Naeem Mohaiemen: Heard It On TV Must Be True (from "My Mobile Weighs a Ton")


Balancing opposed needs for obscuring (from state censors) and revealing (to audience), I kept cutting/slicing the text. In early drafts, there was chatter about modes of production. I spent time debating whether I should keep quotes around “a very trivial matter” on a wall label, thinking that would be enough of a signpost: to a statement made at a press conference about the riots. The problem with ellipsis is, in the time of brutal edges only a hammer is understood. With a few exceptions, many did really think it was a show about mobile phones. Bread crumbs were eaten & lost. But along the way, before rushing to the printers (alway late), Annu Bonbibi unpacked the various drafts.

Naeem: Ok, no more “all you need is love” in the invite. Decided to go with FnF in the end because wanted to bring it back to mobiles…:-)

Annu: there’s a military govt on, you take pictures of curfew, Chitrak gives you space, and you decide to be cute…:-)…

Naeem: Chitrak didn’t “give space” as some act of charity. Empty slot before Ramadan. I’m happy they gave me space, but I don’t need to follow some kindness script...
FnF reference isn’t “cute”, it’s friends helping each other and building communities. Friendship love, not the boinking kind.

Annu: yeah, friendship when the mobile connections were deactivated, yeah lots and lots of communities have been built in Dhaka since 1/11 as we’re all living in a spirit of genial camaraderie and people are getting involved in issues and not being paranoid about being watched - give me a break… ar FnF tar mane ashole ki?? Finger-nose-finger??

Naeem: Friends n Family! The mobile package. You know, cheaper rates to all your FnF.

Annu: Also, was thinking why not ‘And lots of wall’?? as last line. I didn’t mean Chitrak ‘gave’ you space in the sense you understood it. Who cares if you spent your own money or not? I was thinking more along the lines of - today - Bangladesh - a young man (punk ethics et al) - wants to show his mobile pictures of an age when things are not what they seem to be - what does he need? - wall, wall, wall - be it Chitrak or outside DU.. byas, ei tukui amar boktobbo.

To really be ephemeral and for your work to, so to speak, ’self-destruct’ it would have been great to take this exhibition to the streets. Outside Charukala? Don’t worry, the rain would make sure no visual trace is left of this visceral angst I feel needs outing. Otherwise its just more talk and talk and talk amongst ourselves, FnF indeed!

Ok, before we move to the next point, I need to get this out of my system. I don’t know if I explained why FnF was keeping me sleepless. So mobile gives you this ‘free’ talk-time to call your friends and family, right? And? During curfew, communication was brought to a standstill because the potatoes just switched off a button. All our lots and lots of FnFs all switched off at the same time. Silence.

Every time I’ve been trying to talk potato politics, you’ve been paranoid and asking me not to talk about this on the phone. So yeah, our phones are tapped, brains are being eaten raw – before they’ve had time to foment the slightest ideas of rebellion – our brightest and most courageous are being imprisoned and silenced. In other words, what does FnF bring me if I can’t talk politics/organize demos/discuss religion with my friends? Silence
Naeem: But I never saw the mobile as a symbol of freedom. It’s limited, it’s role is instrumental in state control, and then there’s the ongoing bastardization of cultural space through sponsorship. FnF and many other text in the show is just using mobile jargon as language. It’s not the mobile I care about, but “FnF” as a signifier of friendship. The word, not the technical mobile function. Not the buttons, the talk time, the 25 paisa night rates.

Annu: Ok, and…let’s talk about the statement. What exactly is the image war you’re talking about? Or is it the battle against ‘aesthetic fascism’ as you earlier called it? Aren’t sunsets just your pseudonym for ‘aesthetic perfection’? And in that case isn’t ‘aesthetic perfection’ a pseudonym for a greater stifling – not just of artistic creativity but in the end of life lived with a penchant for diffĂ©rance, a life with punk and spunk.. ’with a little bit of creative chaos’? that’s how I read it..

Naeem: When the newspapers accidentally printed the picture of the student’s flying kick, that was image war (quickly snuffed out the next day). Accidental vs deliberate image warfare. Momentary forays and then retreat. One step forward..

Annu: I liked the Sultan part in your last draft! The bit where it says: “Remember Sultan, he was turned away from his own show because the Shilpakala guard thought he was a fokirni (only after his death could they sell him at Sotheby’s). That’s punk before the Sex Pistols.”

Naeem: I think I will take it out though, runs the risk of some thickhead thinking I am comparing myself with Sultan. By the way, what’s Bengali for DIY? Is there one?

Annu: I would say, juto shelai theke chondi path (from shoe repair to reading Chandi puja text). So somebody who can do everything by herself, i.e. the shoe repair job of the lowest caste as well as performing puja -in Brahminical Hinduism a job only performed by Brahmin males. And the juto, it goes with the kick.

Back to what personally interests me- the howl and the gall or the ‘damage and panic’. As I see it, the fear, for the man on the street, of being insignificant and powerless, or silenced and snuffed out in a world of scandalous and outrageous on-your-face consumption or in a world where his vote, read voice, will not count, where his differánce will cost him his life.