New York

Baseera Khan, Braidrage, 2017, ninety-nine unique poured, dyed resin casts taken from the artist’s body; synthetic and human hair; hypothermia blankets; five unique harnesses made from wearable Cuban chains and rock-climbing cords; black chalk. Installation view. Photo: Thomas Barratt and Mark Waldhauser.

Baseera Khan, Braidrage, 2017, ninety-nine unique poured, dyed resin casts taken from the artist’s body; synthetic and human hair; hypothermia blankets; five unique harnesses made from wearable Cuban chains and rock-climbing cords; black chalk. Installation view. Photo: Thomas Barratt and Mark Waldhauser.

Baseera Khan

PARTICIPANT INC

Baseera Khan, Braidrage, 2017, ninety-nine unique poured, dyed resin casts taken from the artist’s body; synthetic and human hair; hypothermia blankets; five unique harnesses made from wearable Cuban chains and rock-climbing cords; black chalk. Installation view. Photo: Thomas Barratt and Mark Waldhauser.

SOME FAMILIES STACK THE DOLLA BILLS. MY FAMILY STACKS THE TRAUMA. NOW I’M TRYING TO MAKE SOME MONEY OFF UNDERSTANDING MY MAMA’S DRAMA. These lines appear in the print Prayer (prostrating in submission five times a day to an entity outside of your body), the first work encountered in “iamuslima,” Brooklyn-based artist Baseera Khan’s New York debut. One of five works interpreting the five pillars of Islam (we see also Pilgrimage, Fasting, Oneness, and Zakat), Prayer has a brassy transparency that is typical of Khan’s project. The artist often levies the contradictions underlying contemporary discussions of identity and oppression—particularly the ways in which artists and institutions mobilize such topics without acknowledging their own complicity in the markets that reify those very subjects. Here, in a series of performance-oriented sculptures, prints, and a selection of her personal archive (all works 2017), the artist mused on intergenerational trauma, the violence of neoliberalism, and mythologies of upward mobility via her own body and family history and the images and narratives they’ve produced.

The show’s locus was Braidrage, a rock-climbing wall comprising ninety-nine resin holds, each cast from the artist’s body. Khan arranged these elbows and ankles on the wall in a jock’s exquisite corpse; they also spilled onto the floor, where their valence was darker, the scattered body parts evoking the aftermath of a toppled boat. A girthy black braid of synthetic and real hair sourced from factories in India and sold in downtown Brooklyn and Harlem hung from the ceiling alongside several chains—a talisman of globalization and outsourcing. During the opening, Khan performed an ablution with black chalk and scaled the wall, leaving a score of inky marks. Her climb was also into a lineage of ritualistic 1990s performance from the heyday of identity-politics, recalling both Janine Antoni’s 1992 Loving Care and Matthew Barney’s various ascensions through institutional architectures. If Antoni, mopping the floor with her blackened hair, instrumentalized her body in a feminist critique of both the marginalization of domestic labor and the machismo of AbEx and Barney sought to destabilize his own hegemonic subject position, Khan places herself in a field of herself, wherein she must constantly navigate her own body—strategize its usefulness—differently.

Arranged against a wall were the eleven pieces making up Acoustic Sound Blankets, some hanging, some sloughed off on the ground, all reminiscent of Robert Morris’s corporeal Minimalism. These soundproofing blankets—each with a hole cut in the center, around which was embroidered patterns drawn from family heirlooms—invited the body, rather than represented it. In performances preceding the exhibition, and in one at the show’s finissage, Khan brought friends and strangers under the blankets with her, cocooning them in an intimate, secret space—unsurveillable and uncensorable.

In the past, Khan, a Muslim American and specifically a feminist Indian-Pakistani-Afghani woman who was raised in Texas by a family threatened with deportation, has written about being excluded from racial solidarity movements in America. She produced “iamuslima” before the executive order that banned Muslim immigration, an event that has inevitably shaped the work’s reception—suddenly, it is “timely.” This is a problem of art in an age of crisis: Unforeseen events have the power to retool or reframe the objects around us. Of course, Khan’s perspective has always been essential. Her project, moreover, exceeds what the market has pivoted toward—it is unrelenting in its insistence that identity is contingent and that we are all, together, implicated.

Annie Godfrey Larmon