the Museum of Modern Art (2016); International Short Film Festival (2014), Oberhausen, Germany; DocLisboa (2014), Portugal; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (2012); among others. In 2014, Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, hosted a survey show of this work, Prisoners of Shothik Itihash (Correct History), which was curated by Adam Szymczyk. His work has been published in various anthologies including The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in the Age of US Imperial Power(NYU Press, 2013). His work is in the collections of the British Museum and Tate Modern.
Naeem Mohaiemen researches states of belonging at the edge of postcolonial markers through essays, films, and mixed-media installations. His project The Young Man Was (2006–ongoing) considers the revolutionary left as a form of tragic utopia. Project themes have been described as ‘revolutionary past meaningful in the sudden eruption of a revolutionary present’ (Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Bidoun), ‘a reflection on the conditions of masculinity that shape these cultures of radicalism and, possibly, doom them to failure’ (Murtaza Vali, Modern Painters), and ‘ever on the verge of collapsing into abstraction, their materiality performs the indeterminacy of the event they record’ (Sarinah Masukor, West Space).
Chapters in Young Man Was include the films United Red Army (2012; about the 1977 hijacking of Japan Airlines to Dhaka), Afsan’s Long Day (2014; based on the diary of historian Afsan Chowdhury), and Last Man in Dhaka Central (2016; about Peter Custers, a Dutch journalist jailed in Bangladesh after the violent events of 1975). Films in this series have been shown at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014), and the 10th Sharjah Biennial (2011). In 2014 Kunsthalle Basel hosted a survey show of this work, Prisoners of Shothik Itihash, curated by Adam Szymczyk. In his work, Mohaiemen asks: How do people put aside the weight of history, which can lean towards less optimistic outcomes, and continue to invest their hope in new movements? What lies, in the end, within the capacity for imagining utopia, in spite of contrarian evidence? Historian Afsan Chowdhury (coeditor of a fifteen-volume collection of documents related to Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War) has bracketed the work of Mohaiemen, Nayanika Mookherjee, Bina D’Costa, Dina Siddiqi, and Yasmin Saikia as a ‘second wave of history writing’ about Bangladesh.
Abu Ammar Is Coming (2016) is part of a commission by Independent Cinema Office / LUX that brings artist films into mainstream British theatres. Abu Ammar was the nom de guerre of Yasser Arafat. His Fatah group, a dominant faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), fascinated Bangladeshi socialists, despite the more Marxist tendencies of the George Habash group.
A photograph circulates, showing five men staring out of a window. Actually, only four look out; the last man breaks protocol and looks at the camera. The light has a soft glow. The stage is a bombed building. All five men wear military fatigues; the colour must have been olive green.
Snapped by Magnum photographer Chris Steele-Perkins in 1982, the image is a teasing enigma. Arabic newspapers claim it as evidence of Bangladeshi fighters in the PLO (Fatah faction). Go a little deeper into the memory hole and sediments will darken the third world international.
Still, the light was beautiful.