Naeem Mohaiemen

Last Man in Dhaka Central

Last Man in Dhaka Central, Experimenter, Frieze London, Fall 2014.

Supported by a Creative Time Global Residency in Netherlands.

At Frieze, a few notes from a possible future film are on display: fragments of a newspaper series investigating the 1975 failed uprising (the 7th November “Sepoy Mutiny” was the third coup of that year), and the Dutch press campaign for his release.

When he talks about pausing his Ph.D. fieldwork to become the unofficial archivist of the group, there is a cut in the interview.

After a break of a few minutes, he resumes. Perhaps that was our one mistake: producing so many copies.

I’m thinking of something else. I’m thinking of John Reed, documentarian of the Russian revolution.

John wrote to Max. Don’t tell anybody where I am. I’m writing the Russian revolution in a book.

I wish I could have been Max. I might have thought to warn John. You could still turn back, do it all over again.

But we never get the chance really, to do it again.

Being a record of a story in five parts whereby he reads Abu Yusuf Khan’s post mortem (the body is cold) of how the November 7th, 1975 “soldier’s mutiny” failed.

The headlines read: 
Zia embraced Taher and said, “You have saved my life.”

The Officers were frightened and fled Cantonment In a Dutch flat, the man underlined meticulously and drew blocky exclamation marks. Floating in through the open window are the sounds of the song

“Age jodi jantam.”

Who here is playing Bangla songs? The Akhond brothers music was the soundtrack of my jilted youth.

If I had known before/
I would ask my heart back once again/
I can’t take this burning any more.

In spite of precautions, Taher was seized
Sirajul Alam Khan had acquired an image for himself
Why November 7th uprising failed

Last Man in Dhaka Central, 82’, 2015.
November 1975. The Summer of Tigers was a twilight moment for multiple Left possibilities. After the assassination of Salvador Allende, Bangladeshis worried about a similar fate. The end came much more abruptly; instead of a faceoff inside a presidential palace, soldiers surprised the guard regiment raising the national flag at dawn. A brutal massacre killed the President and his whole family, ending the country’s first Socialist government. Three months later, two more coups followed, the last being a Maoist-inspired “soldiers’ mutiny,” which collapsed in the middle of betrayal and miscalculation. Caught up in this maelstrom was Peter Custers, a Dutch journalist who befriended the leader of the soldiers’ mutiny, and had formed his own underground group, Movement for Proletarian Unity. Last Man unspools two stories in reversed sequences. In a series of newsreels and memos, we start at the end—with Peter’s release. In the parallel story being told by Peter, his memories unravel over books, magazines, and clippings in his Leiden home, far away from the Bangladesh of 1975 or today. Peter, like many European Leftists of his generation (especially post–Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man), believed that even if the alienated masses trapped inside modernity were numbed into obedience, the revolutionary spirit might still be found “outside” modernity—in the prisons and ghettos of the First World, or in the cities and villages of the Third. It was a search for the latter that led him to drop out of a Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins and move to Asia in 1973. As he found out, though, there was never a complete outside; a numbed proletariat could also doom Leftist uprisings in the vaunted Third World.

What lies behind utopian hope, especially within the idea of socialism, against the weight of history and experience? What also of the men who survived those terrible times, unlike so many of their comrades, and now spend their waning days in solitary apartments, writing down memories? What was such a man then, and how does he remember himself today? Was he John Reed, recording the Russian Revolution, in the last free moment before the Thermidor? What does it mean to be a survivor and witness—the last man standing on the eve of another collapse, surveying the wreckage of the socialist dream in the middle of a horrific present that teeters on the cusp of the Anthropocene?

Kate Sutton: “But the real weapons in this exhibition are often tucked out of easy reach, with fearless films by Naeem Mohaiemen, Coco Fusco and the Syrian collective Abounaddara consigned to dark corners or the Arsenale’s infamously-overlooked back garden. Some works demand this insulation.”   

Venice, Italy:  “All The World’s Futures,” 56th Venice Biennale, 2015
New York, USA: MoMA DocFortnight (New York). February, 2016
Cologne, Germany: “Stealing from the West,” Academy of the Arts of the World, Oct 27, 2017
Rotterdam, Netherlands: In competition, IFFR – Rotterdam International Film Festival, 2016
Portugal, Spain: In competition, DocLisboa, 2015
Montreal, Canada: solo show, VOX contemporary image, Montreal, 2016