Film Programme | X is not a small Country – Unravelling the Post-Global Era

In collaboration with maat, Art Jameel presents a series of moving image and video works, curated by Róisín Tapponi. The programme responds to X is Not a Small Country Unravelling the Post-Global Era and is hosted at the Tactile Cinema (2021) site-specific installation by Bricklab, which offers a multi-viewing space for filmmakers and visual artists from the Arab region. Nine films, accompanied by public programmes, will be presented throughout the duration of the exhibition, addressing topics around post-global human geographies, urban governance and architectural environments. The programme includes films by Ahmed Mater, Ahaad Alamoudi, Alaa Mansour, Sophia Al Maria, Monira Al Qadiri, Akram Zaatari, Alia Farid, Farah Al Qasimi and Nadim Choufi.

In 2019, Art Jameel announced Bricklab, the Jeddah-based design studio, as the winner of the international design competition for Hayy Cinema, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The winning design expanded the role of what a cinema can be: besides a 200-seater main screen, Bricklab’s design incorporates an additional community screening room, audiovisual library, archive viewing rooms and an educational space. The expanded picture house was inspired and informed by Bricklab’s extensive research into the history of cinema in the Gulf, and interviews with Saudi and regional actors, directors and producers. Hayy Cinema is set to be a home for the local film community, and a stage for high quality regional and international independent film and due to open its doors as part of Hayy Jameel in the autumn of 2021. The jury also commended the shortlisted proposals by Kuwait/Bahrain-based Civil Architecture and Lebanon-based Karim Nader Studio. Both studios’ proposals were highlighted for their innovative concepts and technological proficiency.

Róisín Tapponi is an Irish-Iraqi film curator and programmer, and founder of Habibi Collective. Tapponi has directed many film festivals including Independent Iraqi Film Festival (IIFF) and has most recently curated a moving-image series at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2021). She is also the founder of Shasha, the first independent streaming service for MENA cinema, and ART WORK Magazine. She has lectured on cinema at Oxford University, Northwestern University and others.

Moving Imaginaries

Live dialogue with Roisin Tapponi and Rahul Gudipudi, moderated by Martina Muzi.

The conversation starts from the Art Jameel film programme on show at X is Not a Small Country exhibition and introduces the upcoming online programme on maat ext. – Cinematic Architectures [with]in Arab Geographies –, both programmes curated by Róisín Tapponi, and will explore the role of curating, archiving and sharing moving image works inside and outside institutional frames. With a focus on the accessibility of spaces, resources and body movements, the speakers will elaborate on how their practices facilitate the travel of film-based projects through disciplines, media and geographies.

The talk will be live-streamed and archived on maat’s youtube channel here

Film Programme details:

April 5th, 2021 – May 26th, 2021

Leaves Fall in All Seasons by Ahmed Mater

Leaves Fall in All Seasons is a film comprising mobile phone footage shot by migrant workers on building sites in and around Mecca from 2008 to 2013, a period that saw massive construction in, and redevelopment of, the city. The files were transferred to the artist’s phone using Bluetooth, while other materials were taken from YouTube. 

Ahmed Mater documents and scrutinises the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. Forging an ongoing, complex mapping of the Kingdom, his practice explores collective memories to uncover and record unofficial histories.

Hengli by Ahaad Almoudi

Shot in front of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in New York, this video discusses notions of translation and preservation. A collaboration between artist Ahaad Alamoudi and curator Mengna Da, it imagines a future in which humans invent HENGLi, a universal language that can be understood by anyone, thus highlighting the struggles, frictions and tensions that occur when information morphs through translated dialogues and movements.

Ahaad Alamoudi is an artist who pushes the boundaries of the historical representation of Saudi Arabia by studying the country’s reforming ethnography and showcasing it in the work she produces.

Ainata by Alaa Mansour

Using archives and editing, Ainata unfolds into a multi-layered exploration of micro-histories, revealing a dissonant account of complex interpretations relating to symbols of martyrdom and revolution. In excavating lands of resistance and liberation, the essayistic film oscillates between a dream-like drifting of the imaginary and perennial signs of ideology and conflict in order to deconstruct the hegemonic historical and political narratives of war and victory.

Alaa Mansour is a Lebanese artist, filmmaker and archivist whose work focuses on the history of violence and the power of images in the age of necropolitics.

May 27th, 2021 – July 17th, 2021

The Future Was Desert Pt II by Sophia Al Maria

In this film, the artist’s time-travelling alter ego, SFW (Sci-fi Wahabi), makes pilgrimages to desert petroglyphs and other ancient human sites in Namibia, Oman and Australia to build a visual narrative of the desertification of the planet. Drawing from archives of archaeological and anthropological expeditions, the film proposes a disjuncture between the historical scale of human time and the vastness of geological epochs.

Sophia Al-Maria is an American-Qatari artist, writer and filmmaker whose interests include Gulf Futurism, consumerism, technology, reactionary Islam, historical erasure and the blinding approach of a future no one is ready for.

Behind the Sun by Monira Al Qadiri

During the First Gulf War in 1991, countless oil fields in Kuwait were set ablaze by retreating Iraqi forces in a final act of defiance. Reexamining this dystopian landscape from her own memory, the artist reasserts its continuing relevance by juxtaposing VHS video footage of the oil fires with audio monologues from Islamic television programs from that time. The latter’s representations of God through natural miracles mutate into new, extreme imaginaries that parallel a transforming portrait of “the end of the world”.

Monira Al Qadiri is a Kuwaiti artist born in Senegal and educated in Japan. Her work explores unconventional gender identities, petro-cultures and their possible futures, as well as the legacies of corruption. 

al-Houbout by Akram Zaatari

Whether they inhabit the desert or are lost in it, the three men in Al-Houbut are confronted with the ruins of modern times. They are explorers of times past or player-performers in an existing architectural site whose encounters, movements and assessments of location take the form of an acoustic sounding of space. The film was shot in Shaabiyat Al Ghurayfah, a now-deserted public housing project built in the 1980s in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, to provide descendants of the Ketbi Bedouins with their first modern homes. 

Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari has produced films and videos that share an interest in writing histories and practices related to excavation, political resistance, the lives of former militants, the legacy of an exhausted left and the circulation of images in times of war.

July 18th, 2021 – September 6th, 2021

At The Time of the Ebb by Alia Farid

For At the Time of the Ebb, Alia Farid travelled 100 nautical kilometres from the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula to the Iranian island of Qeshm to film the annual celebration of Nowruz Sayadeen (or “Fisherman’s New Year”). The work foregrounds a number of local residents whose performances draw attention to their customs, traditions, material surroundings and natural environment—from a brightly decorated domestic interior to an expansive sea view overlooking the Arabian Gulf. 

Through videos, drawings, installations and public interventions, artist Alia Farid explores contemporary urban life, often against the backdrop of the complex colonial histories of Kuwait and Puerto Rico, her two countries of origin.

Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire) by Farah Al Qasimi

Mother of Fire offers a tongue-in-cheek portrait of a jinn (or genie) hailing from Ras Al Khaimah, once an important regional power but now one of the smaller, less-developed emirates of the UAE. Named Um Al Naar, the jinn narrates her story in the style of a reality-television confessional, recounting the region’s history of colonization and lamenting her diminishing relevance as the country’s breakneck modernization sanitises and repackages its traditions for easy consumption as “heritage” in the region’s Western-style museums. Interspersed with footage of haunted sites, anecdotal accounts of encounters with jinn and interviews with an exorcist, the film questions what, if anything, is real.

Farah Al Qasimi is a visual artist from the United Arab Emirates, best known for her photographs of life in the Gulf region.

The Sky Oscillates Between Eternity and Its Immediate Consequences by Nadim Choufi

Set in a space colony on Earth, this sci-fi explores how the future of smart cities relies on the promise of “sustainable” closed systems in the face of health and ecological crises. Two protagonists narrate how the control and exploitation of environmental life cycles and organisms become a blueprint to achieve such futuristic visions. This film received the top honor from the Art Jameel Commissions: Digital open call in 2020.

Nadim Choufi is a visual artist from Lebanon whose videos and installations draw from science fiction, synthetic biology, economics and other fields to examine the presumed objectivity of scientific progress and its soft and hard realities.

More details about the programme are available at the In time section of maat’s website.