By Chandra Frank
In this essay, curator and researcher Chandra Frank discusses Rehana Zaman’s Your Ecstatic Self, one of the new commissions in our Second Sight film tour exploring the legacy, methods, aesthetic strategies and histories of the UK’s Black Film Workshop Movement.
Jupiter in Aries. Moon in Virgo. Ascendant in Cancer. Mercury in Sagittarius. Venus in Leo. Mars in Gemini.
Rehana Zaman’s Your Ecstatic Self brings us a meditation on ritual, intimacy, and desire. Sajid, the artist’s brother, drives while discussing his engagement with the philosophy and practice of Tantra. The camera lingers on Sajid’s face and we quickly become part of this intimate journeying. Behind Sajid, we catch glimpses of the landscape and buildings through the car window, never quite in focus enough to get a sense of where this journey is taking place. Sajid’s stories takes us to clubs in Brixton, to Egypt, and Pakistan. He talks about astrology, self-discovery, religion, and erotics. In many ways, Your Ecstatic Self can be seen as a companion piece to Zaman’s 2017 work Tell me the story Of all these things. Zaman’s conversations with her family feel like a nourishing communion although each distinct in focus and aesthetic practice. Multiple narrative threads move apart and together. Zaman’s films work through and stretch explorations of place, diaspora, and belonging. With the focus on Zaman’s brother this time, we are asked to think about how we hold questions about religion, desire and South Asian subjectivities? What are the nuances in how erotics are articulated when it comes to brown men? Sajid’s experiences are not offered as a counter-narrative to limited anti-migrant and Islamophobic tropes but simply invite viewers to contemplate spirituality and sexual agency through another lens.
The car scenes are alternated with archival materials from Eagle Nest Duiker in the Hunza Valley in Pakistan. The footage from Pakistan combined with Sajid’s narrative creates multiple sensorial and temporal experiences at once. The Hunza Valley presents a long-standing history of pre-Islamic shamanic ritual and communities. The drums, the inhalation of juniper, and the rituals held by indigenous people in Pakistan are often used to mediate mundane topics such as agricultural forecasts. At the same time, the Hunza Valley is also a well-known tourist attraction and appeals to white western hikers who also partake in the witnessing of these rituals. The white gaze is not centralised in the film, but reminds how eastern philosophy, spirituality and tantra have long been co-opted and understood to be for white use. In this sense, Sajid’s experiences break open how states of ecstasy and ritual are experienced from a brown/South Asian subjectivity.
Another unfolding story in the film plays out in the green space. We see two South Asian women, Rehana Zaman and Priya Jay, gardening. Hands in the soil, pruning, planting, and watering. Tending to the land. Kneeling down on the soil. Fingers squish red fruits. The day passes by in these scenes, creating a different kind of liminality in this British landscape. Can our relationship to this soil be reworked? These subtle and yet important provocations around geography, movement and land converse with Ingrid Pollard’s 1988 Pastoral Interlude. Zaman’s work does not directly reference the work that came out of the Black Film Workshop Movement, but rather allows viewers to make connections to its aesthetics and the larger conversations about coloniality, diaspora and spirituality from a South Asian perspective. Your Ecstatic Self disrupts imperial structures of desire by centring Sajid’s stories about sexuality and erotics as a mode of being. What Sajid and Rehana hold and balance beautifully in this conversation is an openness about how narratives unfold and what spiritual ecologies they might evoke.
Chandra Frank is a feminist researcher who works on the intersections of archives, waterways, gender, sexuality and race. Her curatorial practice explores the politics of care, experimental forms of narration, and the colonial grammar embedded within display and exhibition arrangements. Chandra holds a PhD from the Department of Media, Communications, and Cultural Studies with an emphasis on queer and feminist studies, from Goldsmiths, University of London. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and exhibition catalogues, including Feminist Review, the Small Axe VLOSA catalogue, The Place is Here publication and the collection Tongues. She recently co-edited a special issue on Archives for Feminist Review. Chandra’s dissertation and book project looks at the everyday experiences of the transnational feminist and queer Black, Migrant and Refugee Movement in the Netherlands during the 1980s and the role of the archive therein. Currently, Chandra is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Charles Phelps Taft Research Centre at the University of Cincinnati.
Second Sight is available to book for screenings until 5 December. The tour incorporates key archive films from the period as well as new commissions from contemporary film artists, created in response to the Black Film Workshop context.