Friday, 15 September 2023, 24:00 | midnight

#133: Bani Abidi

As part of Berlin Art Week and selected as BAW Featured we are very delighted to welcome Bani Abidi.

Abidi’s work is characterized by subtle humor and the dark absurdities of everyday life. The artist poetically explores themes of nationalism, belonging, and self-determination, creating stories between fiction and reality, and personal and political drama. Currently living in Berlin and Karachi, Abidi takes on the role of a storyteller and urban archaeologist, recounting the cities in which she has lived. Fictional narratives intersect with individual experiences and pose nuanced questions, such as patriotism-particularly with regard to the historical conflicts and geopolitical relationships between neighboring nations like India and Pakistan. Her works tell stories of ambitious dreams and failure, addressing the relationship between state power, patriotism, and delusions of grandeur.

Bani Abidi will show:

Mangoes (1999) Single Channel, 3:14 min
Two expatriate Pakistani and Indian women sit and eat mangoes together and reminisce about their childhood. An otherwise touching encounter turns sour when they start comparing the range of mangoes grown in either country, a comment on the heightened sense of nostalgia and nationalism that exists in the Indian and Pakistani Diaspora. Both the women are played by the artist, stressing the idea of a shared history.

Anthems (2000) Single Channel, 2:42 min
Addressing the role of music in the creation of patriotic sentiment, the video ‘Anthems’ shows a split screen image of two young women (played by the artist) dancing to popular Indian and Pakistani songs. Their activity is private, and seemingly they are unaware of each other. But in fact they are not, insofar as they are sharing space on the TV monitor. Each of them keeps on turning up the volume on their stereos in an effort to outdo the other. The video ends in a cacophony of sound, where neither of the music tracks can be heard clearly.

Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star Spangled Banner (2004) Double Channel, 7:30 min
In November of 2003, the artist commissioned a brass pipe band in Lahore to learn how to play the American National Anthem, a piece that was not a part of their existing repertoire. Over an afternoon’s sitting of listening to a recording of the music that had been provided them, and after much fumbling and practicing they were able to perform a version of it. The video is a recording of this process as well as a glimpse of their interaction and physical surroundings. 

This piece is a metaphor for all forms of clumsy and forced cultural and political acquiescence that various individuals and governments have had to display towards the US in the past 3 years.The Scottish Pipe Band is a colonial legacy that still exists in Pakistan. Now, unattached to the military these band musicians play Indian music tunes at weddings.

Reserved (2006) Double Channel, 9:00 min
The city has come to halt. A state dignitary is about to arrive. Traffic is blocked to make way for the unhampered movement of four luxury vehicles. School children with crumpled paper flags in hand wait patiently to wave at the passing motorcade. An anxious reception committee of officious bureaucrats paces up and down a red carpet.This video was commissioned by the Singapore National Arts Council for the Singapore Biennale 2006.

The Distance From Here (2010) Single Channel, 12:00 min
The Distance from Here is a reflection on the psychology of visa waiting rooms, embassy protocols and the nervous anticipation of visa applicants who are hoping to access international travel from cities in South Asia. Gleaned from frequent visits to the ‘Diplomatic Enclave’ in Islamabad, Abidi gently observes the gestures of her fellow visa applicants, their conversations and questions, the spontaneous local economy that props up to enable the time of waiting and preparation, and the forbidding architecture and processes of permission that strip people of their belongings, and separate and organize them into obedient bodies. This is an homage to everyone who feels scared and unsure about whether they will ever get to make their journey.

An Unforeseen Situation (2015) Single Channel Video, 6:52 min
‘An Unforeseen Situation’ refers to a series of orchestrated mass events and spectacular individual feats hosted by the Punjab Ministry of Sports in 2014 during which multiple world records were reportedly broken by Pakistan. Picking up from the popular rumours, newspaper clippings and video footage surrounding the events, the artist spins her own version of the events as they unfolded.

The Song (2022) Single Channel Video. 22:35 min
The Song draws on Bani Abidi’s interest in sound and migration, and on what it means to be acoustically displaced. An older man who is a recent arrival to Europe, confronts the silence of his allotted Neubau apartment, finding his own way to settle down. This film gently nudges up to realities of migration and homesickness and associated yearning, traumas and loss. In so doing, Bani Abidi enables a complex spell of identity to emerge, where we glimpse an intimate portrait that glides between sanity and madness, tragedy and comedy, rootedness and rootlessness.

Bani Abidi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1971. She studied art at the National College of Arts in Lahore and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since her DAAD scholarship in 2011 she lives in Berlin. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Sharjah Art Foundation, Gropius Bau Berlin, Dallas Contemporary, Documenta 13, and the Berlin and Lyon Biennials, among others. Her works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, as well as the British Museum and the Tate Modern in London, among others.