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Email thread

360 KB (28 emails)

now/here is a map of walks in the city of Karachi recorded in a thread of 28 emails. Through an epistolary story about queer relationships blooming and wilting, this project is an experiment in creating a queer autobiographic practice that honors and upholds the transient nature of identity through the transformative potential of compassionate remembering. This browser-based work unfolds in the private space of the user’s inbox and is rich with hypertext. 

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I couldn't do it without the support of Zahra Malkani and the students in my Design Research II section, who listened with openness and curiosity and provided me with responsible feedback that helped me shape this work. I’m grateful for the comfort of creating in a supportive environment. I'm delighted to have Rhizome generously commission this work's production through their 2023 microgrant program.

I’m indebted to the artists Fazal Rizvi and Mona Hatoum whose works showed me that letters can be seen as maps and archives of intimacy; to Rebecca Sugar, Tara Brach, Maheen Mohammad and Rooj Hussain who taught me that radical compassion is transformative and where to start; and to Natasha Shammul Khan who taught me to access personal power by paying attention to my language. I’m incredibly thankful to Q Saki and Hufsa Schahbaz who listened with openness and trust, and contributed substantially to my creative process from beginning to end; and to Ahmer Naqvi, Anahita Sarabhai and Asfar Hussain for being sources of clarity when my mind was clouded.

The process of conceiving this work would not be complete without the poets who nourished me. In the face of doubt, they showed me the light. Thank you, Adrienne Rich, Agha Shahid Ali, Alizeh Ayesha Arbab, Aurora Aksnes, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hasrat Mohani, Mary Oliver, Ocean Vuong, Rumi, Sadia Khatri, Vqueeram Aditya Sahai, Wendell Berry and Yehuda Amichai.

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Queerness is often imagined as existing through coupledom. Pop queer media is proliferated with imagery that creates the desirability of coupledom. As a recipient of these messages, I had also located my queerness and joy in coupledom, a corrosive idea that caused me a lot of pain when my long-term relationship ended in 2019. I was deeply attached and the pain of losing my romantic partner and best friend all at once, was so grave, I didn’t want to accept it. Losing them felt like losing my shot at having a fulfilling life and I wanted it all back. I started to preserve my fond memories of us in letters, returning to the past and inhabiting it.

This practice was unsustainable and after a while, I couldn’t keep at it. At this point, I was engaging with Berlant’s text, Cruel Optimism. She describes cruel optimism as the nature of attachment to an impasse, an object or form of life that comes in the way of what it promises to offer, or a relation that emerges when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.

With this project, I made a conscious decision not to create another amatonormative artefact, but the one for an affective freedom. This required me to engage with my own attachments as cases of cruel optimism, exploring how relation with loss becomes something other than a painful misfortune one must always avoid, and options for a good life than the ones we’ve been told to pay attention to.

Butler writes that to mourn means to submit to a transformation, the full result of which one cannot know in advance. I rethought this loss as something I need to overcome and let it reveal something about myself to me that I did not previously see. I started this project with grieving the loss of a lover. I wrote letters to an indefinite 'friend', who over time transformed from someone else to me. The love that I directed at the lost lover is now directed at me.

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