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Chapter 1: The Nightclub is the first iteration of a three-year project, Mythological Migrations: Imagining Queer Muslim Utopias, conceived and curated by Abdullah Qureshi as part of his on-going doctoral studies at Aalto University. The project contexualizes narratives and experiences of LGBTIQ+ Muslim immigrants in Finland in Islamic mythologies, history, and contemporary art.

Chapter 1: The Nightclub is a one-night multidisciplinary exhibit that investigates the nightclub as method, focusing on artistic approaches investigating queerness and Islam in a migratory context. Commissioned by Publics for the Today Is Our Tomorrow Festival, the project challenges exclusionary histories in European club culture that specifically target immigrants and people of color. In Helsinki, this primarily occured in 2016 at the two main gay clubs, DTM and Hercules - and, I have written about this in an earlier paper, “Queer Migrations: The case of an LGBT Cafe / Queers without Borders.”

Program:

Premiere of Journey to the CharBagh
a film by Abdullah Qureshi, with Danai Anagnostou as Producer, and Directors of Photography: Hadi Rehman and Kerttu Hakkarainen

Performance by Meera Band
classical music; covers of Fairuz, Dalida, and Warda Al Jazairia

Where are you from?
a film by Tamara Al-Mashouk

Alif is for Awakening
a performance by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Conceptually, the night draws on Islamic interpretations of heaven, in particular, the idea of the CharBagh (Four Gardens), mentioned in Surah Ar-Rahman, the 55th chapter of the Quran. The verses state:

55:46 But for he who has feared the position of his Lord are two gardens -
55:50 In both of them are two springs, flowing.
55:52 In both of them are of every fruit, two kinds.
55:54 [They are] reclining on beds whose linings are of silk brocade, and the fruit of the two gardens is hanging low
.…
55:62 And below them both [in excellence] are two [other] gardens -

Bird's Eye View of the Taj Mahal at Agra  Source: The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Bird's Eye View of the Taj Mahal at Agra
Source: The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Manifestations of these verses can be found throughout Islamic architecture - examples include the Taj Mahal in India, Shalimar Gardens and Lahore Fort in Pakistan, and Naqsh-e-Jahan Square in Iran.

Acting as an introduction, the evening opens with Journey to the CharBagh, a film written and directed by Abdullah Qureshi. The film is centered around the figure of the Buraq, appearing in three incarnations. The legend of the Buraq appears in Sahih al-Bukhari (one of the books that documents sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and is associated with the two-part journey made by the Islamic Messenger from Medinah to Jerusalam, and then to heaven in a single night. A reference to this journey, also known as Shab-e-Miraaj, can be found in the first verse of the 17th chapter in the Quran.

Etymologically, “Buraq,” comes from the Arabic word lightning, and the creature is described as, “handsome-faced and bridled, a tall, white beast, bigger than the donkey but smaller than the mule.” Amongst other attributes are that it can move at the speed of light. These descriptions have inspired representations of the mythical being throughout Islamic art - in particular, Ottomoan, Persian, and Mughal traditions. Today, many interpretations also appear on trucks in Pakistan, often placed as a protection amulet.

Illustration of Buraq from Yusuf and Zulaykha, a 19th-century Judeo-Persian manuscript held at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, MS 1534 —  Source .

Illustration of Buraq from Yusuf and Zulaykha, a 19th-century Judeo-Persian manuscript held at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, MS 1534 — Source.

Maya Ajami as Buraq, in Journey to the CharBagh.   Director: Abdullah Qureshi, Producer: Danai Anagnostou and Directors of Photography: Hadi Rehman & Kerttu Hakkarainen.

Maya Ajami as Buraq, in Journey to the CharBagh.
Director: Abdullah Qureshi, Producer: Danai Anagnostou and Directors of Photography: Hadi Rehman & Kerttu Hakkarainen.

The film also refers to other verses of Surah Ar-Rahman, specifically, those that talk about the sun and moon moving in precise balance, the birth of Jinns (fire beings), and lounging virgins (Hoors).

For the full list of credits, please see below.

The concept of the CharBagh runs throughout the exhibit - mimicked through the patterns on the dance floor; the design is taken from the Tomb of Bibi Jawinda located in Uch, Pakistan (AD 1494), and the gardens on each side, in pairs, are divided by a two-channel video projection of water. The is a feature that intersects with all the works during the evening.

Meera Band present their own take on popular Arabic classics by Fairuz, Dalida, and Warda Al Jazairia. The selected songs talk about love, loss, home, and escape.

Chapter 1: The Nightclub also includes the works of Tamara Al-Mashouk and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto aka Faluda Islam, who collectively engage in political tactics and strategies that disrupt the dance floor, and complicate issues of representation and performance through a diasporic lens.

A still from Where Are You From?, Tamara Al-Mashouk  Director of Photography: Leon Pyszora, Camera: Soyoon Cha, Hair: Mako Bartalou, Body Paint: Blake Byrnes, and Sound: Cameron.

A still from Where Are You From?, Tamara Al-Mashouk
Director of Photography: Leon Pyszora, Camera: Soyoon Cha, Hair: Mako Bartalou, Body Paint: Blake Byrnes, and Sound: Cameron.

Alif is for Awakening, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto  Photograph courtesy: Robbie Sweeny.

Alif is for Awakening, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Photograph courtesy: Robbie Sweeny.

Tamara Al-Mashouk is a London-based Saudi artist. Through multi-channel video, performance, and architectural installation, her work explores the epigenetics of place and movement of people, with a particular focus on the intersections of being Arab, brown, queer, and female. Al-Mashouk is the founder of Queering Space, an on-going dialogue series that addresses sexuality and space, decolonial feminism(s), borders: both geographic and societal, and explores the word queer and queerness itself as sites of resistance and potential. At Chapter 1: The Nightclub, she presents a new video work, Where Are You From?, which draws parallels between her body’s history, trauma, and memory as a critique of racist and oppressive cultural representation of Arabs in mainstream media. The video, which uses the setting of a fashion shoot, depicts various people moving and shaping the artist’s body, exposing and reversing the gaze and reclaiming power through a lyrical voice over, amplifying and extending the complex relationship between an I and you - a speaker and a public.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a visual artist, performer, and curator. Bhutto’s work explores complex histories of colonialism that are exacerbated by contemporary international politics and in the process unpacks the intersections of queerness and Islam through a multi-media practice. As part of Chapter 1: The Nightclub, Bhutto performs a multimedia piece, Alif is for Awakening. Through the character of Faluda Islam, Bhutto’s alter-ego, the 30-minute performance tells the story of a fictitious revolution through the eyes of a zombie, who is a former drag queen, turned into a guerrilla fighter post-ressurection. The narrative, looking from the future to the present, is situated during “The Third Intifada,” described by Bhutto / Islam as “a global queer uprising that attempt/s/ed/ing to rid the Muslim world of western intervention, occupation and dictatorship.” The work is a way of looking at history, usining poltical drag through a post-apocalyptic vantage, and questioning the place of queer people and their existance in movements of anti-imperialism in the South, South West Asian, and North African regions of the world.

The project can be followed live on Facebook and Instagram.

CREDITS for JOURNEY TO THE CHARBAGH: Written & Directed by Abdullah Qureshi; Produced by Danai Anagnostou; Cast: Maya Ajami, Arbaqan Changezi, and Rehan Bashir as Buraq; Khadeeja Arham as Jinn; Jaweria Khawaja as Shams; Mustafa Yazdani as Qamar; Niya Raazee as Hoor; Directors of Photography: Hadi Rehman (Pakistan) & Kerttu Hakkarainen (Finland); Editor: Tamara Al - Mashouk; Colorist: Hannu Käki; Costume Designer: Umair Sajid; Classical Dance Choreography, Costume, and Styling by Rehan Bashir; Music Composers: Zān & Rakae Jamil; Sound Designer: Lou Strömberg; Poetry: Momina Masood & Naveed Alam. PAKISTAN: with Qasim Ali Hussain, Zainab Zulfiqar, and Zoya Yalmaz; Stylists and Makeup Artists: Khadeeja Arham and Khadeeja Arham, with Umair Sajid in Shams and Qamar scene; Locations Courtesy: The Lahore Fort - Walled City of Lahore Authority, Gulshan Iqbal Park, Lahore Grammar School - Paragon City, and Shahiya Pehalwan Akhara. FINLAND: AC: Aku Koskinen; Gaffer: Joni Juutilainen; Location Manager: Anni Arponen; Translator on Set: Mody Persona; Makeup Artist: Zahrah Ehsan; Craft Service: Cavallino Catering; Location Courtesy: Ratsutila Cavallino.