Naeem Mohaiemen

United Red Army


Timeline | Suite of 20 | Archival print on paper | 2012

United Red Army (The Young man was, part I)

Video | 70 mins | 2011

September 1977. The Japanese man speaks in halting English; the Bangladeshi negotiator, with the clipped confidence of an army officer. A colour scheme suggests order in the exchange: green, red, and the occasional white. But underneath the schema of a dark screen—subtitle sans image—lies a waiting unravelling. The Japanese Red Army had attached to the Palestinian cause, and through that to an idea of global pan-Arabism. But the high-value hostage turned out to be an Armenian banker from California, and the Democratic Party Congressman on honeymoon negotiated a call to the White House, only to be greeted by Jimmy Carter’s answering service. The hostage terrain was not an “Islamic Republic,” as the hijackers thought, but a turbulent new country ricocheting between polarities and imploding in the process. Two years earlier, the country had gone through a sequence of military coups, decimating, in turn, the country’s founder a group of war veteran army officers, and finally, a Leftist insurgency within the army.

Instead of being the willing platform for the Japanese Red Army’s ideas of “Third World revolution,” the actual Third World hit back in unexpected ways, turning the hijackers into helpless witnesses. The lead negotiator, codename “Dankesu,” says with baffled understatement and halting English: “I understand you have some internal problems.” An eight-year-old watches the television screen with growing confusion—the screen shows an unmoving control tower for hours on end, and he wants his favourite show to start again.

“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 “shadow-boxing with hi(s-)story,” Depart Magazine, Issue 10/11. 2012

“...ever on the verge of collapsing into abstraction, their materiality performs the indeterminacy of the event they record.”    – Sarinah Masukor, “Touching the Face of the World,” West Space Journal, 2013  

“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, 2012

“Such considered construction reminds more of a Dadaist collage than a documentary.”
– Matt Millikan, “Are Documentaries Art?”, Arts Hub Australia

“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, 03/2011


Sharjah, United Arab Emirates: “Plot for a Biennial,” Sharjah Biennial, 2011.
Turin, Italy: “Mario Merz Prize, Finalists Show (with Wael Shawky, Glenn Ligon, Lida Abdul, Anri Sala)”, Fondazione Merz, 2015.
Dhaka, Bangladesh: “Chobi Mela IX,” Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, 2017.
Delhi, India: Kiran Nadar Museum, 2013.
New York, USA
“EXPO 1: New York, Speculations (The Future is…)”, MoMA PS1, 2013.
“Migrating Forms,” Anthology Film Archives, 2012.
“The Young Man Was (Part 1: United Red Army),” New Museum, 2011.
Istanbul, Turkey: “Ucaklar, Trenler, Otomobiler ve Tekneler,” SALT, 2011.
Moss, Norway: “Imagine Being Here Now,” Momentum Nordic Biennial, 2011.
Toronto, Canada: Images Festival (two-person show w/ Silvia Kolbowski), 2012.
Paris, France: “Dying of the light,” Jeu de Paume, 2013.
London, UK: “Out of the Archive” (symposia), Tate Modern, 2011.
Edinburgh, UK: “Forms of the Left,” University of Edinburgh, 2016.
Krakow, Poland “Afterimages of the German Autumn,” Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, 2017.