London

Rehana Zaman, Tell me the story Of all these things, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 22 minutes 46 seconds.

Rehana Zaman, Tell me the story Of all these things, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 22 minutes 46 seconds.

Rehana Zaman

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Rehana Zaman, Tell me the story Of all these things, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 22 minutes 46 seconds.

Tell me the story Of all these things, 2016, the video work that comprised Rehana Zaman’s recent exhibition, was shown in three segments, presented on two freestanding screens in the ground-floor gallery and projected on a basement wall. The piece takes Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s 1982 experimental novel Dictee—about the author, her mother, Joan of Arc, Greek goddesses Demeter and Persephone, and the early-twentieth-century South Korean freedom fighter Yu Guan Soon—as its starting point; the title comes from two lines in the book addressed to the Muse, depicted in Zaman’s nonlinear narrative as an uncanny, digitally rendered female form whose furrowed skin matches the dimpled desert landscape through which she walks.

This first segment starts with a shot of a green cola can lying in this parched terrain, then quickly cuts to a view of Zaman’s digital muse walking toward the viewer, her gait purposeful, until she closes in, opens her mouth wide, and consumes the screen. The moment feels protective, if not empowering—as if the frame (read: gaze) must be confronted before it projects. This idea is underscored by the transition from animation to real footage of a kitchen scene, in which Zaman’s sister Farah, while cooking, talks about the adaptability that shapes a person brought up between two countries, Britain and Pakistan: a fluid existence that comes into sharp focus in a discussion about ticking boxes on official forms, and identifying as British Asian. When Zaman asks what this means, her sister responds by describing someone who must constantly explain herself, before noting: “I don’t think a box can define a woman, any person, really.” Cut to the end of this segment, in which a screencast taken from the UK government’s counterterrorism e-learning program “Prevent” requests that one rate one’s own “knowledge and understanding of radicalization.”

The problem of categorization thus oscillates between the body and the state, but finds complex grounding in intimate reflections that defy fixed or generalized frames. This is the case in the video’s second segment, in which Farah discusses her former preconceptions of Arab women, the politics of color among Asians, and how living in the UK—a white world—has impacted her brown-skinned daughter. (Meanwhile, the desert muse appears, drinks from what appears to be the same green soda can we saw before, and vomits yellow bile.) Such musings are interwoven with more “Prevent” content and, in the video’s third part (downstairs), a digital animation that includes a shifting view of an iceberg that takes in the object from upper tip to base, where the iceberg narrows until it morphs into the eye of a webcam device attached to a computer in a bedroom flanked by two posters that transform from a soccer player into a vision of a white nationalist movement, and from a convertible on a beach into a truck carrying militants. At the center of this bedroom scene, which reflects on a calamitous present increasingly marked by an us-versus-them mentality, someone sits at a desk, back to the camera, staring at an empty screen.

In the shifts between macro and micro views, Zaman refuses to let binaries settle. When her sister talks about losing a sense of self, for example, she says reducing work and consuming less has helped—an empowering decision that has alleviated a fear fueled by ignorance of who she is; as a result, she says, her relationships are more fulfilling. The admission is telling when one considers the meta-critique that binds the threads in this film, as signaled by the digi-muse who appears at various points in a strange, otherworldly limbo, performing actions as mundane as checking her cell phone or staring at nothing in particular. This is identity in all its complexity: at once celebrated and subverted through the overlapping frames of consumption and relation.

Stephanie Bailey