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Thursday, 30 November 2017

10 years of the blog: And the Best Talk is Lina Hashim in Conversation with Amak Mahmoodian

Next up on the 10 years of the blog is the best talk which was by Lina Hashim in conversation with Amak Mahmoodian.

Lina deals with really complex ideas that she is thoroughly engaged with, that she understands and that she communicates clearly and directly to her audience. There is passion and understanding both of what she is dealing with and the visual lexica she is working with. She operates in a very direct world of evidence, belief and truth and she makes work that confronts this world head on. It is ridiculously difficult.

In that respect she shares something with Mathieu Asselin's Monsanto, which has just been shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Prize. Asselin also deals with things head on, and has "No ambiguity" as a kind of catch phrase. His work, like Lina's, is rooted in evidence in belief and in and idea of truth, an idea of right and wrong.

In photography, there is an inbuilt and lazy cynicism that everything is propaganda, that nothing is truth. There is some value in this. When everything is accepted as truth, then it's important to look at what's true, what's not true, and how images/words/siting can make us believe or not believe in something. What, basically is the language of news, advertising, propaganda, documentary, fashion, travel, everything.

OK, so we got that. But what happens when truth goes out the window and we pretend that we don't believe in truth anymore. I say pretend because it's pretty selective when people say that everything is propaganda and there is no truth. Stick a few quid under their nose and most people will believe in the truth of hard currency pretty quick, even though that's the biggest mass psychosis of all.

In this so-called post-truth society, when everything is believed to be untrue, partially true or propaganda, it's still important to look at how images are understood, how they can influence us, how they interact with power.

When images are used against us on a regular basis, we need to understand how they are used and how they are understood and the relationship between the two. And then we can use those strategies in our own work.

But the underlying foundation of the post-truth society is that there is no truth, there are no absolutes.
That's a hugely political foundation to build upon. It's a foundation upon which no progressive policies in economics, in gender, in sexuality, in race, in health, housing, childcare, education, or welfare can be built. It's a foundation that is antithetical to all that is good and human and kind. It's a foundation for people with robber-baron hearts and robber-baron minds. It's a foundation for the government we have in the UK at the moment, a government that will happily sacrifice the life of the poor, the homeless, the sick, the disabled to line their own greed-filled pockets.

In the UK Jim Mortram deals directly with this in his work. He is emotionally and personally involved in what he does. but he is one of very few. Far too few. I do sometimes wonder if the obsession with the conceptual and the emotionally and socially distant meta-story isn't more to do with a secret plot to shut down the massively persuasive visual arguments that could be ranged against our neo-liberal overlords than it is to do with a fatigue with slightly crappy concerned photography. Because when that's crap, it really is crap as well.

Still, I think we need more 'truth' in our lives, more no-compromise fuck-those bastards kinds of ways of thinking. We need it in photography. So much photography relies on meta-narratives on how we tell stories, of how images are understood.

That's fine, but if you are going to deal with meta-narratives, you had better be sure you understand the narrative supremely well. Both the narrative that the meta is dealing with and the narrative of the meta.

It takes a long time to learn the narrative. Lina Hashim is immersed in the narrative. It's part of her life. Mathieu Asselin spent five years working on Monsanto. It's not easy to learn the story your going to pick apart. It is really hard. It wears you down. It can fuck you up!

One idea of the meta-narrative is that all the stories have been told. I would call mierda de toro to that as they say in Spain. The stories have not all been told. They have not even begun to be told.

The problem is it is quite difficult to tell a good story. First of all you have to know something about it, which is actually much harder than cobbling together a few images together with a lame editing rationale and some confident mumbling  about post-truth narratives, and subverting the supremacy of sequencing paradigms.

And then once you've done your research, you've got to photograph, interview, film, write and collect your story with the added dilemma that as you do so, the simplistic visual musings that you made earlier might be a bit shite. So on you go. And on you go. And on you go. And it's five years before you finish. And then you have to try and publish and show and sell the damn thing.

Fuck that for a game of soldiers, it's much easier to pretend that all the stories have been told and then cack out some sorry lines about meta-narratives that nobody is really going to understand anyway. Do that three or four times a year and you're made up.

That's why I'm so happy Mathieu Asselin has done so well with his mammoth 5-year project, Monsanto, which has just been nominated for the 2018 Deutsche Borse Prize. It is a proper story, it's an obvious story and it's one that hasn't been visually told. And it was tremendously difficult to tell, it was hugely wearing, possibly dangerous and came with a massive personal commitment. That's not easy.

As  I already mentioned, Asselin's tagline for the project is "No ambivalence" and I really like that too. It's a polite way of saying "Fuck these bastards". If you want post-truth you can have it, but I'd rather go to post-post-truth - which is truth. And the truth is what Asselin tells in Monsanto. They're bastards and here's the proof. And if you want some meta-narratives, well here they are as well, this is the visual language of how they lie, take note and learn it and see where else you can spot it.

That brings me back to Lina Hashim, the best speaker I've heard in the last 10 years. She also deals with  tremendously difficult subjects that she is invested in personally.

I saw her in conversation with about 18 other people but the number doesn't matter. Everyone there knew she was the real deal (and follow her on Instagram to see some of her latest work on Suicide Bombers). And you don't get many real deals.

The writing below is from a feature I wrote for the BJP a couple of years ago. Here Lina talks about her Suicde Bombers porject.

In her most recent project, Hashim collects and modifies pictures of dead suicide bombers. By doing so she examines the cult of martyrdom, asking how that martyrdom is established, and looking at the contradictions between religious laws, the acts of killing and the fetishisation of the bombers’ remains through images. “The Koran says that committing suicide is the biggest sin, and killing somebody is the next biggest sin,” she states, adding that martyrs are supposed to be created on the battlefield, and only if you are fighting soldiers.

“These people are not on a battlefield and they are killing everyone. And they are especially killing other Muslims and making their own rules. It’s very interesting because we don’t know where this fiction comes from. It’s definitely not from the Koran.”
Hashim’s main focus is on the blood of the bombers. “When they die, only the imam can take the decision of who is a martyr and who is a killer. And when they make the decision, they make it with blood. If the body gets washed, the body gets sent to the grave as a normal person, which in this case means as a killer. And if they don’t wash the blood, they send the body into the grave as a martyr. That means they are honouring him. They want to show he is going to God with the sign of blood to show the clearness of his heart in defending Islam.”
Read the whole article here. 

See more images and follow Lina on Instagram here.

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