After a her widely acclaimed exhibition at the Neue Berliner Kunstverein in 2006 with her video installation 'Costume Party', the Pakistani/US American video artist Maryam Jafri premieres her most recent video work Staged Archive (2008), inspired by accounts of Victorian missionaries and travellers voyaging to the far reaches of the globe, often with disastrous consequences. Jafri was born in Pakistan in 1972 and now lives in both Copenhagen and New York.
The eight-and-a-half minute video uses a combination, typical for Jafri's work, of filmed archive material and acted scenes. The video begins with a man's drive in a car to an unexpected destination, a courtroom awash in fiery colours, populated by people from his past. Mixing reality with fantasy, present with past, the film's multiple voices and images flicker like phantoms across the bleak landscape of memory. Unfolding as a series of identity and spatial shifts, cycling through multiple film genres (film noir, courtroom drama, road movie) but remaining faithful to none, Staged Archive has the elusive logic of a dream and the fevered mood of a suppressed memory that re-emerges in nightmare form.
In developing the film's narrative Jafri was inspired by the travelogue genre of literature that peaks during the Victorian era and continues until just before WWII. A common theme is that of missionaries and travellers voyaging to the far reaches of the globe, often with disastrous consequences. Joseph Conrad has explored this theme, as have other writers such as Somerset Maugham in his celebrated short story 'Rain,' which centres on a missionary's suicide in the South Pacific.
The archival photos used in the film come from the National Archives of Ghana. They show images of a mobile cinema, a van carrying a portable 16mm projector, linen projection screen and a mini electrical generator. Mobile cinemas were particularly favoured by missionaries to project scenes from the Bible anywhere they travelled.
As in the logic of a dream, Jafri blends different moments in time and spatial situations. She makes references to different colonialist practices, for example the white wigs worn by black African judges. However, one is left guessing who is one trial for what crime, and the nature of the punishment also remains a matter of conjecture.
Maryam Jafri: Staged Archive
Until 13 June
Galerie Alexandra Saheb
T +49 30 20 05 43 84