On September 27th, This is Worldtown unveiled the full work of seven emerging media-makers taking charge in telling new stories about migration, space, healing and love at our group show, Unbound: Stories from Behind the Dust.
The exhibit was the culmination of a year-long program that used creative workshops and mentorship to assist in the creation of six visual stories that unearthed the complexity of female labour, love, archiving, memory and representation.
The featured media-makers are Samah Ali, Aleia Robinson-Ada, Eli Farinango, Soko Fong Negash, Mashal Khan, Aniqa Rahman and Shazlin Rahman.
To kickoff the evening, TIWT’s founder and creative director Sana A. Malik led a panel discussion with the artists, where they shared their inspirations and process.
“I was looking to mainstream media for a reflection of myself, and every time I didn’t see myself being reflected, it eroded my self-esteem and my self-worth. [My grandmother] has been a source of strength for me. And through doing this work, and sharing it with other people, I discovered that a lot of other women of colour like myself are also dealing with the same questions.” – Shazlin Rahman
“What does it mean to wander free in a brown body, in the place that you grew up in? With this project, I wanted to add to the cultural imaginary of what it could look like of women just existing. I wanted the viewer to focus on the gaze of the women, and how strong they are, despite what they’ve gone through.” – Mashal Khan
“I feel like making pieces that are relatable for the audience I want to speak to that are these people that look like me is really important.” – Aleia Robinson-Ada
“The mark that I want to leave behind with my work is representation, but also acknowledging our land and taking care of it, as well as our relationships with our families.” – Eli Farinango
A complete video of the panel discussion can be viewed here:
Unbound: Stories from Behind the Dust will be on display next at Mississauga Civic Centre from October 23rd to November 7th. Entry is free and will open with a reception from 5-7pm at the Great Hall on Tuesday, October 23rd. RSVP here.
Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. awaara azad (wandering free) by Mashal Khan is the second in the series.
I traveled to Pakistan last summer with my friend to create a short film and conduct research on the restricted mobility of Pakistani women, trans and non-binary folks in various regions of Pakistan. We decided to research this topic because both of us spent our childhoods there and had visited often after immigrating to Canada. When I was younger, moving around my father’s village near Peshawar was less limiting compared to when I became a teenager. I remember when I was around nine years old and visiting Pakistan for the first time since we had immigrated, I was allowed to run to the small shop in the village that had the best of Pakistani candies and my favorite chewing gum Ding Dong. I then returned when I was sixteen years old and this time when I wanted to go to the same shop, I wasn’t allowed because it just wasn’t something girls my age did.
For me it wasn’t solely about getting what I wanted from the shop, it was about the journey that I would take to get there. The freedom to explore different paths, come across kids playing outside and elderly gentlemen who reminded me of my late grandfather as they rode their bikes through the green fields of the village. I didn’t understand what had changed but I was being asked to cover up more, makes sure I was wearing clothing that was modest and so on. This was the year that I began to become hyper aware of my body and the way it was seen in public spaces.
I was not only policed by others but began to police myself for the way I carried my body. During our research this summer, I met Mohiba, a student and member of the feminist group Women’s Collective in Lahore. She touched upon the idea of your body as a liability, which makes it so difficult to carry it confidently. When religion and/or culture are used to control the way women, trans and non-binary folks dress, behave and occupy public space, it only serves to uphold the patriarchal divide that is based on the social construction of gender as a binary.
For me awaara azad or ‘wandering free’ is something that is as natural as breathing. I often walk and explore wherever I want to feel like myself. The right to loiter, travel freely and occupy public space tends to be limited in Pakistan for most Pakistani women. Despite this, there continues to be women led resistance initiatives throughout the country that demand inclusion and an end to the various forms of oppression, such as Girls at Dhabas, Fearless Collective, Awami Worker’s Party, etc. With this set of photographs, I hope to add to the cultural imagery by showing Pakistani women traveling in Northern Pakistan, in order to subvert the orientalist white and male gaze that often silences or speaks on behalf of Pakistani women.
I have had a complicated relationship with Pakistan, the country I was born in. I spent six years of my childhood there. Soon after the tragic events of 9/11, I, along with my parents and younger brother, immigrated to Canada. Although I have spent more of my life in Canada as compared to Pakistan, I have never quite felt the sense of belonging here. Looking back, I have made a total of three trips alone to Pakistan. I took all three trips to find my place in the world again. As a diaspora kid, I often romanticized Pakistan, thinking that once I returned to the place I was born in, my problems, insecurities, and fears would instantly disappear. They never did. What did happen each time though was that I met some amazing women with whom I found a source of strength and resilience within. I don’t necessarily feel as connected to Pakistan as a country any longer. I have no connection to Pakistan based on nationalism or culture per se. What I do find a strong connection to – is the people I have met over the years, the majority of them being women who I continue to be inspired by. What I want to show through this collection of photographs is the power of women occupying the land.
When looking at my work, I want the viewer to feel a sense of “awaara azad” which translates into ‘wandering free.’ I do not want the viewers to solely focus on the beauty of the land but rather hone into the expressions on the woman in the frame. These photographs were not created to convince people of the beauty of Pakistan or to entice Western, often white foreign travelers to explore/discover this once colonized land. This body of work is to inspire Pakistani women themselves to travel their land; to get lost, to explore, to wander without purpose, without pressure, without tension, and to be in the present moment.
Mashal Khan is an emerging documentary filmmaker and photographer. She was born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and along with her family immigrated to Canada in 2002. Mashal graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hon. Bachelor’s of Arts with distinction in equity studies, sociology and art. She values freedom, justice and equity and within her work she hopes to subvert the white and/or male gaze that has often spoken on behalf of marginalized women of colour. Whenever she creates work, Mashal keep this quote by Arundhati Roy in mind: “there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the fifth in the series.
Lately I have been feeling like an imposter – not quite good enough, specifically in relation to my art practice. I think it comes from comparing my work to so many successful and talented photographers on Instagram. In the age of social media, I often feel disillusioned because I am not yet where I want to be; getting caught up in the follower count, the likes and the business side of creating art.
When I feel stuck or out of place, I tend to go back to my roots, which often starts with my mother, Nazia. She was in her early twenties when she immigrated to Canada with my father and two young children. Before moving to Canada, she studied visual arts at the University of Peshawar in Pakistan. Her enrollment was quite unusual for a conservative city like Peshawar, especially since she was a young, married mother of two young children. My mother told me that she was probably the only married woman in her co-ed class at the time, as the majority of married women from her class background stayed at home as housewives taking care of their children, while their husbands worked.
With the support of my father, my mother continued her art practice within the first few years living in Canada, working as an art teacher and school coordinator at Immigrant Culture and Art Association (ICAA) in Hamilton. I vividly remember my parents taking my brother and I to these art classes in which my mom would teach us and other immigrant students how to draw still life, paint and use our creativity in a variety of different ways.
I think without these early experiences I would not be the artist I am today. She inspires me to take on political themes within my work and to create for my community and other women of colour, who often get misrepresented or not represented at all outside the oriental and white gaze. She has often become the subject of a lot of my projects that deal with issues of identity and belonging, which is funny because when I was younger I would be the subject of her early artwork.
For this short documentary titled “how can you think you can save her, when you don’t even understand her,” I chose to focus on themes of resistance, belonging, agency, voice, existence beyond binaries and homogenization, honour, orientalism and little acts of resistance that women of colour, specifically non-western women, undertake in their lived experiences/existence in order to survive and resist imperialist, neo-colonial, white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal systems and structures of oppression.
Ever since our immigration, I had unconsciously understood my mother a victim of her circumstance due to her experience of getting married at the age of 15 through an arranged marriage process. I viewed this experience through an orientalist gaze, I didn’t believe that she had much agency in her life, that her life circumstances were a combination of decisions she had no part of, decisions such as going to school after marriage, immigrating to Canada, having children, etc. I took away her agency and voice, without actually listening to her tell her story. Like many white western feminists, I saw her in a way that I could easily digest with my binary way of thinking. I saw her as oppressed, voiceless, a victim of Islam and outward patriarchy of Pashtun culture, just like how most white women in Canada saw me.This project in part, was a way for me to actually listen to my mother speak about her own arranged marriage and find within her experience the nuances and complexity of the situation. In my mother, I find courage, strength, resilience, faith, compassion, power, love and revolution.
The story of my mother who was born in the Mountainous region of Swat Valley, in Northern Pakistan and had an arranged marriage at the age of 15 can easily be co-opted by the West to push their imperialist agenda, if she is not the one telling it. Arundhati Roy states that “there is no such thing as the voiceless, only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.” My mother does not need you or me to speak for her, to victimize her, to save her. She can and will tell her story on her own terms.
Mashal Khan is an emerging documentary filmmaker and photographer. She was born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and along with her family immigrated to Canada in 2002. Mashal graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hon. Bachelor’s of Arts with distinction in equity studies, sociology and art. She values freedom, justice and equity and within her work she hopes to subvert the white and/or male gaze that has often spoken on behalf of marginalized women of colour. Whenever she creates work, Mashal keep this quote by Arundhati Roy in mind: “there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” @mashalkkhan