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  • Seeing the UnseenAn Interview with Mariam Ghani
  • Deborah Frizzell (bio)

Mariam Ghani (1978) is an artist, writer, and filmmaker. She was born in New York and graduated with a BA in comparative literature from New York University in 2000, and an MFA in photography, video, and related media from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 2002. Her work looks at places and moments where social, political, and cultural structures take on visible forms. Our conversation took place in July and August 2016, as Ghani was preparing for her solo exhibition at Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, The City and the City, September 10–November 5.

Ghani's solo exhibitions have appeared at the Queens Museum of Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Rogaland Kunstsenter in Norway, the Gatchina Museum in Russia, Ryan Lee in New York, and Gallery 320 in Delhi. Notable group exhibitions and screenings include the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Liverpool Biennial, the Sharjah Biennial, the Dhaka Art Summit, dOCUMENTA 13, the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Secession in Vienna, the CCCB (Centra de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona), the Met Breuer, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Guggenheim in New York. Recent texts have been published in Creative Time Reports, Foreign Policy, Ibraaz, Social Text, Triple Canopy, Manifesta Journal; and the readers Artists Writing 2000–2015, Dissonant Archives, and The Gulf: High Culture, Hard Labor. Ghani has collaborated with artist Chitra Ganesh since 2004 on the Index of the Disappeared, an experimental archive of post–9/11 detentions, deportations, renditions, and redactions; with choreographer Erin Kelly since 2006 on the [End Page 48] video series Performed Places; and with media archive collective since 2012 on the Afghan Films online archive. Ghani has received a number of awards, grants, and fellowships, most recently from Creative Capital. She teaches in the MFA Social Practice program at Queens College, City University of New York, and at Cooper Union.

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Figure 1.

A Brief History of Collapses, film still, 2 channel HD video with 7.1 channel sound, RT 22:30, dimensions variable, 2011–12.

Courtesy of the artist and Ryan Lee, New York

Deb Frizzell:

I'd like to begin our conversation with a quote from your artist statement on your website:

My practice is based on research into places, spaces and moments where social, political and cultural structures take on visible and tangible forms. I am interested in understanding both how we reconstruct the past in the present, and how we construct the present for the future, through shifting private and public narratives. Sometimes this research leads me to construct a fiction or reconstruct a speculative history around documents or fragments, physical traces, or a sense of place. Sometimes it leads me to witness, document, intervene in or engineer a present-day event or temporary space. Recurring preoccupations include: border zones, no-mans-lands, translations, transitions, and the slippages where cultures intersect; security cultures, archives, architectures of democracy, and national imaginaries; places where nature and artifice imitate and influence each other; and the intersections of war, trauma, memory, identity, migration, language, and loss. [End Page 49]

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Figure 2.

A Brief History of Collapses, 2 channel HD video with 7.1 channel sound, RT 22:30, dimensions variable, 2011–12. Installation view at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (Photo: Roman März).

Courtesy of the artist and Ryan Lee, New York

In order to follow your artistic practices and primary themes, as they engage multiple disciplines by exploring the constructions of history, myth, fiction, and legend, let's look closely at two of your projects: A Brief History of Collapses (2012) and The City and the City (2015).

With reference to your two-channel video installation A Brief History of Collapses, which premiered at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel and Kabul in summer 2012, can you discuss your original envisioning of this project, the process of your research, and the ways in which your research affected the themes you sought to explore?

Mariam Ghani:

The form of A Brief History of...


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