Since 2006, artist Naeem Mohaiemen has worked on The Young Man Was, a series of films that explore failed left utopias, considering marginal men within these movements. The work highlights the performance of a certain form of doomed masculinity, and hope against experience. In the most recent iteration Two Meetings and a Funeral (featured at Documenta 14, Kassel), the gaze turns to the left in state power, where misrecognition lays a path toward failure.
But what of the films’ protagonists and the very different stories they might have told, if the form of this project had been autobiography?
In Naeem’s conversations with Peter Custers, the anchor of Last Man in Dhaka Central who died unexpectedly three months after the films premiere in 2015, this tension becomes apparent. The project thinks of frustrated romantic love (“ek gocha rojonogondha”) as a metaphor for the 1970s left; it is a movement that tries again and again. But Peter Custers rejected these readings, which may say something about our conflicting relationship to stories that we consider to be settled.
The camera reframes, and yet the people who live those moments insist that they still have the right to be heard in their own voices, not necessarily in ours.
This talk expands on remarks first given in 2015 at a symposium organized by Art In General with Vera List Center for Art and Politics in New York. Reprinted in What Now? The Politics of Listening (Black Dog, UK).
Part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Big Ideas’ talk series – a platform for renowned speakers, from scholars and thinkers to curators and artists, to share and discuss their current research and work.
Supported by the Stanley Picker Trust.
Naeem Mohaiemen combines films, installations, and essays to research, in The Young Man Was project (2006-present), failed left utopias, incomplete decolonizations, and misrecognition of allies– framed by Third World Internationalism and World Socialism. Project chapters have shown at the Sharjah, Marrakech, and Venice Biennales, ICA, Tate Britain, Berlinale, MoMA, and Documenta 14 (Athens/Kassel). Naeem co-edited System Error: War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Palazzo Papesse) and Between Ashes and Hope: Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism (Drishtipat). His essays have appeared in anthologies, including Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of US Power (NYU), Lines of Control: Partition as Productive Space (Johnson Museum), and Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production (OR). He co-founded Visible Collective (2002-2007; w/ Vivek Bald, Ibrahim Quraishi, Anandaroop Roy, etc.), confronting national security panic. Naeem is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at Columbia University.