– Spring/Summer 2019

Shifting Ground: On Stories and Archives in the Work of Naeem Mohaiemen

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Production still from Tripoli Cancelled, Ellinikon airport, Athens, 2016. Courtesy the artist

Around fifteen years ago, some of the elders in Naeem Mohaiemen’s orbit began telling him a story. Mentors and extended family members would repeat this story often, with subtle variations, whenever their conversations turned to questions of productivity – of how to work and get things done in times of great uncertainty and upheaval. Mohaiemen is known in both isolated and overlapping circles as a writer (he contributed an essay on Muslim hip hop to an anthology edited by DJ Spooky), an activist (on issues from post-9/11 immigrant hysteria and security panic to poor labour practices in the art world), and a tireless advocate of South Asian culture at home and in the diaspora. His artworks – consisting primarily of documentary-style films with occasional objects, still images and forays into fiction – have grown steadily in ambition and acclaim through his participation in high-profile exhibitions such as documenta 14 in 2017 and the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. He recently joined the rarefied line of very interesting artists – in which I would also include Willie Doherty, Mona Hatoum, Isaac Julien, Tacita Dean, Yinka Shonibare, Goshka Macuga, Tino Sehgal and the Otolith Group – who have been nominated for the Turner Prize but have not won it. Though nominally based in Brooklyn, Mohaiemen travels

  1. Zahir Raihan’s hidden war-time film reel was the subject of Mohaiemen’s artist talk (he considers the text a work in progress), ‘A Missing Can of Film’, ‘UNFIXED: Material Challenges in Contemporary Art’, Art Institute of Chicago, 28 June 2018, available at https://vimeo.com/298286989/90464ff27d (last accessed on 24 January 2019). All quotations from the artists are from this talk and from my own conversations with the artist in December 2018.

  2. See http://www.disappearedinamerica.org (last accessed on 30 January 2019). In the recollection of Mohaiemen and others the group began working together from c.2001–02.