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The frame as borderland: Secular gazes and believing bodies in Bani Abidi’s The Distance From Here (2010)

Madani, Adnan. 2018. The frame as borderland: Secular gazes and believing bodies in Bani Abidi’s The Distance From Here (2010). The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ), 7(2), pp. 236-250. ISSN 2045-6298 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Is it still possible to think of some contemporary art as belonging to a religious or a secular world, where ‘world’ is understood in Wittgenstein’s sense as all that is the case? What purchase can these powerful concepts have on today’s art, especially in the realm of video and photography with their peculiar relations to reality and subjectivity? Echoing Talal Asad’s question ‘[i]s there a secular body?’, I ask whether there is a ‘secular’ or ‘religious’ gaze that belongs to this body, how it describes its own boundaries and what lies outside it. Looking at Pakistani art allows me to investigate the longer duration of culture from which some recent video practices have emerged and found a place in globalised art circuits. I claim that Bani Abidi’s video art, and specifically The Distance From Here (2010) can be seen as a sustained exploration of heterogeneous temporalities and subjective positions that are as yet not entirely taken up by their international presentation, audience and circulation, and derive from a space that is not understandable as simply divided between the secular and the religious. This remainder or intractability might indicate the possibility of encounters with forms of life that unsettle existing conceptual divisions between the secular and the religious or the local and the global. Seeing Abidi’s work in relation to a powerful tradition of allegory and of narrative deriving from the philosophy of Ibn Sina, I argue that these currents persist in popular culture and in local literary or artistic forms, even when they are not explicitly referred to. This allows me to make a case for seeing Abidi’s work in a context that is not restricted to the history of (Euro-American) art and its philosophies.

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Bani Abidi; Pakistani art; Talal Asad; globalisation; secularism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


1 September 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

15 Aug 2018 13:43

Last Modified:

09 Jan 2019 12:23

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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