Complicating the History of the Left


Murtaza Vali in Blouin Artinfo (image “Der Weisse Engel,” 2011. Video, photographs, and text):

For many who followed developments at and around Zuccotti Park last fall through Naeem Mohaiemen’s prolific Facebook posts, his occasional asides — excerpted dialogue from the cult-hit 1990s teen drama “My So-Called Life”; the box-office performance of the latest installment of the “Harold & Kumar” franchise; a negative review of Steven Spielberg’s recently released film “The Adventures of Tintin” — may have seemed out of character. But anyone acquainted with Mohaiemen or his work knows that he is a keen but somewhat perverse polymath, whose possible subjects of analysis run the gamut from newsworthy events of historical record to the sorts of minor cultural artifacts that constitute what the literary theorist Lauren Berlant has dubbed the “silly archive.” Employing photography, video, and text — formats commonly used by the traditional news media — Mohaiemen, an artist, activist, and writer dually based in New York and Dhaka, Bangladesh, embeds painstaking archival research into a web of richly observed personal anecdotes and pop-culture references, presenting an idiosyncratically annotated narrative that enriches, complicates, and challenges dominant historical accounts.

Take Mohaiemen’s contribution to last year’s Sharjah Biennial: “The Young Man Was (Part 1: United Red Army),” a 67-minute video about the September 28, 1977, hijacking of Japan Airlines Flight 472, en route from Paris to Tokyo to Dhaka, by a unit of the Japanese Red Army. The film is anchored and bracketed by Mohaiemen’s personal memory of himself as a frustrated eight-year-old whose favorite TV show, “The Zoo Gang,” was superseded by a live broadcast of the hijacking-and-hostage crisis. An unprecedented media event for the young nation of Bangladesh, whose broadcast capabilities at the time were rudimentary at best, the airplane drama dragged on for days, a seeming eternity for the little boy awaiting the return of his beloved show.

While researching the project, Mohaiemen stumbled upon archival audio-recordings of the marathon radio negotiations between the hijackers’ representative, code-named Dankesu, and the Bangladeshi hostage negotiator, Air Vice Marshall A. G. Mahmud, operating from the control tower. As might be expected, in the film, Mohaiemen intersperses excerpts from these recordings with snippets of archival video — blurry bits of the original black-and-white broadcast; Japanese, American, and local news coverage of the standoff; the wonderfully dated opening credits of “The Zoo Gang”; and a sequence from a film starring one of the airplane hostages, the actress Carole Wells — all held together by his measured voice-over, which fills in the broader historical and political context.

More here.