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Tell me the story Of all these things

by Rehana Zaman,  text by Shama Khanna,  available 20.06. - 04.06.17
Rehana Zaman, Tell me the story Of all these things, 2016, film still. Courtesy: The artist & Tenderpixel

To watch Rehana Zaman’s latest video work ‘Tell me the story Of all these things’ (2017) is to adjust one’s tolerance for watching: both in terms of the subjects shown and the methods deployed. The video is structured around a central interview with the artist’s older sister Farah, conducted throughout a staged cookery demonstration. The conversation is disarmingly candid as a document of Farah’s newly felt empowerment as a woman with options, and sex appeal. She speaks about gradually losing her inhibitions (“I’m just a big kid at heart!” she says, “I shock people …”), and this process is mirrored in the lack of pretention we notice as the camera drifts across her unmanicured nails and household slippers as she intuitively goes about preparing the meal. This has both conceptual and textural affects, defying the fusty tradition of aspirational housewives such as Martha Stewart and Mary Beard, and capturing the exceedingly ordinary materiality of the situation. Martha Rosler’s ‘Semiotics of the Kitchen’ (1975) comes to mind as a benchmark for feminist navigations around the kitchen, but this conversation doesn’t demand the same melodrama. Rehana’s transgression is to linger on an erotic sensibility over an objective critique of the image of her sister. [read on]


  1. Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, in: Feminist Postcolonial Theory, ed. by Reina Lewis, Routledge, 2003, 25-28, 26

Rehana Zaman, Tell me the story Of all these things, 2016, film still. Courtesy: The artist & Tenderpixel

The eroticism at stake in ‘Tell me the story …’ both relates to the image of Farah and to Rehana’s relationship towards her. Theorist Joan Morgan summons into existence such expressions which engage in a radical reframing of existing narratives around the non-white female body–as what she describes as a site of recurrent trauma and compromised sexuality–in new terms of a politics of affirmative pleasure. Morgan foregrounds stories and images of black women’s desire, agency and pleasure as a necessary and viable (not-not-academic) theoretical paradigm. Farah’s complete easiness in front of the camera and her self-deprecating humour creates a very intimate storytelling. There is an unreal quality to the interaction which catches the viewer unaware. Morgan suggests that the non-white, not-rich, not-young female body has the status of an ‘un-visible’ subject who dwells in the unchartered space beyond the invisible. This space is perhaps envisioned through the animated sequences in the video showing a female figure metamorphosing with a barren landscape, bumpy and fluid like the contours and behaviours of her imperfect body.

The warmth Farah shares with her sister and with us as viewers is contrasted against the victimising tone of the Prevent e-learning website which Rehana has pulled pages and a niggling muzak-al soundtrack. Prevent is an online training course set up by the UK government for use by professionals who may have contact with people who could be exposed or vulnerable to radicalization but which arguably only serves to alienate the parts of the population it purports to protect. The video’s elision of the context of Farah’s kitchen and the pages of the website is not so far removed. It precisely evokes the fragmented identity of a British-Pakistani-Muslim-woman-mother- etc. who speaks of feeling uneasy in her own clothes – her veil – and who admits to perceiving the darkness of other women’s skin, voicing concern for this tacit inverted racism. The palpable sense of Farah’s recovered pride and self-worth at overcoming the trauma of abuse is a manifestation of the personal as political and agent.

Rehana Zaman, Tell me the story Of all these things, 2016, film still. Courtesy: The artist & Tenderpixel

Although there seems to be no limits to the scope of their conversation the intention behind Rehana’s filming goes unquestioned. Here the artist doesn’t explain away or diminish the difference between her and her sister. The colourful interludes with fruit and vegetables and emphatic hand gestures offer a softness as uncontained as the women’s conversation. In her lecture ‘The Master’s Tools’ from 1979 Audre Lorde speaks of this attentiveness to difference which can energise and sustain a community and which begins with solidarity between women:

Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged. 1

The video ‘Tell me the story Of all these things’, originally installed across three channels, takes its title from ‘Dictee’ (1982) by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a novel addressing themes of fragmentation and dislocation through overlapping stories of several iconic women’s lives. In studio visits with Rehana as well as through her performances she references a roster of authors, artists and thinkers such as Gail Lewis, Hortense Spillers, Keith Piper, George Yancy, Octavia Butler and artists from the Women of Colour Index to name but a few. The list is noticeable for its uncovering of an alternative canon of references, authors which privilege an intersection of decolonialising feminist histories and narratives. This is another reason why it makes sense to reconsider the way we watch and the way we make sense of what we’re watching here. As viewers, watching Farah from Rehana’s perspective behind the camera, what could hers and their experience be, as subjectivities who, against a background of extremist terror and extreme fearmongering, not only can’t take their skin colour, or the religion of their family for granted but who are made to feel responsible for other people’s fear?

Artist Hannah Black has written recently about how, after slavery and colonisation, the apocalypse has already happened, “and this is all aftermath”. While the promise of techno-scientific utopias and a future beyond capitalist realism elude us, Drexciya mythology and other future anterior science-fictions rooted in that point of crisis and redefinition continue to hold weight. ‘Tell me the story …’ is a reminder not to escape into fantasy but to acknowledge what is non-chronologically closest to us – our relationships with women and nuances in personal experiences as the serious terms, tools and modes for vivifying political engagement.

Rehana Zaman (b 1982, Heckmondwike UK), lives and works in London. She holds a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, University of London and completed her MFA in Fine Art at the same place in 2011.
She was awarded a British Council research grant with Museo de Art Carrillo Gil, Mexico City in 2015 and a Gasworks International Fellowship to Beirut in 2013. Zaman was a LUX Associate Artist in 2012/2013. She is a lecturer on the BA Fine Art programme at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Solo exhibitions include Tell me the story Of all these things, Tenderpixel, London UK (2016-2017); Giantess, StudioRCA, London UK (2016); Some Women, Other Women and all the Bittermen, commissioned by The Tetley, Leeds UK (2014); I, I, I, I and I, Art Rotterdam Projections NL with Tenderpixel (2014).