Naeem Mohaiemen is a writer and visual artist, working in Dhaka and New York. He uses essays, photography, film, and mixed media to explore borders, wars, and belonging. From 1994-2000, Naeem researched how migrants in marginalized existences in the West could still support majoritarian oppression in their “home country.” From 2001-2006, he worked on Disappeared in America, looking at post-9/11 global security panic. Since 2006, Naeem has worked on The Young Man Was, a long-form history of the ultra-left, through the crucible of 1970s Bangladesh. The work was described as “how to make engagements with a revolutionary past meaningful in the sudden eruption of a revolutionary present” (Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Bidoun). As part of this project, he is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Columbia University.
One of the questions within his recent research is “How do people put aside the weight of history, which can lean toward certain less optimistic outcomes, and continue to invest their hope in new movements, in an almost impossible optimism? What lies, in the end, within the capacity for imagining utopia, in spite of contrarian evidence?” The language of his work is somewhere between enumeration, whimsy, and darkness. Because of the ironic tone, the projects have sometimes been read as “overly critical” of the left. In discussions, he has stressed that he makes work as a believer in left futures, but with the understanding that tracing where things went wrong is part of such processes. As he writes in the text for Live True Life or Die Trying: “A lover tries again, flower in hand.” However, he acknowledges that irony and distance are complicated devices in contexts where history is never past. The pressure for creating what Naeem has elsewhere called “shothik itihash (correct history)” is suffocating, and he considers the visual arts a space where ambiguous, open-ended conversations have more space.
Project themes have been described as “not yet disillusioned fully with the capacity of human society” (Vijay Prashad, Take on Art) and “ultimately more illuminating than Jacques Rancière’s microscopic examinations of the utopian kernels” (Ben Davis, ArtNet).