June issue 2009

By | Art | Arts & Culture | Published 11 years ago

Recently, Karachi audiences received a taste of the latest offering in the new media arts category — the 60-second film. A project of motiroti international arts, “60×60 Secs,” comprising 60 one-minute films by artists from Britain, India and Pakistan, was presented as a multi-screen installation at the VM Gallery.

Motiroti (literally, fat bread) is the brainchild of Ali Zaidi, who was born in India, grew up in Pakistan and now lives in Britain. His personal experience of not being fully accepted in each of these places raises questions about the meaning of ‘home,’ what it is to ‘belong’ and what national identities and borders really mean. For the last 10 years, the company has made internationally acclaimed award-winning art that transforms relationships between people, communities and spaces. Its work is led by visual and media arts, participation, new technology and design. “60×60 Secs” is the first in a new series of works for motiroti’s latest project, “360° Britain, India, Pakistan (2007 — 2010).” Using residencies, publications, exhibitions and collaborations, 360° explores relationships between three countries to demonstrate how art can be used to forge new connections across cultures and open up different spaces of cultural exchange.

The 60-second films were commissioned by motiroti via an open submission, whereby established and emerging artists from the South Asian diaspora — 20 each from Britain, India and Pakistan — presented their personal perspective on what identity, home and boundaries mean to them in this age of migration and movement. Other than Ali Zaidi, the artistic director of the project, two creative associates from India and Pakistan, Nila Madhab Panda and Shalalae Jamil, producer/artist specialising in new media, acted as collaborators, curators and mentors. “60×60 Secs” was first launched in Britain, then published on the web, and later premiered in India and Pakistan, simultaneously, in 2008.

The one-minute film is at its most powerful when, like instant messaging, ideas are communicated rapidly and clearly. Among the Pakistani entries, 505, fared well. The handiwork of Juhi Jaferi, Komail Naqvi and Taimoor Tariq, students of economics at The Lyceum, Karachi, it succinctly dissected culture in the class divides that exist here. Charting the parallel journey of a five-rupee coin and a 500-hundred rupee note, it depicted the different lives of the artists, the different places they inhabit and the different people they meet. The piece was honoured with the Impact Award at the Ivey Film Festival 2009, London, Ontario. A performance piece by a Karachi-based Iranian ceramic artist, Shazieh Gorji, was engaging as well. It explored a question migrants frequently encounter: “Where are you from?” Tracing her ancestry to forefathers of Georgian descent, Gorji portrayed her multi-layered existence through a frustrating change of petticoats. She finds the effort futile and eventually abandons it with the conclusion that “it does not really matter where I am from.” Among the more subtle films, David Alesworth’s Jhoank did not reveal itself easily, while Ferwa Ibrahim’s entry Estrangement, addressing the notion of change and transience in identity with the symbolic use of the shifting human shadow, invited reflection. Filmmaker Adnan Malik’s Telephone Piyaar, a mix of archival material, clips from Lollywood films and intimate voice-over telephone conversation, was a racy, humorous critique of sexual identity as projected through Pakistani films.

Seeking filmmakers who adore seconds, flourish in miniature and consider a standard minute to be an infinite amount of space, the 60-second films are the medium of the moment. The proliferation of the home video camera and improvements in mobile phone technology opened new vistas in filmmaking and provided a new audience for filmmakers but it is TV commercials that are the touchstone of this genre. As Ali Zaidi points out, “If tractors, shirts and lipsticks can be sold, why can’t we sell an idea in one minute.” Short, snappy and loaded with meaning, the 60-second film, if intelligently executed, can resonate far beyond its customary one minute. The 60-seconds mosaic tried to capitalise on the impact of this brevity to compress a wide assortment of views and opinions into an hour-long viewing.

The open-ended nature of the films and the use of creative media techniques like animation, photography and computer graphics brought immense diversity in thought and approach to the works. This multiplicity, unfortunately, was the boon and bane of this entire exercise. The “60×60 Secs” artists transcending stereotypes, opted for candid heartfelt expressions — the sheer force of such honesty and bluntness was a learning experience. One begins to understand not just the intricacies of cultural anomalies but how globalisation is transforming identities. Condensing this assortment into an hour, however, did not translate well into an informed viewing experience. Only the most articulate films left their imprint on the mind, while the rest were a blur, which is a disservice to some very intelligent portrayals. While compiling the segments, if the organisers had loosely slotted them into categories like intimate self-portraits, general cultural snapshots and historical or current pieces, internalising them would have been much easier.

When motiroti says that they are “Pushing the boundaries of where work can be seen, audiences will encounter these films in conventional as well as unconventional settings: TV, digital arts and film festivals, art galleries, cinemas, public spaces and in-flight entertainment,” their intention of opening a new space for cultural exchange becomes plausible. In India and Pakistan, motiroti is also targeting the young audiences found within the burgeoning urban café culture, by screening the works within shopping malls, cafés and restaurants. In Pakistan, a huge segment of the illiterate and semi-literate population needs to be directed and educated. If our local artists concentrate on this medium to address issues of ethnic divide, regional bias, cultural conflicts and displaced people within the country and play these videos in public places like airports, hospitals and railway stations, the works can be accessed by the common man and the efficacy of the genre as a learning tool can be put to advantage.

Check out these stills from motiroti’s “60×60 secs.” Click any photo to begin.

Photos: Courtesy motiroti.