I Thought I Was Seeing Muslims

Talk by Maryam Kashani

The title of this talk refers to both the Harun Farocki video “I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts”  (2000) and to the Roberto Rossellini film Europa ’51 (1952) in which a bourgeois woman reveals that “I thought I was seeing convicts” as she watches workers leave a factory. Both works articulate the complexity of the visual field and institutional forms - the interplay of ocular vision, power, and cognitive thought.

Kashani’s work at Zaytuna College, an emergent Muslim liberal arts college in Berkeley, California, addresses this visual field in a number of related registers. Her work addresses the ways in which seeing is an ethical practice within an Islamic framework and a technology of the state in surveillance. In her video works, she attempts to “break free” from common-sense images of Muslims that proliferate in the media towards another way of “seeing Muslims” who likewise see.

In the feature-length documentary IQRA’ is READ (in post-production), she collaborates with Zaytuna students, staff, and scholars on self-portraits in which they read or recite a text that has some personal significance to them. In the video installation, When they Give Their Word, Their Word is Bond, Imam Zaid Shakir, an African American Muslim scholar and co-founder of the College, recites his favorite verses of the Qur’an in a garden in one video and in a second video is giving a sermon (khutba) at a local mosque. She will show clips of these works and discuss them within the larger context of this ongoing research.

Maryam Kashani recently completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin where she was also a lecturer in Asian American Studies. Her research is concerned with the lived experience of Muslims in America through the lenses of knowledge practices, race, gender, visual culture, and political economy. She received a Masters of Fine Arts in Film/Video from the California Institute of the Arts. Her films and videos have been shown at film festivals, universities, and museums internationally and include “things lovely and dangerous still” (2003), Best in the West (2006), and “las callecitas y la cañada” (2009). She is currently working on a book and finishing a series of films related to her research at Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States. www.maryamkashani.com