26 July 2019
Weeklies • so-far studios
Text by Sharmini Aphrodite
Grey light seeping in through a window. An old man with his eyes closed in a courtyard, a sheath of white sunlight over his body. A young girl skipping rope under a crown of trees, her shadow running over the ground beneath her like water. A dark street illuminated by two lonely headlights blinking against the stillness of the sleeping city. Then comes the sound, carrying images of its own: rainwater falling as if just next to you, the sound of it filling the room. A mournful voice stretching out a strain of song, then the low rumble of distant traffic. Everything coming together, all of the lives of the city — man and animal — folding in to form a singular, kinetic hum, the viewer tucked too within this fabric of light and shadow. Kheyal (2015-2018) by Munem Wasif envelops you completely and its gentle hook is its belief in the sacredness of small things. “Absolute unmixed attention,” wrote the late Simone Weil , “is prayer.” In Wasif’s dedication to the most fleeting of details, the artist grants his subjects these prayers. Absolutely and wholeheartedly.
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1983, Wasif works with photography and video to account for socio-political issues in and around his home region of South Asia. He studied the border between Bangladesh and India in the series Land of Undefined Territory (2014-2015), and documented the importance of rice in post-agricultural Bangladesh in the cyanotype print series Seeds Shall Set Us Free (2016-present). In Spring Song, the work he embarked on during his recent residency at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA), he moves his eye further eastward, focusing on the lives and journeys of Rohingya refugees.
Sharmini Aphrodite: Let’s begin by speaking about your recent work, Kheyal. It was described as moving into the genre of magical realism. But you mainly work in documentary photography, and the nature of that medium assumes a journalistic idea of reality. How do you reconcile your methods with your subjects who also live in situations of violence where not just the physical self is compromised, but the psychological space is ruptured as well — situations similar to the Latin America where the genre of magical realism was born?
Munem Wasif: Well, the title Kheyal is itself a clue, a hint. In Arabic, it means “imagination”. In Hindustani, it conveys imagining or dreaming. It is also a technique in Indian classical music where something is repeated in a loop. So when you hear something in the beginning, you try to figure out what is being said, but after 20 times, it becomes an abstract sound. The meaning of the text changes through this perception of sound. Kheyal in Bengali is a kind of saying, “Amar akdom kheyal nei,” meaning, “I completely forgot.” It carries this notion of forgetting, of being lost-in-mind, or living in a dual world where your mind is occupied, is somewhere else, whereas in reality you are supposed to be here.
Read the entire conversation here: https://www.so-far.online/weeklies/daily-devotions-a-conversation-with-munem-wasif