Naeem: I don’t know what to say. I can’t promise anything that exotic.
YS: Tell me about your practice.
Naeem: Oh god. My practice is a product of having started out as a writer and historian and finding myself suffocated by the expectation of creating complete histories of particular moments in Bangladesh – do you want me to go slower?
YS: I’m okay.
Naeem: This expectation that you produce complete histories from A to B, beginning to end, and that you produce a moral lesson and you define things to black and white certainties, and that you would take a position - and I found these things very suffocating for me, which is why I moved through a series of inspirations to the space of the visual arts, because it was a space that allowed me to explore historical and political questions with ambiguity and without having to finish the story.
YS: What’s your main area of focus now?
Naeem: My exploration of failed revolutionary movements. And my practice is usually a combination of video archive and text.
YS: You’re based both in Dhaka and New York, you said – you gave me a booklet about some of your work in NYC, “When An Interpreter Could Not Be Found”.
Naeem: That was a collective called the Visible Collective. It was a project that we did for three years which was really a response to this feeling that some of us had that just protest rallies and traditional sorts of protest tactics just weren’t getting things done after 2001. So it was a coalition of artists and activists who had mostly met in the context of street political action around the conditions of immigrants after 9/11, but then we started exploring ways in which we could take some of the work to a museum context. And we had a museum exhibition but some in the group felt we had produced somewhat aestheticised work about the national security panic. We had some discussion about whether we had made it too pretty or not. We made a somewhat ornamental piece about Abu Ghraib photographs which had leaked, and we made colour photocopies and fed them into a shredder until the paper jammed, so it had a confetti streamer effect. We called the piece It’s Safe to Open Your Eyes Now and then we installed it at Project Rowhouse in Texas. And you know of course, there’s a label to explain what the provenance and technique of the piece is, but most people were just taken by the fact that it was pretty - somewhat pretty.
And then we started having discussions about how we could make anti-pretty work. So that was just one of the projects I was with. It’s not really it’s sort of finished - it was a discreet project that finished after three years, and we felt we did what we wanted to do and we moved on.
Yeah, so that was much more about physically being in New York and needing to design to the situation there. And we were not the only ones - there were other projects which existed, it was not isolated in the visual arts - there were lawyers coming to these events; activists, writers, journalists - and there was this journalist called Nina Bernstein; she writes for the NYT and she’s done a lot of reporting on post-9/11 racial profiling of immigrants. And we had a nice - she came to our events to support us, and we also gathered a lot of material from her that she helped with, and she was also our fact-based journalistic “accurate “ counterpart in some ways. She “acted” independent of us. It’s a nice sort of give and take. She’s completely outside the art media, but her work informed us.
YS: How do you feel about the FCP?
Naeem: Very positive feelings.
(The event begins, and we have to stop talking)