Naeem Mohaiemen

Volume Eleven (Flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism)


Digital C-print, typewritten pages (12 framed diptychs) | 2015

Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism) (2015) was commissioned for South as a State of Mind #6 (documenta 14 journal #1), edited by Quinn Latimer and documenta 14 artistic director Adam Szymczyk. The project responded to Documenta’s origin in the post-war German denazification history, by looking at imbrications of Asian histories with the European pre-war condition.

In the project, Naeem returned to his earlier exploration through translation of the books of his great uncle, the well known Bengali author Syed Murtaza Ali. He previously explored Ali by translating the stories “Vacuum Packed Sweets” (about a good fight in an Italian airport), “Will we meet again” (about Paris and ‘ladies of the night’), and a compendium of Ali’s European lovers in “Amphibian Man” (in the Raqs Media Collective curated Manifesta 7, 2008). In this new project, Naeem turns to a series of Ali’s essays that he has known about for a long time, but never been able to write about for fear of hurting his legacy. Looking at Ali’s unfortunate admiration for the pre-1939 German military machine, Naeem documents his own gradual dismay at realizing the essays Ali wrote may reach all the way up to 1945– in the service of a misguided belief that Germany was the only force capable of ousting the British from India.

Using a vintage German typewriter, and pairing with extreme closeups from the Bengali book pages, Naeem composed a gradual parsing of Syed Murtaza Ali’s essays on Hitler, investigating the publishing dates to understand just how long before 1939 (or, sadly, how much after 1943) the essays may have been written. Somehere within these sentences is an indictment of the manner in which anti-semitism has been cunningly detached entirely from its longest home in Europe, and fastened instead, in the service of “war on terror” politics, to the bodies of Muslim immigrants. Thus, while Gunter Grass can survive even revelations of German army service, an Ali surname cannot recover after these essays are translated. Thinking also of Alex Gerbaulet’s luminous film Schicht, and her need to disguise the role of her family through fiction, Naeem asks why such fiction is not used in the case of Ali’s story– a combination of both the liminality and ambiguity art spaces occupy, and the theoretical political distance of European anti-semitism from Asian anticolonial struggles.

After Documenta 14 journal publication, the project was also installed as a series of framed diptychs at the Marrakech Biennial 2016 (“Not New Now,” curated by Reem Fadda), and the solo show “There is No Last Man” (curated by Peter Eleey) at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA PS1) in 2017. The phrase “Flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism” came out of a conversation with artist Jaret Vadera.