“Mara Ahmed is a multimedia artist and activist filmmaker whose work breaks boundaries, shifts assumptions, and inspires dialogue” – Rochester Museum & Science Center’s exhibit, The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World
The art series, This Heirloom, was inspired by my film work on A Thin Wall, a documentary about the 1947 partition of India. I worked on the film for seven years and thought deeply about the segmentation of history, of people’s cultures and identities. Once partition occurred, Pakistanis and Indians had to re-invent themselves in unidimensional, monolithic ways – an aberration for South Asia.
Today an excess of information is instantly accessible, yet its synthesis into something meaningful is missing. As our collective memory becomes more fragmented and short-term, the practice of re-writing history to create illusory, ethnocentric narratives has become easier. Our link to the past seems to be breaking down. I long for such a connection.
Borders and checkpoints have never meshed with my own life anyway. They are wielded for the benefit of capitalism, state building, and empire. They formulate and maintain world hierarchies. Hence my interest in multimedia collage, in the ability to cross lines and fields, and produce beauty and meaning by interweaving incongruent materials (including South Asian fabrics), techniques, and textures.
In this series, I re-created my own history by using old B&W photographs sourced from my family archive. I juxtaposed them against South Asian architectural details and subverted nationalist ideologies by placing my ancestors on the wrong side of the India-Pakistan border.
Mara Ahmed has lived and been educated in Belgium, Pakistan, and the United States. She has master’s degrees in Business Administration and Economics. She worked in finance until 2004, when she decided to switch careers and focus on art and activism. She studied art at Nazareth College, and film at the Visual Studies Workshop and the Rochester Institute of Technology. She is an interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker whose work has been broadcast on PBS and shown across the world. Her third documentary A Thin Wall, a film about the partition of India in 1947, was released in 2015. It premiered at the Bradford Literature Festival in England, won a Special Jury Prize at the Amsterdam Film Festival in 2016, and was later acquired by MUBI India. In 2017, Ahmed gave a Tedx talk about the meaning of borders and nationalism entitled The edges that blur. Her artwork has been exhibited at the Kinetic Gallery in Geneseo, the Colacino Gallery and City Hall in Rochester, and at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in California. Her series This Heirloom was exhibited at the Douglass Auditorium in 2019 as part of Current Seen, Rochester’s small venue biennial. Her shows are multimedia fusions of her collage work, photography, graphic art, and film work. Currently Ahmed is working on The Injured Body, a film about racism in America for which she interviewed women of color exclusively. Ahmed is based on Long Island, New York. Her production company is Neelum Films.