Naeem Mohaiemen’s show Dui Presents a New Perspective on the Nature of History

Naeem Mohaiemen, Baksho Rohoshyo (Chobi Tumi Kar?), 2019
(Installation view)

“The box was inside an old book closet behind a set of books that no one had been very interested in. Inside were negatives and a roll of printed contacts. Father could not remember the box but he recognised his own handwriting on it. Neither could he remember the photographs though he did remember that they were taken on his first camera. In an ideal context like in a magazine each photograph would come with a perfect back-story” said Naeem Mohaiemen in Rankin Street a video of himself responding to the discovery of these photographs.

Naeem Mohaiemen, Rankin Street, 1953, 2013
(Video still)

In Baksho Rohoshyo (Chobi Tumi Kar?) Naeem attempts to create these back- stories for the photographs that his father, Mohammad Abdul Mohaiemen took in the 1950’s in Bangladesh, back when it was still East Pakistan. Naeem does this by sitting down with his father and his two aunts Suraiya Begum and Sadia Afroz Ali and revisiting these photographs that no one had looked at in decades to try and piece together the narratives behind each picture.

Naeem Mohaiemen is a Bangladeshi British Visual artist, writer and filmmaker who is a 2014 Guggenheim fellow and a 2018 Tuner Prize nominee. Through his work he explores the legacies of decolonisation and the collapse of the left in East Asia. He uses his family’s history as well as his personal experiences to examine the affects of boarders and nationalities and how they shape the stories of people, especially those from unstable societies.

Naeem Mohaiemen, Baksho Rohoshyo (Chobi Tumi Kar?) - No. 53, 2019.

The exhibition, which consists of solvent transfer prints of drawings (of the photographs) and text onto BFK Rives paper, is a reconstruction of the discussion that transpires between Naeem, his father and his aunts. The transcribed dialogues translated here into English for the purpose of reaching a wider audience, are colour coded to represent each corresponding family member. As the rediscovery of familiar faces and long forgotten landscapes takes place, the conversation traverses many different topics, seamlessly interweaving the personal and the political. We find in some places personal anecdotes that would hold meaning only to the immediate family. For example chatting about Mejo Fufu who baked tasty fruit cakes for Eid or the artist’s astonishment at finding out that his grandfather, who he viewed as pious and conservative, had at one time shared Brandy with his uncle to soothe the latter’s nerves before his exams.

Naeem Mohaiemen, Baksho Rohoshyo (Chobi Tumi Kar?) - No. 15, 2019

But we also find glimpses of larger historical arcs like the gradual replacement of terms such as didi or didimoni, that came to be identified as Hindu forms of address, with terms like bua or apa. Embedded in the memories of this one family we find clues that point to a broader political scenario.

Mohaiemen uses the personal history of his family as a metaphor for countless other families that have gone through various kinds of partitions of their own. “Relooking at these pictures after so many decades have past and attempting to tell their story with all the slips and mistakes that occur along the way is much like history in itself. “ Said Prateek Raja the owner of Experimenter Gallery where Baksho Rohoshyo (chobi tumi kar?) and Rankin Street (the video of the artist esponding to the photographs) are being exhibited as part of Dui Naeem Mohaiemen’s solo show.

Naeem Mohaiemen, Volume Eleven (Flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism), 2015

Also part of the show is Mohaiemen’s work Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism) in which he delves into the essays that the Bengali author Syed Mujtaba Ali who was his grandfather’s brother wrote between the two world wars expressing his admiration for Germany in World War Two, and naively predicting that Germany would defeat Brittan and liberate India. Here Mohaiemen muses that unlike in the case of Subhas Chandra Bose there shall not be an attempt to contextualise Ali’s opinions. He feels that the difference is always in the Surname. This part of the exhibition consists of Digital C prints, typewritten pages.

Naeem Mohaiemen, Baksho Rohoshyo (Chobi Tumi Der?), 2019
(Installation view)

We come away from this exhibition wondering about the many memories that all families must have, tucked away in long forgotten boxes behind a set of books that no one is particularly interested in.

Text by Diya Katyal

Images: Courtesy of Naeem

Mohaiemen and Experimenter