Proposal to A Space Gallery

Submitted May 21, 2014

Gita Hashemi Proposal to A Space Gallery

Passages is a multi-platform work (performance, video, web) that draws from travelogues and memoirs written during 17th, 18th and 19th centuries by travelers from the “East,” focused mostly on Persianate travelers. Contact between the Persianate world (ethno-culturally diverse societies in south, west and central Asia and parts of north and southeast Africa, where, for several centuries, Farsi was the shared language of cultural production) and the West increased exponentially in this period and deeply influenced both sides.

By reversing/returning the gaze, exploring this history illuminates pre-colonial subjectivities in the East and the West. In this, Passages subverts western genealogy of knowledge and casts the emergence of modernity as a global exchange amongst cultures and peoples, and western modernity as the cultural/ideological corollary of European expansionism. I am particularly interested in engaging with this history in order to imagine and construct alternative presents toward healing colonial traumas.

For its iteration at A Space, I propose to stage Passages as a durational participatory/collaborative performance that is also streamed live on the internet. Over the duration of 3-7 days, I would perform embodied writing responses to the reading of selected passages from the travelogues. The reading would be open to public participation. At specific times during the days, the reading would be performed by invited artist collaborators whose decolonial work is in dialogue with mine. I have selected six historical figures whose voices will be the basis of this work. Please note below for more information about them. In the live performance I would be writing on large scrolls of paper in response to and animated by the readings of the texts. Performances would be recorded and simultaneously streamed for remote audiences who would be able to interact textually or participate in the reading via audio stream.

This multi-layered approach would create a work whose complexity reflects the passage of time and the spatial, historical and cultural complexity of its subject. Approached as durational and embodied processes, writing and reading create prime spaces for thoughtful and critical engagement. They produce an experience that is dialogic, time-based and multi-sensorial, is created live through collaboration and responsiveness to space and spectator, and, most importantly, resists conventional representational strategies. Collaborating with audience/participants and other artists opens the space for exploring intersecting histories and cultures toward new relations and understandings. Some of my previous works that have developed similar complex methodologies include: Utopias in-Progress (; Ephemeral Monument (; The Book of Illuminations (; and Headqurters: Pathology of an Ouster (

In much of my work I have been exploring language and ways of making its spaces and effects visible and visual. In Passages I am deeply interested in how textual transmissions and memory processes, past encounters and intercultural gaze have shaped and continue to animate our contemporary (gendered, always gendered) bodies. What roles did/do curiosity and desire play in inter-cultural encounters and the construction and projection of identities and alterities? How did/does travel construct/transform spectators/spectacles? How do we conceive of and engage with repressed histories of modernity? Where in our contemporary culture(s) would we find their persistent presence? How could embodied writing (where body is at once the conduit and the site of writing), and embodiment in general, reach back in time to uncover and trace fault lines and project forward to mend fissures? How do we bridge aesthetic experience with social imagination? These questions inspire and animate Passages.

Passages received visual arts grants from Toronto Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts in 2014. For an early experiment in live performance of embodied reading and writing, view

Installation Plan and Technical Requirements

The performance stage would be set up in the larger gallery. It’d consist of:
• 6 scrolls of paper hung on the west wall from about 8’ down
• A small table or pedestal for holding writing equipment placed by the north wall
• A stepping stool or small ladder for reaching upper parts of the scrolls
• A reading station including a cushion to sit on and an Indian traditional book holder for the script. This are set up about 20’ away from the west wall, centered between north and south walls.

The west wall would be lit evenly from diagonal south and north angles (using video lights with barn doors). A single overhead light would be placed above the reading station.

A pedestal holding a laptop would be set up in line with the end of the north wall, centred between the wall and the column. This would be the streaming station, using laptop’s internal camera and an external microphone hung over the reading station.

Two recording cameras would be installed: one on a ceiling mount near the south wall, another on a tripod placed by the north wall.

With the support of A Space, I would negotiate with TSV for some form of sponsorship for the technical equipment.

Historical Voices in Passages

• Sampsonia (a.k.a. Teresia Sherley, c.1588-1658), daughter of a Circassian chieftain in the Persian court who married an Elizabethan fortune seeker and traveled to Europe twice between 1607-1628. I trace and imagine her voice through many historical documents as there is no actual text authored by her.
• Mirza I’tisam al-Din (c. 1730-1803), a Perso-Indian munshi (expert secretary and translator) working for the East India Company, traveled to Europe in 1765-1768. His is the first travelogue published in Farsi. I have translated select passages from this.
• Joseph Emin (1726-1809), a Persian-born Armenian raised in Bengal who went to Europe in 1751 to learn military skills toward organizing an Armenian liberation army. He wrote and published his memoirs in English.
• Mirza Abu Taleb Khan (1752-1806) born in Lucknow of Perso-Turkish ancestry, working precariously for the East India Company in Bengal. He traveled in Irland and England between1799 and 1804. I use my own translation of his writing.
• Sayyida Salma (a.k.a. Emily Ruete, 1844-1924), born of a Circassian mother in the house of Sultan al-Busaid, ruler of Zanzibar and Oman. She eloped with a German merchant and traveled to Europe in 1867. She published her memoirs in 1886 in German. I use the existing English translation.
• Taj al-Saltaneh, (1884-1936), daughter of globe-trotting king, Nasir el-Din Shah Qajar. She was a few years old at the time of her father’s last trip to Europe and never herself traveled there, but in her controversial memoir discussed her desire for the journey and imagination of Europe. I use my own translation of this work.

For more information on these, including in-progress drafts of selected passages, bibliography and visual material please visit the project’s research blog at

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  1. […] late posting this.  After finishing up with Emin’s part and a day and a half of work on the proposal to A Space Gallery, I took a day, Thursday, 22nd, to clean up my desks, resort the material, and basically bring some […]