Born 1972, Karachi, Pakistan Lives and works in New York, NY, USA and Copenhagen, Denmark Maryam Jafri is an artist working in video, performance and photography, with a specific interest in questioning the cultural and visual representation of history, politics and economy. Over the last years, she notably investigated the connections between food production and the production of desire (Avalon, 2011); the elaboration of historical narratives through a post-colonial perspective (Siege of Khartoum, 1884, 2006); the effects of globalization on working conditions (Global Slum, 2012) or the political stakes of food networks (Mouthfeel, 2014). Solo exhibitions include Mouthfeel (Gasworks, London, 2014); Backdrop (Bielefelder Kunstverein, Bielefeld, 2013); Headlines and Small Print (Galerie Nova/WHW, Zagreb, 2012), Global Slum (Beirut, Cairo, 2012). In 2015, she will be part of the Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennial.
Née à Karachi, Pakistan, en 1972
Vit e travaille à New York, NY, USA et Copenhague, Danemark
Maryam Jafri développe son travail artistique autour des représentations visuelles et culturelles de l’histoire politique et économique, à travers la photographie, la vidéo, mais aussi la performance. Ces dernières années, elle s’est notamment intéressée aux liens entre la production des biens de consommation et celle du désir (Avalon, 2011) ; à la construction de récits historiques dans une perspective postcoloniale (Siege of Khartoum, 1884, 2006) ; aux effets de la mondialisation sur les conditions de travail (Global Slum, 2012) ou encore aux enjeux politiques des circuits alimentaires (Mouthfeel, 2014). Parmi ses expositions les plus récentes : Mouthfeel (Gasworks, London, 2014) ; Backdrop (Bielefelder Kunstverein, Bielefeld, 2013) ; Headlines and Small Print (Galerie Nova/WHW, Zagreb, 2012) ou encore Global Slum (Beirut, Cairo, 2012). En 2015, elle participera au Pavillon Belge de la 56ème Biennale de Venise.
Robert Leckie Your current exhibition The Day After at Bétonsalon focuses on the ongoing project Independence Day 1934-1975, initiated in 2009. Please could you describe the work and what is specific to this iteration in Paris?
Maryam Jafri The photo series Independence Day1934-1975 consists of archival photographs mainly from the first independence days of various Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries. A key concept of the work is that the images come from archives, usually official archives, located in the countries themselves. In its current iteration at Bétonsalon, I have sixty images from twenty-nine archives. A great deal of artistic and academic research has been done on both the colonial and post-colonial eras but my project looks specifically at that moment of transformation – that twenty-four hour period during which a set of rituals, ceremonies and speeches herald the transformation of a territory into a nation state. When Mélanie Bouteloup (the director of Bétonsalon) approached me to show the work in Paris, she asked if I was interested in giving the research behind the work a visible form within the exhibition space. Hence along with the wall-based photo series, I have also conceived, in dialogue with Bétonsalon and designer Hadrien Gerenton, an architectural display system made up of various research modules that give different views into the process and ideas related to Independence Day 1934-1975. For example, some modules contain personal contributions by historians and others who helped me in my research such as Helihanta Rajaonarison, a historian from Madagascar, and Franck Ogou, archives manager at École du Patromoine Africain in Benin. Still others contain fictional materials that inspired me in different ways, such as my personal copy of Jean Genet’s play The Screens about the Algerian War and Sadat Hasan Manto’s famed short story about the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, Toba Tek Singh. We also have some modules in the space which are the result of workshops by students who responded or in some way related to the themes of Independence Day 1934-1975,since Bétonsalon is located on the campus of University Paris Diderot and collaborations with the students and scholars from the university are an important aspect of its programme.
R.L. I have the impression that the workis more about dependence than independence, as it highlights the similarities between the political aesthetics adopted by newly independent nations and those of former colonial powers that, more often than not, had a coercive hand in the independence process.
M.J. The images reveal a specific set of ceremonies and rituals whereby the nation state comes into being, an odd mix of theatricality and bureaucracy, a “civic religion” to borrow Ariella Azoulay’s term. These rituals and ceremonies are Western in origin as would be expected since they are bound up with the nation state, but what makes the images in Independence Day 1934-1975 so unsettling is that the displacement from centre to periphery results in a hybridization of those political aesthetics as it comes into contact with local traditions and histories. Thus the images look both familiar and estranged – a repetition with a difference.
R.L. To what extent does this inform how the work is presented? How do the display strategies you use, for example, relate to these ‘repetitions’, as you call them?
M.J. In this piece form and content cannot be easily separated. The content is the form and the form is the content. At first glance one sees a typology, a strategy long associated with photography from Aby Warburg to the photo-conceptualists. But what is it that the photos in Independence Day 1934-1975 actually reveal? They reveal the serialization of modernity’s ultimate political form –the nation state – throughout large parts of the world.
R.L. What about questions of access and copyright? How key are these issues to your thinking?
M.J. When I first started this work a lot of people were surprised by my decision to bypass Western archives and look for the images in the countries themselves. I was interested in seeing how each country was preserving images of itself coming into being. Furthermore, at a time when most people, including myself, get their visual information from Google, I felt it important to render visible these archives, official but often unknown even within the countries themselves. In terms of copyright, it’s usually quite straightforward: one pays what is usually a modest licensing fee from the archive in question, which is also credited in the work – and so it should be, since this work is partly about making visible these analogue, often fragile archives.
1. Maryam Jafri, Le jour d’après, Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche, 2015. Exhibition view with Getty vs Ghana, Maryam Jafri, 2012
2. Maryam Jafri, Le jour d’après, Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche, 2015. View of Independence Day 1934-1975, Maryam Jafri, 2009-ongoing
3. Maryam Jafri, Le jour d’après, Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche, 2015. Exhibition view
4. Maryam Jafri, Le jour d’après, Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche, 2015. Exhibition view with Independence Day 1934-1975, Maryam Jafri, 2009-ongoing, and Flowers for Africa, Kapwani Kiwanga, 2012
5. Maryam Jafri, Le jour d’après, Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche, 2015. Exhibition view
6. Maryam Jafri, Le jour d’après, Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche, 2015. Exhibition view
Photos: Aurélien Mole