Section: Arts

The Gund hosts Mohaiemen for conversation and coloring

The Gund hosts Mohaiemen for conversation and coloring

Mohaiemen, center, with students | COURTESY OF JAMES DECAMP PHOTOGRAPHY

Creativity and conversation collided on Feb. 8 when artist and filmmaker Naeem Mohaiemen came to The Gund. As he talked with visitors gathered in the lobby, Mohaiemen revealed how his practice is both deeply personal and connects people across time and space, sharing how individuals approach both life and death.

Students listened between bites of food and shaded in coloring sheets depicting Fluxus pieces such as “Eat Art Eat Fluxus.” The first topic of discussion, Fluxus was a movement born in SoHo, New York, in the 1960s that emphasized experimentation with the absurd and anti-art.

Mohaiemen’s film “Wooster Street,” currently on display in The Gund, superimposes archival footage over a conversation with Judy Blum Reddy, a New York artist and the only resident from Fluxus’ founding that remains in the Wooster Street apartments. Describing the experience, he said, “I don’t think of Judy as a project. She’s just sort of this [quirky] person that’s in my life.”

The coloring sheets made by Abi Wilson ’24, leader of the Gund Associate’s Community Events/Digital Stories Team, grabbed Mohaiemen’s attention, prompting him to reflect on how the artists who were part of Fluxus might have reacted: “I think they’d be tickled.”

“I didn’t think much of [the coloring sheets], but Naeem actually took a photo of them and sent them to Judy Blum Reddy, which was a very surreal moment to me,” Wilson wrote in a message to the Collegian. “I never expected what I did to get back to one of the actual people who inspired it.”

As students asked more questions, the conversation turned to how Mohaiemen navigates the art world. “I think for a lot of artists of our generation, what we learned… is that, if nothing else, you need to have control over your means of living so that you can make work unencumbered by the need to appeal to the market,” he said. “You need to at least control your address so nobody can kick you out.”

Attendees also had the chance to attend a screening of Mohaiemen’s “Jole Dobe Na (Those Who Do Not Drown).” The film takes place in an abandoned hospital and explores the relationship between caregivers and afterlife in response to a Raqs Media Collective prompt. Its filming was interrupted by the pandemic, but Mohaiemen decided to finish it anyway.

“Suddenly I had to figure out how to do things without anything. No frills. No nothing. Lots of Band-Aid, Scotch-tape solutions. One of the things I do remember is I was so grateful for the work because it was how I kept from losing my mind,” Mohaiemen said, before acknowledging the eeriness of the situation. “Because it’s a film about the hospital and the right to refuse medical treatment, it seemed very strange to be working on once the pandemic started because suddenly we were all in the space of trying to seek out the best medical treatment and the best hospital and the vaccine.”

A recurring motif across Mohaiemen’s work was control over one’s life and death. His second work currently in The Gund, “Karen’s Last Books (Ibsen to Nguyen),” documents a list of books made by photographer and educator Karen Wentworth. Wentworth chose to use the provisions of Maine’s 2019 Death and Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill adults to request medication to end their lives; the list named the 10 books she wanted to read before her death.

Even though Mohaiemen had never thought of “Wooster Street” and “Karen’s Last Books” together, when Chief Curator Daisy Desrosiers approached him about exhibiting at The Gund, a relationship between the two artworks emerged. “The title is ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel,’” he explained. “It’s both the tunnel of life that Karen is going through but also, in a way, thinking of Judy’s journey where she’s still making work. There’s still hope.”

Reflecting on the overall experience, Wilson said, “Naeem made great connections between wanting to own where you live and wanting to own how you exit life, and it was amazing to hear him talk about why he put those two works together in the first place. They do however only represent a small fraction of his work and I would urge students interested in him to check out more of his works online.”


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