Naeem Mohaiemen

What we found after you left

Spanning two seasons, a rotating program of films and accompanying footnotes explores historical ruptures, documentation, and archives.


Naeem Mohaiemen grew up in Tripoli, Libya, and Dhaka, Bangladesh and now works in Dhaka and New York. His work, which includes films, installations and books, excavates political ruptures through family stories and macro histories. His focus is the 1970s, when transnational utopian projects began to fall apart as the global surge of socialist revolutions ran into the reality of entrenched capitalism, and the promise of decolonization faced the disappointment of fatally flawed leadership.

This exhibition presents four films in a rotating program from September 2019 to September 2020. Each film is accompanied by works (photographs, prints or sculptures) that serve as ‘footnotes’. These works, in the corridor that leads to the screening room, precede the films, upending the standard rule of footnotes following the main text. The sequence underlines the artist’s manifesto for writing history: moving the margin to the centre.

The program begins with Tripoli Cancelled (2017), the surrealist fable of a man who has lived alone in Athens’s Ellinikon Airport for a decade. The ‘non-place’ of the airport is similarly central to Mohaiemen’s 2011 film United Red Army, which focuses on an airplane hijacking by the militant Japanese Red Army, in support of the Palestinian cause, at Dhaka airport. Next, Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017) probes the ‘pivot’ between the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Finally, Afsan’s Long Day (2014) draws from the diary of Bangladeshi historian Afsan Chowdhury.

While focusing on moments of mistake and misrecognition, Mohaiemen’s research into aspirations towards utopia during the Cold War era – manifested through decolonization, revolution, and independence – is rooted in a hope for a future, revived international left.

Current Chapter

Afsan’s Long Day, The Young Man Was: Part 2 (2014)

The film presented this season, Afsan’s Long Day (2014, premiered at Oberhausen, Germany), is the second work in The Young Man Was series (made between 2011 and 2016), the span of which probes the lives of the men who were actors in revolutionary struggles in the 1970s. These men are, according to the “commander theory” of history, supporting actors: in Afsan’s Long Day , the predominant figures are Afsan Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi historian who was a student at the time in the 1970s; Suleiman, a former freedom fighter now curdled into regret in a wheelchair; and Joschka Fischer, the German left-wing militant who ‘defected to electoral politics’ in 1983. Through a montage of wide-ranging archival footage, voiceover and still photography, Mohaiemen’s subjects raise questions around the failures of revolutionary politics in the 1970s.

By examining the ways in which futile machismo played into the failures of the left in this period, Mohaiemen draws attention to still-pervasive gender constructions that continue to shape political power globally. Afsan’s Long Day presents a cast of men grappling with “flailing masculinity” in fraught and unstable territories, a sentiment that is echoed through the photo/text series, Live True Life or Die Trying (2009), which served as the kernel of the project The Young Man Was (initially premiered at Cue Art Foundation in New York as part of a Rhizome/Creative Capital commission), and here act as footnotes to the film. The images on facing walls are surprisingly similar despite being taken at two dramatically different rallies from the same day in 2009: the first rally took place in the morning and was organized by a group of young Islamists, while the second was held in the afternoon and was planned by a group of Leftists on a university campus. Both gatherings are majority male and highly performative. Ultimately, what Mohaiemen’s photographs reveal is that the participants in the second rally do not differ so much from those in the first, and he notes that they are almost united in their stated foes: ‘gangster capitalism’ and the weight of the West’s contradictions. As Mohaiemen has said, he is interested in exploding masculinist history in order to ‘understand its failures.’ Underneath, there is a hope for redemption in a future global left that can escape the current silos of race and religion–as Live True Life says, “a lover tries again, flower in hand.”

Naeem Mohaiemen (born 1969 in London, UK) lives in New York. His work has recently been exhibited at SALT Beyoglu, Istanbul (2019); Mahmoud Darwish Museum, Ramallah (2018); Vasas Federation of Metalworkers' Union, Budapest (2018); Abdur Razzaq Foundation, Dhaka (2017) and documenta 14, Athens/ Kassel (2017). In Canada, he has previously shown at Hot Docs (2012), A Space Gallery (Images Festival, 2012), Gallery TPW (Images Festival, 2013), and VOX–Centre de l'image contemporaine (2016). Mohaiemen co-edited (with Lorenzo Fusi) System Error: War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Papesse, 2006) and is currently co-editing (with Eszter Szakacs) Solidarity Must be Defended (Tranzit/ Van Abbe/ Salt/ Tricontinental, 2019). In New York, he was a member of Visible Collective (2002–07), 3rd i South Asian Film (2000–04) and Samar: South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection (1995–99); in Dhaka, he was a member of Drishtipat (2001–11) and Alal O Dulal (2012–17). He was a Guggenheim Fellow (2014) and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize (2018). 

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