Naeem Mohaiemen

Review Excerpts


“Though too long for a gallery setting (85 minutes) it is a tour de force of dashed revolutionary dreams concerning the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1970s. Projected on three large screens, the piece has a flowing, gliding pace that feels pliable yet historically detailed. The reallocating documentary imagery feels wedded to the shifting style, illuminating the piece’s innermost theme of merciless transience in the world of leftist (anti-Soviet and anti-American) ideological politics. With a seemingly endless cascade of hypnotic, charismatic imagery, Mohaiemen appears in total control of the material, and drew me into something worthwhile and exhilarating.”

  – Joseph Nechvatal, Hyperallergic, July 24, 2018

“Harmel was part of the team organizing Adam Szymczyk’s Documenta 14, which shows in both her choice of artists (Naeem Mohaiemen, Narimane Mari) and her curatorial ambition (vast but reachable).”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

– Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Artforum, July 9, 2018

“That catastrophe was only partly an accident of climate. Its causes and effects both had sources in the passive-aggressive machinations of colonialism. Once you catch a hint of that reality, you begin to filter other work in the exhibition through it: terra-cotta reliefs of severed limbs by K. G. Subramanyan; and a brilliantly woven three-channel video piece called “Two Meetings and a Funeral” by Naeem Mohaiemen, about Bangladesh’s lost chance, in the 1970s, to take charge of its own future.”                                                                                           

– Holland Cotter, New York Times, June 23, 2017

“At the recently reopened Hessisches Landesmuseum, for example, we see galleries full of fascinating objects chronicling the history of the region from the Palaeolithic age to the 20th century, interspersed with […] a gripping [...] film about the aesthetics of the Cold War-era Non-Aligned nations by director and theorist Naeem Mohaiemen.”                                               

 – Digby Warde-Alda, Apollo Magazine, June 19, 2017

“Some of the show’s most memorable points are the ones that organically articulate these themes [...] the New York-based Naeem Mohaiemen’s Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017), a lucid, intellectually rich three-channel video essay about the failures of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Cold War attempt of Third World countries to carve out a space between the spheres of influence of the USSR and the US...“                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

– Ben Davis, Artnet, June 20, 2017

“Specifically, many works in the show revisit moments when history seemed open-ended—those fragile junctures in which various futures were equally possible and plausible before they became concretized, especially in the trajectories of the emerging nation-states that would go on to constitute the Global South. A standout in this regard is Naeem Mohaiemen’s riveting three-channel video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral [...] With original film footage and the narration of historian Vijay Prashad (who also appears as a protagonist), Mohaiemen examines the charged processes of consolidation and corrosion through which the “Third World” articulated itself as an alternative to the Western and Eastern Blocs.”                                 

– Nuit Banai, Art Forum, September 2017

“This is a complex, elegiac, and intermittently humorous reflection on the particulars of post-independence Bangladesh and, more broadly, on the curtailed potential of 20th-century revolutionary socialism – both longstanding concerns of the London-born artist and writer of Bangladeshi descent, who now works between New York and Dhaka… He manages to be at once sympathetic and mordantly funny: ruminating over the world-historical import of the force of decolonization one moment, commenting on the extraterrestrial qualities of the meeting’s venue, a sports arena designed by Brazilian communist architect Oscar Niemeyer, the next. It is a tone sensitive to the absurdities and ambiguities in this history, recognizing the hope still contained within the Third World’s dream of escaping the oppressive polarities of the Cold War through an alliance of non-aligned socialist countries, while also acknowledging the poisonous forms of authoritarianism and statism that infected it from the start.”                                                                                                                                                                        

– Tom McDonough, Texte Zur Kunst, September 2017

“The problem of left transnationalism receives its most rigorous and productive treatment in a terrific piece by Naeem Mohaiemen, whose contribution in Athens was a spare yet devastating feature-length video shot at that city’s abandoned Ellinikon airport, in which a cancelled flight occasions elliptical, tragicomic, and intensely absorbing meditations on historicity, geography, neoliberalization, postcoloniality, and finitude.”                                                                                                                                                                                                       

– Andrew Stefan Weiner, Biennial Foundation, August 14, 2017

“Cinema found itself in a strange position at the 2017 documenta, {...} That was because film got away with things the rest of the arts at documenta 14 generally didn’t – for instance, being communicative, argumentative, accessible, sensual and sometimes even playful.”                                                                                                                                                                   

– Olaf Moeller, BFI Film Forever, November 10, 2017

“[T]he political and economic relations that it narrates are complex and tangled. They are also bloody: the roll call at the end of the film, which includes a statement by and brief biography of each of its protagonists, includes such figures as Muammar Gaddafi, who appears, young and handsome, in an archival clip from the early 1970s, and Yasser Arafat (‘Palestine is the cement that holds the Arab world together, or it is the explosive that blow it apart’) in his trademark dark glasses. Deftly avoiding the twin traps of moralizing and nostalgia, Two Meetings’ critical assessment of NAM and its failure is prescient in its analysis of how international relations fall apart.”                                                                                                                           

– Amy Sherlock, Frieze, June 12, 2017

 “The fact that a large portion of the audience, including the charismatic liberators, all had their headphones off during Rajaratnam’s speech is a telltale sign they were not really listening to him. His warnings to evolve, and to control the means of technological production, went largely unheard. I am interested to sometimes imagine an alter-history—one where the writer Rajaratnam (who was mentored by George Orwell), rather than the charismatic guerrilla leader Fidel Castro, could have been the leader of that 1973 NAM summit. That is the history that did not come to pass—whether it would have delivered a version of socialism that could have survived, we will never know.”                                                                                                 

 – Sarah Lookofsky, Moma Post, February 7, 2018

“Throughout documenta 14, peoples and places are connected by a common struggle: for access to common resources that larger powers seek to claim and limit, often violently. Naeem Mohaiemen’s Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017) is an excellent three-channel video study of the Non-Aligned Movement—established in 1961 by a group of states from within the burgeoning Third World liberation movement to offer a third way through the Cold War binaries of the time. Shown at the Hessisches Landesmuseum, the documentary follows historian Vijay Prashad, leftist politician Zonayed Saki, and writer and activist Samia Zennadi into events and architectures associated with that history. It also features archival interviews with figures from within the movement, which are interspersed with footage from a 1973 NAM summit in Algiers attended by such figures as Che Guevara and Yasser Arafat. In one clip, Marcelino dos Santos, a founding member of FRELIMO for liberation of Mozambique, points out how important it is for Non-Aligned member nations to control their national resources and strengthen their economies in order to consolidate their political positions on the global stage.”                                                                                                                                                                         

– Stephanie Bailey, Ocula, August 11, 2017

“[F]ictional version of the tale is magically existential — like Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett mixed with Julio Cortázar, threaded through the needle of colonialism and 21st-century security states.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

– Martha Schwendener, The New York Times, January 17, 2018

“Standout works at EMST include “Tripoli Canceled,” a polished film by the New York-based artist Naeem Mohaiemen, set on an old 747 parked at the crumbling Hellenikon Airport in Athens. The pilot goes through the motions of announcing flight time, but never takes off; like the myriad migrants here whose movements are blocked by European Union regulations, this plane is stuck in Greece."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

– Jason Farago, The New York Times, April 9, 2017

“While this is not the forum to continue/reopen the many debates engendered by the two-city Documenta, it is clearly part of the final conceit of Mohaiemen’s project, since the film is set in the ruin of the two airline terminals—the domestic one formerly a site for squatting, while the international Saarinen section is maintained by a foundation—and screened as part of the dual-site German mega-exhibition.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

– Andreas Petrossiants, The Brooklyn Rail, February 7, 2018

“But what hypnotic watching the viewer is a former public building empty of life and full of art. Trimmings of a bygone existence that open paths, causing unexpected “encounters” between yesterday and tomorrow. This is absent. “When a man loses his tongue?” The hero wondered. What is fighting, damage or death? Where this is reproduced daily in a place without life, without using? Suffice a man, like telling the director. For where there is even a man there is a story to tell.”                                                                                                                             

– Maria Katsounaki, Kathimerini (Greek), April 9, 2017

“But I came away with a surprisingly long list of artists who I think have done some of the best work of their lives for this Documenta, including Kanwar and Mohaiemen, as well as Banu Cennetoglu, Bouchra Khalili, Mounira al-Solh, and Angelo Plessas."                                                                                                                                                                                         

– Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Artforum, April 12, 2017

“Mohaiemen has long exposed the surprises to be found within the historical archive, but with Tripoli Cancelled he has opened himself to the surprises discovered within the creative process itself, marking a new point of departure for his work."                                                                                                                                                                                                   

– Tom McDonough, Bomb Magazine, January 29, 2018

“Also, I can’t help but think of Paul Ricœur with this film. He has a lecture called “Who is the Subject of Rights?” in which he writes of the four basic factors for the human agent to designate herself as a self-respecting and self-esteeming individual, thus as what he calls a capable subject. These four things are her capacities for designating herself as a speaking subject; being the author of her actions; being able to be the author of a narrative, a history (for instance uninterrupted by a forced migration); and finally, we esteem and respect ourselves when we can own our words, our actions, be the narrators of the stories that we tell about ourselves and evaluate them as either good or obligatory (to someone, to a group)—our ethical capacity.”         

– Didem Pekun, e-flux, May 2017

“He sings a song near the end of the film in which he says that on Sundays he only wants to rest, as the Judeo-Christian God is described as doing in the Old Testament at the end of creation. This might lead viewers to think that his entire situation, which is his entire world, is his own omnipotent fabrication.”                                                                                               

 – Alan Gilbert, Four Columns, February 9, 2018

“This brings me back to time. In this 95 minute saga, time becomes space – a site for reflection – for thoughts to permeate the haunting silences of when Mohaiemen’s actor is talking in wet-walled stares.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

– Mario D’Souza, The Wire, February 8, 2018

“With nothing but haze visible beyond the airport’s borders, the protagonist exists in a dream state on the border between reality and insanity. Loosely based on an incident in which Mohaiemen’s father lost his passport and was stuck in Ellinikon airport for nine days, Tripoli Cancelled astutely captures the state of interminable displacement that characterizes the 20th and 21st centuries – a time of migration, exile, refuge and waiting.”                                                                                                                                                                                           

– Sarinah Masukor, Frieze Magazine, March 2018

"But anyone acquainted with Mohaiemen or his work knows he is a keen but somewhat perverse polymath, whose possible subjects of analysis run the gamut from newsworthy events of historical record to the sorts of minor cultural artifacts that constitute what literary theorist Lauren Berlant has dubbed the "silly archive."                                                                                 

– Murtaza Vali, Modern Painters, February 2012

"...ever on the verge of collapsing into abstraction, their materiality performs the indeterminacy of the event they record."                                                                                                       

– Sarinah Masukor, West Space Journal, Issue 2, Summer 2013

“Mohaiemen is the narrator of his own story and the anthropologist circumambulating history from the disorientation of memory: his rendering of fragmentary awareness and adult commentary in a voice that is neither emotional, nor completely detached, creates a certain distanciation between viewer and the 'young man that was.’”                                                      

– Seema Nusrat Amin, Depart Magazine, Issue 10/11, 2012

"Such considered construction reminds more of a Dadaist collage than a documentary."

– Matt Millikan, Arts Hub Australia, October 11, 2012

"It not only epitomized one of the exhibition’s crucial and entirely unscripted themes — how to make engagements with a revolutionary past meaningful in the sudden eruption of a revolutionary present — it also doubled back on some of the biennial’s grand and problematic claims, proposing art as a subversive act, for example, by questioning art’s potential compared to that of political action or sustained activism."                                                                                                                                                                                                         

– Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Bidoun, Summer 2011

"[D]ifficult to describe, not least because, as Naeem says himself, to do so and to sketch the mountain of which the film is a very small 'tip', takes longer than the film and inevitably undoes it as a work with real potency. The piece revisits a time when hijackers said things like "we hurt bourgeois people" or "it is duty of revolutionary soldiers" but the approach is pointed in its sophistication."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 – Guy Mannes-Abbott, Sharjah Art Foundation, March 2011

"This precarious situation, where both men want to win but need to trust the other without knowing what is going on at the other side of the line, is elevated in tribute of something universal. It broadly refers to all the personal and political negotiation[s] that take place in our lives."                                                                                                                                                       

– Maaike Gouwenberg, Mister Motley, July 2011


"With this film, Mohaiemen creates an opportunity to ponder what drives radical insurrection and life threatening devotion to extremist movements that promise a more ideal world."             

– Isabella Ellaleh Hughes, Art Asia Pacific, June 2011

“Rather than proceed from a central thesis, Mohaiemen guides us through a series of expositions: as images and questions accrue, we reach not so much a conclusive summation, but a sense that the same phenomena have erupted in various parts of the world, and continue to erupt, and that the connections between them have yet to be fully explored.”                             

– Ela Bittencourt, Brooklyn Rail, March 4, 2014

“The multiplicity of perspectives Mohaiemen follows overlap and diverge at different points. In his use of history, things are both linked to and different from what has come before, so that instead of envisioning events as a repetition of the past, we start seeing them as transformations based on its echoes. Afsan’s Long Day (2014) begins with photographs from two protests held on the same day: one a leftist gathering at a University in Dhaka, the other by a group of young Islamists. The narrator observes the similarities between the young men at both protests – clothing, phones, a feeling of anger toward the imperialist West – but, despite the images being cut together, his observations don’t lead to an equivalence. Nor are the images matched graphically (they are neither match cut or linked through two similar gestures being placed together) in a way that might lead to that conclusion. When you start really looking, resolution becomes impossible."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

– Sarinah Masukor, LUX, October 4, 2016

“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.”                                                                                                                                       

– Kate Sutton, Ibraaz, July 30, 2015

“Naeem Mohaiemen’s Last Man in Dhaka Central, the third film in his The Young Man Was series, continues his studies of 1970s revolutionary Leftist political movements and challenges facing them; this third part interweaves firsthand and archival interviews with recently deceased Dutch thinker and activist Peter Custers.”                                                                             

– Aaron Cutler, Brooklyn Magazine, February 18, 2016

"Most probably a political work, or maybe moral"                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

– Le Monde (blog), October 26, 2010

"The admission sets the tone for his wry photo-and-text works, which gently question the efficacy of activism-- and of his own art vis-a-vis political change."                                                   

– Brian Boucher, Art in America, January 2010

"They look like decent men, in the full flavor of youth, wanting something that the world has not given them thus far, but not yet disillusioned fully with the capacity of human society."           

– Vijay Prashad, Take on Art, 2009

"Some of the very best stuff in the back has hardly anything to do with sampling at all, including Mohaiemen's searing treatise on the interrelationship between hip-hop and Islam."               

– Dave Itzkoff, New York Times, June 2008