b. 1978 New York, NY; Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
Photo: Lyric Hunter
Mariam Ghani (b. 1978 New York, NY) is an artist, writer and filmmaker who examines spaces and moments where social, political and cultural structures take on visible forms. Working across video, sound, installation, photography, performance, text and dataworks, Ghani plays on the relationship between a place and its history. With a research-based approach utilizing documentary, archival materials, narrative and database forms, Ghani traces both individual narratives and the larger systems or structures that condition or enclose them.
Her work explores a wide range of topics including border zones, no-man’s lands, translations, transitions and the slippages where cultures intersect; security cultures, archives, architectures of democracy, and national imaginaries; places where nature and artifice imitate and influence each other; and the intersections of war, trauma, memory, identity, migration, language and loss. “I grew up very much in between cultures,” Ghani explained, “And that’s the position I work from as an artist.”
Ghani constructs her films through a meticulous and long-term study of her subject, in order to activate her stories in deep and meaningful ways. Collaboration is also an important aspect in her artistic practice. Among other creative relationships with artists and institutions, choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly has played an important role in shaping Ghani’s work, including Performed Places, an ongoing series of site-responsive videos that Ghani began in 2006, that draw on landscape archeology to activate the history and memory of place through movement.
Within this series, A Brief History of Collapses (2011-2012) provides a deep look at the uncanny architectural similarities between two buildings constructed two centuries and a continent apart—the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany in 1779, and the Dar ul-Aman Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1929. The two-channel video installation follows two cameras on parallel courses through both buildings—each with very different relationships with collapse, ruin and prosperity—to explore the similarities and differences in their histories, myths, uses and contexts. This work was presented at dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel and Kabul.
A consummate filmmaker, Ghani is interested in weaving archival materials with historical narrative to make films such as her feature-length documentary What We left Unfinished (2019). This film studies the imagined Afghani communist utopia through the prism and bias of unfinished cinematic footage that has been cut, archived and occasionally lost. Through an in-depth work with the Afghan Film Archive, Ghani continues her longstanding interest in memory, fragmented narratives, and sensitive historical reconstructions.
Ghani received her BA from New York University in 2000 and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2002. She is currently a faculty appointment at Bennington College in Vermont. Ghani has received a number of fellowships, awards, grants, and residencies, including from Creative Capital, Art Matters, the 18th Street Arts Center in Los Angeles, the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Ghani has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY and a fellow at the New York Public Library.
Her dOCUMENTA 13 presentation in Kassel and Kabul of her 2012 film A Brief History of Collapse placed her work on the international map. Ghani’s work has further been exhibited and screened widely, including at Blaffer Museum of Art (2020); Berlinale festival (2019); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2016); Metropolitan Museum of Art (2016); Anchorage Museum (2015); St. Louis Art Museum (2015); CCCB, Barcelona (2014); Secession, Vienna (2014); the Rotterdam Film Festival (2013); CPH:DOX film festival (2012); Sharjah Biennials 9 (2009) and 10 (2011); Museum of Modern Art (2011); Brooklyn Museum of Art, (2010); National Gallery of Art (2008); Tate Modern (2007) and the Liverpool Biennial (2004).
Her work is in the public collections of the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany; Arab American National Museum, Detroit, MI; CB Richard Ellis, New York, NY; Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi, India; Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, New York, NY; Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN; Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; and the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO.
Afghanistan: A Lexicon