Currents 110: Mariam Ghani
April 8–July 12, 2015
Galleries 250 and 301


Brooklyn-based artist Mariam Ghani creates video and photographic installations that investigate built and natural landscapes, such as Kabul, Afghanistan and Kassel, Germany, which have layered and complicated histories. She adopts an unusually multifaceted approach to enlivening these histories. Spoken narrative, musical score, and dance performance are all crucial to her process. She embraces seductive imagery and poetic language, encouraging her viewers to reflect on challenging issues through multiple layers of meaning that unfold over time.

Ghani is the 2014-2015 Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Fellow. This fellowship includes a residency at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University and a Currents exhibition at the Museum. For Currents 110, Ghani will present two works—the recent video Like Water From a Stone (2014), which is set on the southern coast of Norway, and her newest multi-media work, The City & the City, which was produced in St. Louis specifically for the exhibition.

The City & the City melds a fictional narrative with elements drawn from the past and present of histories of St. Louis. Ghani is particularly interested in forgotten or little-seen "border zones" in the city that have arisen from deindustrialization, population shifts, and other socio-economic changes. For example, she filmed in Kinloch, Missouri's oldest incorporated African-American community, now largely depopulated because of its proximity to Lambert airport. She also was drawn to the gutted Cotton Belt Freight Depot, once a hub of commerce along the Mississippi River. Ghani uses insights gained from her longtime collaborator, Erin Ellen Kelly, a choreographer and a native to St. Louis, to produce new kinds of understandings about the way cities are experienced.

In her other video on view, Like Water From a Stone, performers move interpretively through the Norwegian landscape to evoke bodily experiences of the water and stone, and the distinctive light found in that environment. Yet, Ghani sets Norway's tranquil beauty against reminders of the German occupation during World War II and the perils of the present-day petroleum industry. The video title refers alternately to the difficulties of extracting oil from undersea deposits or to the struggles of eking out a living from the rocky Norwegian soil and unruly North Sea in the time before undersea oil exploitation.

Born in 1978 in New York, Ghani received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York. She currently is a visiting scholar at New York University's Asian/Pacific/American Institute. Her work has been featured at major museums and film festivals, including the 42nd International Film Festival, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2013); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012); the Sharjah Biennial 10, United Arab Emirates (2011); and the Modern Mondays series at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011).

Ghani is the latest Currents artist to engage with St. Louis and its architectural history. In Currents 82 (2000) Catherine Opie created panoramic photographs of the often-incongruous layers of downtown's built environment. In Currents 94 (2005) Matthew Buckingham examined what remained of the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood which had been largely demolished in the 1960s during the construction of Highway 40. While Ghani's work is grounded in specific sites of historical potency, her narrative structure and editing "tilt things into a fictionalized realm" where they become settings for something lyric and imaginative—allowing the long march of history to resonate with our present-day lives.

Ghani will discuss the exhibition at a free lecture in the Museum's Farrell Auditorium on Tuesday, April 7 at 6:30 pm.

Currents 110: Mariam Ghani is curated by Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings and photographs, with Molly Moog, research assistant. This presentation is generously supported by the Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Endowment Foundation.