Naeem Mohaiemen

Two Meetings and a Funeral

2017

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Not on display

Artist
Naeem Mohaiemen born 1969
Medium
Video, 3 projections, colour and sound (surround)
Dimensions
Duration: 89min
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased jointly by Tate with funds provided by Tate Members, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 2020
Reference
T15693

Summary

Two Meetings and a Funeral 2017 is a three-channel documentary video installation with sound. The film, lasting just under ninety minutes, is composed of archival footage, interviews and text. Across the three screens, archival footage is shown of leaders from developing countries speaking at the two meetings of the title: the 1973 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Algiers and the 1974 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Lahore. This archival material is interspersed with interviews of contemporary figures reflecting on these historical summits. The work is divided into three chapters, taking the viewer to New York, Algiers and Dhaka respectively. Guided by Indian Marxist historian Vijay Prashad, archaeologist and editor Samia Zennadi and Bangladeshi leftist politician Zonayed Saki, the viewer is led through some of the grandiose and now-empty buildings which hosted these international meetings. Splitting the images across the three screens, Mohaiemen has often juxtaposed multiple views of the same scene shot from different angles, or presented archival footage and a scene shot at the same location decades later alongside each other. Regular cuts to black and a constant movement back-and-forth between past and present interrupt the unfolding narrative and chronology of events, whilst giving the work its visual rhythm. The work exists in an edition of five, Tate’s copy being the fifth in the edition. Other copies from the edition are in the collections of the Sharjah Art Foundation; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Kiran Nadar Museum, New Delhi

Two Meetings and a Funeral was made for the Kassel iteration of documenta 14 and follows on from Mohaiemen’s series of four films, The Young Man Was 2011–16, which draws on archival material and focuses on what the artist has described as ‘a certain form of doomed masculinity on the margins of Leftist movements that are trying to get to state power, usually through insurrection’ (quoted in Masukor 2018, accessed 31 November 2019). As a continuation, Two Meetings and a Funeral explores the failures of leftist ideologies when in power. Despite the seriousness of its subject, the title of the work humorously hints at the popular British romantic comedy film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). Mohaiemen often employs witty references, anecdotes or unexpected behind-the-scenes shots, thereby inserting his own voice and subjectivity into his appropriated material as well as undercutting some of the situations he depicts in his works. The title Two Meetings and a Funeral introduces the argument developed in the film, which presents the 1973 NAM and 1974 OIC summits as pivotal moments not only in the global history of the Third World but also in the local history of Bangladesh. These are shortly followed by the assassination in 1975 of the country’s first Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leading figure of Bangladesh’s independence, an event that dealt a fatal blow to what Mohaiemen views as an era of hope. Beyond Bangladesh’s own history, the film exposes how socialist aspirations, which formed the basis of transnational solidarity amongst non-aligned countries in the context of the Cold War and decolonisation, were replaced by religious alliances.

As with most of Mohaiemen’s works, this global history is seen through the example of Bangladesh, where the London-born artist grew up very soon after the country gained its independence from Pakistan in 1971. A recurrent theme that Mohaiemen revisits in his works, the 1970s were for him ‘a moment when anything seemed possible politically, particularly if you’re from the left. And it’s a moment of promise because of decolonisation. But then it pivots and everything starts going dark, by my estimation. So I’m really interested, because it’s the period when things didn’t work out.’ (Quoted in Fox 2019, accessed 31 October 2019). Throughout the film, the viewer witnesses not only the erosion of the transnational unity of the non-aligned countries around shared principles and goals, but also the consequences of strategic alliances on the future fate of certain member states – such as Bangladesh, shifting from socialism and secularism to Islamism. As the work centres on footage of leaders who attended the summits – figures such as Houari Boumédiène, Muammar Gaddafi, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Shiekh Mujibur Rahman or Indira Gandhi – history appears contingent on a handful of men and tactical alliances. The work also explores the unreliability of memory, here official and collective, and asks the question – which runs throughout Mohaiemen’s practice – what would have been our other possible futures, if events had unfolded differently? Writer and critic Tom McDonough has described Two Meetings and a Funeral as:

an essay-film in the tradition of Chris Marker’s 1977 ‘Le fond de l’air est rouge’ (also known as, A Grin Without a Cat); as with the latter, Mohaiemen opens his film to multiple voices and constructs a cinematic language that echoes his dialectical vision of history itself. And indeed Mohaiemen has written of his own work … in terms of a ‘return to the past as prologue to possible futures’; that is to say, as an expanded form of history-writing, shedding light on moments occluded from the accepted accounts of decolonisation and nation-state formation – particularly as concerns South Asia – as well as on the impasses and strategic detours faced by the global Left in the years leading up to the neoliberal risorgimento of the 1980s.
(McDonough 2017, p.165.)

Two Meetings and a Funeral has been exhibited widely, notably at the Art Institute of Chicago and SALT, Istanbul in 2019; and at the Liverpool Biennial and Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen in 2018. It was also included in artist’s Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain, London in 2018.

Further reading
Tom McDonough, ‘Incorrect History’, in Texte Zur Kunst, no.107, September 2017, pp.163–5.
Sarinah Masukor, ‘Left Behind?’, Frieze, 19 February 2018, https://frieze.com/article/left-behind, accessed 31 November 2019.
Killian Fox, ‘Interview’, The Guardian, 22 September 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/22/naeem-mohaiemen-turner-prize-2018-documentary, accessed 31 November 2019.

Elsa Coustou
October 2019

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