Interview with the participating artists: Khadim Ali

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Interviews by email were conducted with the artists who are featured in Home Again-10 Artists Who Have Experienced Japan, during which they spoke about their experience in Tokyo and their artistic response.

Today we introduce Khadim Ali, who came to Japan for three months in 2007 and did his residence in Roppongi. His work poses questions about culture and the family in a world undergoing globalization.

These interviews were conducted by Arts Initiative Tokyo (AIT).

KHADIM ALI Afghanistan, b. 1978
Based in Quetta, Pakistan and born to parents of an Afghan minority group called the Hazara, Ali studied miniature painting at the National College of Arts in Lahore. He uses these traditional techniques to portray contemporary society in his art. During his residency in 2007, he made an acquaintance with a woman from Europe who had left her daughter behind to work in Japan. This led to a video piece in which the woman is asked to sing lullabies in her native language, as well as miniature paintings based on that encounter. Ali had come to Japan through the AIR program of the Fukuoka Asian Museum. He has shown work at venues such as the Asia Pacific Triennale (2006) and dOCUMENTA 13 (2012).

Q1: The Tokyo work was about a Polish women you met in Roppongi working in a hostess bar – how did you meet her and develop the idea for the work?

As you mentioned I met her in a Hostess bar in Roppongi, where one can see foreign men and women work to attract people with their diverse cultures.

When she came to serve me, she asked about me where I was from and what I do here in Tokyo, and what I do for a living. After answering her I asked her where is she from, and she said that it was her first day working and she didn’t want to be a hostess and a prostitute. People who were taking her out, physically humiliated her. She also didn’t have a work permit from the Japanese Government and her visa had expired so she had illegal status.

 First, I wanted to make a short video about her story “how she came to Japan, why is she working as a prostitute and who are forcing her to be a prostitute?” She was a fashion model in Poland.

Q2: She is singing a lullaby for her baby in the video – is song and poetry something important for you? Why?

 As a prostitute she had lost her moral value in her own eyes. She was making phone calls to her mother and 2 year-old daughter. I don’t know the Polish language but her crying and conversations on the phone to her mother and child was like a call from heaven. She used to sing a lullaby on the phone to make her baby sleep, to me that lullaby was her moment of living.

Q3: The new work shows Rustam I think? The image is conveying the recent history of Afghanistan. Can you tell me a little about this image? What does the calligraphy say?

The new work is called Haunted Lotus from the Rustam series. The demon in this image is not Rustam. Rustam is a Hero in the book of King “Shahnamah” which was written in 1010 AD in the court of Sultan Mehmood Ghanzavi in the province of Ghazni Afghanistan.
This epic poem is a fiction and consists of some 60,000 verses.

 Rustam was betrayed and killed by his own friend, and what survives are all those Demons.

 I think the current history of Afghanistan is the same as that story. Afghanistan has killed its hero and is a Demon-land. 
All the warlords (who have killed hundreds of thousands of people during the civil war in Afghanistan and are still in parliament instead of being in prison) are calling themselves heroes of Afghanistan.

Q4: Khadim, for you, what is the purpose or significance of making drawings and art? Does it have some documentary aspect, telling people about history and events in Afghanistan?

 To me as a Hazara I have the dark history of genocide. In the 1890s more than 62% percent of Hazaras were persecuted and thousands were displaced and have taken asylum in countries around Afghanistan. I try to reduce the gap between the state of conceiving ideas and the haunted vision of my dark history.