Alia Farid, At the Time of the Ebb, 2019, 4K video, color, sound, 15 minutes 43 seconds.

Alia Farid, At the Time of the Ebb, 2019, 4K video, color, sound, 15 minutes 43 seconds.

Alia Farid

For her second exhibition at Galerie Imane Farès, Alia Farid applied tinted vinyl to the gallery’s glass-front facade to cast its interior in pink light. The rosy atmosphere, like that of an equatorial crepuscule—and in sharp contrast to the gray Rive Gauche streetscape outside—surrounded her video installation Maske Paske Wi, 2020. The title is Haitian Creole for “Perform Because Why Not.” Originally commissioned for Rotterdam’s Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, the film was shot in Port-au-Prince this past winter, where Farid worked with local residents to realize and record the eponymous dance and costume competition. Antigovernment protests, economic instability, and violence were widespread throughout the country at the time, and the event was imagined as way to address a need for safe, shared spaces. Entry was free, and the top prize was one hundred dollars.

On one of the screens of the two-channel projection, Farid showed slow-motion footage of three men moving through the city’s arteries on the back of a small motorcycle. The visual narrative on the second screen begins with the same trio, seen photocopying flyers and posting them across the city with liquid glue. At dusk, Farid captures the contest’s prizewinning performances at Plas Jeremi, a shady outdoor space bordered with concrete risers. Two children in Air Jordans follow the beat of a dance track, nimbly showing off their mastery of current dance moves such as the Reverse Nae Nae and the Roy Purdy. They are followed by a young woman, in a traditional cotton dress, who lifts her melodic soprano to invoke Erzulie, the vodou patroness. The final performer is one of the men from the back of the black motorbike, a suit jacket now over his tight white shirt. In a physical-comedy routine, he holds wide-eyed expressions he practiced while speeding through traffic. Farid gains an enviable intimacy with her subjects, who allow her to focus her camera on details of movement and dress for extended, unflinching shots. The passion and trust of her performers are evident. Her gaze is penetrating. And in contrast to the LED-powered flat screens that have been the primary access points for movies and artists’ films these past few months, the installation of Farid’s film, which involved a projection, allowed for an immersive experience appropriate to the work.

Filmed on Qeshm, an Iranian island that edges the Strait of Hormuz, At the Time of the Ebb, 2019, observes Nowruz Sayadeen, a local celebration of Fisherman’s New Year. The video opens in a white-and-rose-plastered room with a close gathering of seated figures, all veiled, some draped entirely in swaths of white-fringed fabric, rocking rhythmically to the sound of chanting and drums. Soon, the piece cuts to a vignette that serves as the film’s central scene: On a Qeshm beach at sunset, waves crash in the background as figures in towering palm leaf hats conjure the magic of theater. A cast of characters, some in white face paint and ceremonial dress, others costumed as animals, move quickly toward and then gracefully around one another before colliding in a whirl. A child appears in a plastic tiger mask; two adult figures wear a horse costume made partly from a carpet; another pair form a burlap-skinned camel. The film closes with a return to the candy-pink-and-white interior. Pieces of foil shaped into butterflies have been fastened to the wall. In a cropped shot, a young man performs a solo dance in jeans and a T-shirt. His face glistens with sweat as he gracefully moves his torso, his mouth shaping the words of a love song playing in Farsi. English subtitles run at the bottom of the screen: I KNOCKED AT THE DOOR OF MY LOVER’S HOUSE, SHE OPENED IT, AND THEN STOOD TO ONE SIDE. As in much of her work, Farid brings us very close to a figure once very far. She orchestrates a careful crossing of the thresholds of tradition, history, and love.