BANI ABIDI The Distance From Here

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The Distance From Here
Image courtesy of the Experimenter Gallery

In the video The Distance from Here, the Pakistani artist and director of this installation, Bani Abidi, veers away from the explicit, if poetic, documentary projects for which she is best known: the film was made on a set with hired extras playing the role of expectant visa applicants. They file onto a bus to an embassy. They are ushered into lines. They wait to be frisked, one by one as they watch those before them disappear behind a fabric curtain. Arriving at the Indian consulate, a carefully secluded and tightly controlled zone, becomes a parallel voyage with its own internal protocol and safety regulations. The embassy, in this regard, functions as a third country. Crossing its glass-door threshold is a solitary rite of passage in Distance: the crowd is quiet, almost silent, engaging in little or no conversation. They carry stoic, if not vacant, expressions on their faces.

The Indian fear of terrorist threats, and recent Indian government’s decision to revoke Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomy (in August 2019), have (and will) lead to fewer numbers of Pakistanis being granted access to India (or other nations such as the US which has reduced visa validity for Pakistani citizens from 5 years to 1 year and journalists/media employers are not be allowed to stay for over 3 months). Abidi carefully renders the tedious passage of time that is central to the experience of waiting, an interminable, conflicted simmer of emotions which remains topical and pertinent today, with the escalation of tensions since 2013, when Abidi produced this video artwork.

In this video, Abidi creates a visual antidote to the divisive workings of the painted line. The anecdotes informing her videos, installations and photo works are at once amusing and pathetic, particularly as they mark the vulnerability and sometime desperation of dislocated subjects. The color composition and stark lines of the photographs are stylish, even Pop, loudly highlighting these small stories. The tone of Abidi’s artworks swing between the witty and the tragic, captured feelings mirrored in the artist’s own divided biography, living between Pakistan, India and currently based in Berlin. Although the narratives in her works are based in lived experience, the artist interjects with stylized fiction, careful to differentiate her own vision from documentary. By adding lyrical content to the works, Abidi elicits humanity and pathos, two sentiments that often go unnoticed in the act of filing, whether it concerns diving people into lines, or neatly arranged folders of documentation.

The above text has been edited from a review by Avni Doshi, (March 2011) For full text, see: