Amidst you (and me)

A Performance Trilogy

Qasim Riza Shaheen

Misplaced Memoirs

(Site-specific, 2014)

Two Letters & a Postscript

(Black box, 2017)

The day after the day before I sinned

(Gallery intervention, 2018)

Written, developed and devised

Qasim Riza Shaheen


Mary Ann Hushlak

Fundamental to this trilogy is the question: what is a beloved? Is it only, mostly or partly about the costuming of a ceremony? Or the sounds and gestures in what is essentially a private declaration? Two love letters – ‘Undeliverable Mail’ and ‘Someone for (Qasim)’ – are at the heart of the trilogy.

These letters emerged as part of a series of poetic self-portraits Qasim Riza Shaheen posted in online installments during a year-long residency at Contact in Manchester (2012). These stories are of personal desire, past relationships, religiosity and an expressed urgency for the ritual of marriage before turning 40 are layered in a transcultural queer identity. Then using imagery and text, the artist set a scenography for a limited audience to experience the work one-to-one, making for an intimate encounter and allowing for unrequited love in the life, thus far, of an artist, to be declared as autofiction and confession. (Contact Queer Festival, 2012)

From this initial iteration emerged Misplaced Memoirs, a site-specific performance in Hyatt Andaz, London (Spill Festival, 2013), Hotel du Vin (macBirmingham, 2014) and the Palace Hotel (Cornerhouse, Manchester, 2014). Having selected routes through the temporary ‘home’ of a hotel – corridors, stairways, lifts, alcoves, rooms – the invited performers revealed, to three people at a time, private incidents and sacred memories. At the conclusion of the piece the performers and their audience all converged for a family portrait, which included an already-positioned doppelganger replacement of Qasim Riza Shaheen. These enactments foreground a play of identities being exchanged and reimagine how the embodied as archive can be interchangeable.

Two Letters & a Postscript (2017 Manchester HOME) had as its territory a black box. A male model replacement of Shaheen was again present and seated centre stage, drawing with his foot a portrait of his beloved, while the teller of the letters was enveloped by a reluctant dance and the obsessive retelling of fragments of the story. About remembering – being left waiting in Chicago, saying hello to Hansel and Gretel, inhabiting memories taking on the small moments – of self-love and self-preservation, of selfies and wefies, of an ‘undanced’ someone as a film essay and the letters in recorded translations – Urdu, Arabic, French, faraway voices, all with a promise of meeting.

In The day after the day before I sinned, (2018 as gallery intervention, Manchester HOME), five brides, all poignantly adorned and costumed, wait in anticipation for rites of passage. In this final resolve of the trilogy, the attention shifts from the actual beloved to an imagined one. Using live and audio soundtracks, the five brides-in-waiting lip sync and, also, gesture through archetypes and the politics and poetics of longing and desire. As always, there was a double replacing and rendering Shaheen and the family portrait.

In this trilogy, Amidst you (and me), Shaheen publicly discloses his (or is that ‘a’) personal voice as he attempts to redraw the ethical boundaries between his own private and public spaces, and between the actual and the imagined, between you and me.