Now Reading: Ahmed Launches Warp & Weft Palestine

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Ahmed Launches Warp & Weft Palestine

svgJanuary 19, 2024EventsBoom Town Press

Activist and Artist Mara Ahmed curates audio archive of Palestinian voices

Former Rochesterian Mara Ahmed, now residing in Long Island, continues her filmmaking, art making and activism. Mara’s latest project launched this past December, an audio archive of Palestinian expression current and past. From the project’s website description:

“In the midst of the gruesome genocide we are witnessing in Gaza, people from around the world are welcome to join us in reading, holding up, and sharing the voices and stories of Palestinian writers, poets, and activists.”

This is an expansion on the audio-visual tapestry exposition she curated for “The Warp & Weft” in 2020 at Rochester Contemporary Art Museum (RoCo). What follows is a Q&A with Mara Ahmed about her timely exhibition – Warp & Weft Palestine:

Boom Town Press: How did you come up with this idea of augmenting a previous project you had started in 2020 into this version more focused on Palestinians?

Mara: I always saw the Warp & Weft Archive as being open, open-ended, accessible, flexible. The idea was that “regular” people (not experts or celebrities) matter – that their stories are important and their voices powerful. At a time when regular people (the vast majority of the world) want a ceasefire and an end to the genocide in Gaza, but have no recourse, it made sense to go back to a platform that allows us to defy such limits collectively. 

BTP: What do you believe the role of artists are in these times, if there is a general role, and if not, your role specifically as an artist?

Mara: I read some place that Toni Cade Bambara, a Black feminist writer, once claimed that the role of the artist is to “make the revolution irresistible.” I love that. 

BTP: What has been the most difficult aspect of producing a project, this time around when the history of atrocity is unfolding as the project is taking place? (juxtaposed perhaps with your past work that focused on events that took place in the more distant past).

Mara: Sometimes it seems trivial to be reciting poetry at a time of genocide. It can feel like a stunning privilege. But it’s also an act of resistance that goes hand in hand with protests and activist actions. As the Palestinian poet George Abraham has said: “Poetry can’t stop a bullet. Poetry won’t free a prisoner. And that’s why we need to do the political organizing work as well. But if we can’t imagine a free liberated world in language, how can we build one?”

BTP: Was this a response to the tremendous censorship that is currently going on and has always gone on in media and art institutions and do you feel that cultural institutions are therefore complicit in the erasure of Palestinian history and expression, and possibly also then responsible for the genocide?

Mara: Yes, I do. For 75 years, the Israeli colonial entity and its western enablers have tried to erase Palestinian history and culture. They assassinated literary giants like Ghassan Kanafani and brilliant artists like Naji al-Ali (who created Handala, a national symbol for the Palestinian struggle). In the present genocide too, Israel has specifically targeted poets like Refaat Alareer. They have murdered journalists, scholars, scientists, and doctors. It reminds me of the Khmer Rouge who would kill anyone wearing eyeglasses because it was a sign of education. Western institutions are complicit in this erasure. They make it possible to exterminate what never existed in the first place. 

The archive is a way to showcase the rich textures of Palestinian literature. Everyone knows the great Mahmoud Darwish but there is so much more – boundless worlds fashioned out of vivid images and metaphors, replete with nostalgia, heartbreak, irony and humor. This history stretches back to pre-Israel times (the state of Israel was only created in 1948) and circles back to young Palestinian poets writing today. It has been an education for me to work on this project. 

BTP: Have you experienced any push back on this project or otherwise regarding your views about Palestinians and what is happening in Gaza?

Mara: I have not experienced any resistance to the Warp & Weft Palestine so far. Perhaps because it’s still small. We are trying to grow our following organically on social media. Our handle is @WarpAndWeftArchive on Instagram. 

BTP: What are you hoping to accomplish with this project and how does this fit in or not with your legacy of work as an activist, intellectual, and artist?

Mara: I see myself primarily as an activist. A passionate demand for justice is what animates all my art, film, and community projects. Palestine and its deeply humane, creative, generous people have inspired me for decades. It is an honor to stand with them and fight for liberation and justice together. 

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    Ahmed Launches Warp & Weft Palestine