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Zeerak Ahmed: Amma Mein Tou Paahonee / Mother, I Am Compelled To Leave

The Judith Bear Isroff Gallery
August 10 - December 29, 20204

In creating her sound and video installation titled Amma Mein Tou Paahonee / Mother, I Am Compelled To Leave, Zeerak Ahmed (born 1990, Lahore, Pakistan; lives New York, New York) drew from the folk music traditions of her family’s native region of Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. The songs included in the installation are fleeting for many reasons. They come from a culture that was severely disrupted by the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent in 1947—a time of bloodshed and migration, during which Ahmed’s Muslim family relocated to the newly formed nation of Pakistan. They are in the dialect of Purbi, which is no longer spoken by the migrants who settled in Pakistan. They are part of an oral tradition and were never written down.

The particular songs in Amma Mein Tou Paahonee / Mother, I Am Compelled To Leave were also sung by women in their private quarters, only among one another, and never in public, due to patriarchal prohibitions that prevented women from gathering together outside the home. Ahmed’s mother and grandmother appear in her videos—they passed this music to her, having learned it from their own female elders.

The installation includes a loop of six songs that trace a woman’s life from birth and celebration, through marrying and leaving home, to the acceptance of new circumstances that allow the cycle to begin again. The project’s title is a line from one of the songs, reflecting the bittersweet emotions of departure. As she sings these words, Ahmed feels deep resonances of motherhood, ancestry, and memory. Her videos also include images of the landscape in Pakistan, reflecting her family’s migration and longing for home, which the artist feels all the more as an immigrant to the United States. Though Amma Mein Tou Paahonee / Mother, I Am Compelled To Leave is quite personal, Ahmed also intends for it to be relatable to anyone who might search for their own sense of self by connecting with the past, which is distant yet ever-present.