Critics’ Picks

Imran Perretta, the destructors, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 23 minutes 35 seconds.

Imran Perretta, the destructors, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 23 minutes 35 seconds.


Imran Perretta

Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road
January 17–March 15, 2020

Imran Perretta’s video the destructors, 2019, opens at a youth center in East London, where three young Muslim men occupy the deserted rooms, sites of both refuge and uncertainty in a United Kingdom starved by a decade of austerity measures. Paint peels off the walls, smoke leaks into the basement, and water floods the hallways. Three soliloquies written by Perretta are heard across a split screen flickering between the actors, who speak their lines alone in classrooms or conduct strange team-building exercises, such as gyrating together in a knot or inching through an obstacle course of rubber balls laid out like a minefield. “All of us held in contempt, accused of this pre-crime,” explains one, describing Islamophobia. “We are here as there is nowhere else we can be.” Meanwhile, a soundtrack of dissonant claps erupts from speakers positioned around the gallery, drumming up an ambience of unmistakable dread.

The minefield is a lucid proxy for Perretta, who draws on his experience of growing up British Bangladeshi in the years that followed 9/11. Perretta was fifteen in 2003, when the UK government launched its counterterrorism strategy Prevent—still in place—which obligates teachers, youth workers, and doctors, among others, to report signs of extremism. Almost as a provocation, in an early frame of the film, its title undulates over a black screen resembling the Black Standard, flown most infamously by ISIS. Given this cue, the destructors becomes a rumination on the destructive gaze of a state that perceives certain religious profiles through the lens of fundamentalism—as destroyers of the future, waiting to detonate. But the work’s secrecies are resoundingly tender. Perretta films from private, hermetic angles. His camera lingers on the back of a head, trails restless feet at floor level. That we never quite glimpse enough to identify the faces of these actors is a gift in a country bent on surveilling and stigmatizing Muslim bodies.