artist statement

Mariam Ghani photo Sharjah 2009
From the series Speculations (2006-present)

My practice is based on research into places, spaces and moments where social, political and cultural structures take on visible and tangible forms. I am interested in understanding both how we reconstruct the past in the present, and how we construct the present for the future, through shifting private and public narratives. Sometimes this research leads me to construct a fiction or reconstruct a speculative history around documents or fragments, physical traces, or a sense of place. Sometimes it leads me to witness, document, intervene in or engineer a present-day event or temporary space. Recurring preoccupations include: border zones, no-mans-lands, translations, transitions, and the slippages where cultures intersect; security cultures, archives, architectures of democracy, and national imaginaries; places where nature and artifice imitate and influence each other; and the intersections of war, trauma, memory, identity, migration, language, and loss.

I work across multiple disciplines – video, installation, photography, text, sound and performance – but all my projects share the same research-based approach, and all operate through a variable mix of documentary, narrative and database forms. In practice, this means I generally start with a central inquiry, then accumulate a collection of materials around that center, and then develop one or more interfaces to the collection, which become the final form(s) of the project. My research traces both individual narratives and the larger systems or structures that condition or enclose them, which are reflected in my work by rigorous formal structures. Likewise, my work in Afghanistan is made from and reflects my own position there as a simultaneously intimate and estranged outsider/insider, Afghan in some ways and foreign in others.

I maintain three long-term collaborations. Since 2012, I have worked with Pad.ma and the Afghan national film institute on digitizing and disseminating the Afghan Films archive. Since 2006, I have worked with choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly and composer Qasim Naqvi on the site-responsive video and performance series Performed Places, which draws on ideas from landscape archeology. And since 2004, I have collaborated with Chitra Ganesh as Index of the Disappeared, an experimental archive of renditions, redactions, detentions and deportations, as well as a platform for dialogue around related issues.

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