ALL-WOMEN FIGHTING SQUAD 2, IRAN

Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Isolation, Worship, Autonomy, Darkness, Conspiracy
Description: A group of Iranian women train in Ninjutsu at the foothills of the Alborz mountains.

The operational logic of paganism is such that when a certain local god fails to deliver its graces, one can always switch to an alternative deity (of the river, the tree, the grove). This exchange is harder in monotheistic orders, requiring more subtlety, yet it can be done just the same. Here in the ancient Persian city of Karaj, we find this very kind of transition happening: a ruling sacred system has failed these women fighters; for decades, its religious leaders have situated them at the useless outskirts of its inner circles, denying them access to the powers of apotheosis and worship, and so now they turn their eyes elsewhere in search of other spirit-forms. They take to an isolated location and begin training in a martial art-form not of their immediate world, with no reason other than to attempt an experimental substitution of idols. Most importantly, however, one must note the two strands of devious irony at work in this conversion: (1) that they have chosen for their new tradition something that exists far outside the folds of their own cultural history and monotheistic paradigms (i.e. there is virtually no meeting ground between the concepts of Ninjutsu and an Islamic theocracy); (2) that they have chosen for their new tradition something which demands that they veil themselves even more extensively than their last theology. In essence, they have selected the braver counterintuitive path of intensifying the law brought down upon their bodies; to do so, they will drape and cloak themselves at even more severe levels than imagined before, entering into a state of hyper-concealment that spites their former overlords. The headscarf is taken further along the axis of its own intention, becoming a ninja’s mask (autonomous in their darkness). This is how one surpasses oppression (through the storm). Consequently, are we not to perceive a complex subversive trace among this camp of anomalous women, something amounting to more than just reverence, discipline, or a new trend or diversion? Should we not take seriously the fact that they have fastened themselves to a martial art-form which privileges (above all else) stealth, secrecy, anti-social codes, conspiracy, and assassination?

Link: http://www.majalla.com/eng/2013/11/article55246675

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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ALL-WOMEN FIGHTING SQUAD 1, KURDISH REGION

Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Identity, War, Exteriority, Trespass, Immensity, The Foreigner
Description: All-women Kurdish squad—the 2nd Peshmerga Batallion, whose name means “those who face death”—sets out to fight radical jihadist group ISIS.

The structures of identity tend to disappear whenever individuals are flung to the radical outside of the world (beyond the social, the political, the cultural). Moreover, this evisceration of self (where the old “I” burns away) is only magnified when one adds the variable of fatal struggle to the realm of experience. Thus an all-women unit leaves behind its insular community in order to challenge a rising enemy far beyond their midst. Their lives have been threatened; a mercenary formation to the East has already condemned their people to certain death, and marches nearer with each day; thus stationed at the crossroads of emergency, they find that they must kill or perish now. This part is simple enough—i.e. the nature of their immediate task—but the more complex question that remains is: Will they still be themselves once having traversed the Uneven and the Open on the way to battle? Or is their departure from home the first step to a dramatic trespass and reinvention? These women fighters cannot help but be transformed at such a distance from their memories and city walls; rather, this new terrain of exteriority—that of the desert, hills, or jungle—is an experience of immensity and borderlessness for which no prior subjectivity can remain. The old self will not survive the extreme temperatures of this remoteness, and so they will begin to formulate new definitions, profiles, appearances, and even names as they sit together in the dark and bleed together by the light. They will compose new anthems and initiate a poetic language that only they understand; this is the basic right of their lethal intimacy. Hence even those who return will never fully return, and the better for it (an existential revolution to match their practical revolution). They will come back irreversibly transfigured and evolved, wounded and altered, powerful in unforeseen ways, more expansive in their vision, more dangerous and capable for what they have endured in the places no one goes. They will come back as a band of strangers/foreigners to the very ones who they were sent out to protect. War is pure metamorphosis, nothing less.

Link 1: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2680820/The-women-trained-fight-ISIS-Elite-Kurdish-unit-prepare-imminent-threat-Islamic-militants-Iraq.html

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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DEATH SIMULATION 1, IRAN

Region/Concept: Middle East, Myth
Sub-Concept: Revolution, Forgetting, Virtual Sacrifice
Description: Photographer Azadeh Akhlaghi recreates famous death scenes and murder scenes leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Revolutionary traces; re-conjured hysteria; virtual martyrology. Are these photographic spectacles acts of morbid nostalgia, fascination, mourning, or a double murder? In that same line, are re-enactments of historical atrocity intended as a form of repetition or distortion (or even erasure), aligned with memory or forgetting? To re-envision the most celebrated corpses of the past, staged with meticulous detail, such that each coffin opens a portal into a time of militancy, struggle, and brutal enchantments. These miniature replicas of a culture’s highest death-checkpoints seemingly restore the beautiful insanity of a utopian/dystopian hour. And still, beneath the surface-appearance of tribute is always the charade and the mockery; after all, can we not perceive at work here a more insidious strategy of desecration, defacement, and banishment of such events to the hollowness of representational universes. No longer tragic, no longer haunting; without even the imitative loyalty of the museum or the mannequin. These vistas are just absurd in their artificial bleeding. No, it is not clear that the accursed visitations of the photographer are meant to honor or redeem the fallen, to iconize the sacrificial leaders of elapsed generations; if anything, we may be faced with an artist who employs the aesthetic zone in order to carry out a second killing. Now held hostage within the purgatory of simulation, where one can only look (but never believe), once-profound scenes of resistance keep their façade of significance all the while having lost their power to ever return. Meaning-evacuation; substance-evacuation (no longer even symbolic, just shown). They are within the display case of the hyper-real now, mirages whose original affects have long since vanished, gutted by an artist who uses flagrancy (melodramatic anguish) to conceal subtlety (imperceptible disappearance), and who thus works behind the curtain of tradition and false courtesy to make sure of just one thing: that the past holds nothing over the future.

Link: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/apr/09/azadeh-akhlaghi-photographer-who-stages-murders-iran

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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IMPERCEPTIBLE SOMEONE, PALESTINE-KUWAIT

Region/Concept: Middle East, Space
Sub-Concepts: Engulfing, Aloneness, Anonymity, the Stranger
Description: Artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein releases photographic series of a faceless man standing amidst barren landscapes.

Theory: There still remains a particle of Being here (enough to leave the outline, contour, or silhouette of this someone). Still, this does not amount to anything substantial: he is not entitled to act or speak with meaning; he is not allowed to influence the event. He has all the agency or importance of someone condemned to watch a tidal wave: he can only stare forward. Nevertheless, he is no survivor or even witness (both are pathological types). Rather, he is the figure of the engulfing…where the immensity of space conspires to drown one into final irrelevance. No identity or alternative to this drifting-across; no greater station than to serve as random, infinitesimal shade against the backdrop of a coastline, stadium, oasis, apartment complex, or vacant city square. Diminished form. His aloneness is not tragic but totally impersonal; it is the imprint of neutrality itself. And what becomes of Man when he is no longer the central player of history, no longer the inheritor of the destiny of the world? A gift; a curse. Some will die from humiliation; others will learn to appreciate the possibility of being unburdened by supremacy (toward slightness). They will learn the pleasure of immateriality, anonymity, supplication, and the imperceptible nights of the stranger.

Link: http://www.taymourgrahne.com/artists/tarek-al-ghoussein#18

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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WITCH-HUNTING BRIGADE, SAUDI ARABIA

Region/Concept: Middle East, Myth
Sub-Concepts: Discipline, Inquisition, Magic, Evil, Otherworldliness
Description: Saudi Arabian police force creates special unit for tracking witches.

Theory: If every codification of a law gives rise to the temptation and transgressive possibility of breaking that same law, then it should be no surprise that every totalitarian structure will give rise to a magical underground. The disciplinary severity of the surface always necessitates the opening of a subterranean world of non-conformism, heresy, and criminal superstition. Moreover, those who would hold the reins of power are aware of this inevitable outcome: thus the paranoiac urgency with which they stalk down and raid any semblance of witches, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, and subversive healers. Let them take the capital cities of empires; the others will take to the remote provinces, the forest hideouts, the jungles, the chasms, and the sand dunes. Let them take the official language of the center; the others will take the illegitimate counter-language of rumor, legend, fairy-tale, and occult whisper. Inquisitions are never the intended suppression but rather the breeding-ground of evil formulations (to forbid is to invite proliferation). If anything, this is the logical motion of enchantment itself: accusation, judgment, sentencing (some burned, stoned, or beheaded), followed by an inescapable supernatural backlash. Those who would build finite worlds will be met increasingly by those who desire nothing more than otherworldliness.

Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/saudi-arabias-war-on-witchcraft/278701/

Posted by: Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh

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THE SUMMONING WOMEN, AFGHANISTAN

Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Taunting, Provocation, Intimacy, Lyricism, Immortalization
Description: New book titled “I Am the Beggar of the World” collects the pieces of Afghani wives, mothers, and daughters of Taliban fighters and anti-Taliban rebels who compose poetry for the battle.
Selection: “Be black with gunpowder or be bloodred
But don’t come home whole and disgrace my bed.” (107)

Theory: The poetics of the taunt, the challenge, the boast, and the provocation. This feminine textuality supersedes its masculine counterparts at the level of sacrifice, vehemence, and brave loss, for it is nothing less than a direct inviting of the enemy to come kill their most intimate relations. Battle-lyricism. A speech-act of mockery and contempt that masochistically dares its opponent to come closer (angered by hostile language games) and confiscate their adored fighters; in this way, it is also a poetics of summoning and vitriolic calling-forward, one which attains its height only in the incensement/temptation of the foreigner to annihilate the woman’s lineage. There is no traumatic consciousness here (emotion is traded for tribal conviction); instead, we find a becoming-unprotected (vulnerability as armament); we find a mode of incendiary war-romanticism that bares its chest and begs the most distasteful ones to penetrate and set afire the ties of kinship. Their most prized possessions placed at risk upon the scales of combat (as they emblazon). The father; the son; the brother. All are fair game and ventured in a campaign at once cheered onward and mourned by the women who stay back in the tents, awaiting the results of the arena, and who ready their hands to wash, bury, and immortalize the torn bodies of their men as a final gift to the struggle. Do not fear the rebels; fear the reciters.

Link: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2014/03/05/eliza_griswold_and_seamus_murphy_document_afghanistan_s_landays_in_i_am.html

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

Kabul. Afghanistan. November 2012A young girl pouring tea in an

STONE MASK – GAS MASK, JERUSALEM-PALESTINE

Region/Concept: Middle East, Body
Sub-Concepts: Paradox, Simulation, Dissimulation, Trickery, Shamelessness
Description: Exhibition of the world’s oldest masks opens in Jerusalem museum; meanwhile, gas masks line the streets of Syria, Turkey, and Palestine.

Theory: The mask is a paradoxical device; within its structural logic rests the potential for simulation and dissimulation, transformation and deception, concealment and revelation, alienation and seduction, sadism and innocence, terror and pleasure. That it requires the almost total surrender of identity to the façade (one is allowed to keep only their eyes), that it seals the world of appearances in a state of eternal frozenness and trickery, that it lies in brazen form, that it transparently announces its own will to mislead and thus turns duplicity and fraud into a visual apparatus, and yet still remains a force of attraction and fixation, makes it something for us not to underestimate. For these reasons and beyond, the mask has facilitated many axes of human action over centuries, including those of: criminal concealment (the bandit, the ninja, the robber): anarchistic play (the carnival, the masquerade, the orgy); and militant violence (the gladiator, the knight, the Bedouin, the samurai, the face-painted warrior). There are even images of various gods wearing masks. What is more, these first gods were invented in the same region where ancient stone masks are now placed on display in galleries at the same moment that postmodern gas masks signal an ongoing flux of protest, upheaval, and war right outside the museum. Thus we are compelled to ask: Is there a conspiratorial link between the coverings of nine thousand years ago and the visors of the present state of emergency? Are these new masks descended somehow from their elder counterparts, and hence partake of the same matrix of power, distortion, disguise, frivolity, secrecy, and reckless bloodshed that has always been harbored by this one accessory. Accessory to what, then? To celebration and murder, to the simultaneity of celebration of murder, to the hour of shamelessness and the opening of an irresponsible universe, with its light and dark absurdities, such that it is this very same mask which at once allows us to dance (without judgment) and allows us to kill (without judgment).

Link 1: http://asianjournal.com/arts-and-culture/ancient-masks-go-on-display-in-jerusalem/
Link 2: http://www.dawn.com/news/710200/pro-palestinian-activists-dismiss-israeli-warnings
Link 3: http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/middle-east/140416-syria-blames-israel-turkey-us-for-chemical-attacks
Link 4: http://boingboing.net/2013/06/03/gas-mask-dervish-occupygezi.html

Posted by: Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh

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