BY Carina Bukuts in Reviews | 15 OCT 20
Featured in
Issue 215

Hajra Waheed and the Hum of Protest

At Portikus, Frankfurt, the artist pays attention to quiet but powerful acts of resistance

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BY Carina Bukuts in Reviews | 15 OCT 20

How does protest sound? Is it the noise of stomping feet marching through the streets during a demonstration? Or demands shouted into megaphones? Or phrases chanted by thousands of protesters? In Montreal-based artist Hajra Waheed’s exhibition at Portikus, the sound of protest is a hum.

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Hajra Waheed, Hum, 2020, installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt. Courtesy: the artist and mor charpentier, Paris; photograph: Diana Pfammatter 

Waheed’s 36-minute sound piece, Hum (2020), brings together hummed versions of eight protest songs from the continents of Africa and Asia. The composition includes pieces written by Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sudanese poet Muhammad al-Makki Ibraheem, both of whom were persecuted in their respective countries for raising their voices against authoritarian politics, oppression and social injustice. Hum also features a song by Kurdish musician Nûdem Durak, who was arrested in Turkey in 2015 and sentenced to 19 years in prison for singing in her mother tongue. While the lyrics of the individual songs are lost in the process of humming, the soundscape of the many different voices, which fill the otherwise near-empty space, speak to a feeling of community. An idea that is also reflected in the title of the work, which translates as ‘we’ in Urdu.

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Hajra Waheed, Hum, 2020, installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt. Courtesy: the artist and mor charpentier, Paris; photograph: Diana Pfammatter 

Originally commissioned for the Lahore Biennale 02 at the start of this year, where it was presented at Diwaan-i-Aam – an auditorium designed for the airing of public grievances before the emperor – the instalment in Frankfurt seems rather restrained by comparison. Here, the humming emanates from 16 black speakers hanging from the ceiling, while the floor is covered in soft white carpet – which visitors may only walk across barefoot – lending the installation a sacred aura. The more time I spend with these voices, however, the more I realize that the work’s power lies in its silencing of my body: no footsteps are audible, only humming. Waheed shows that acts of protest and resistance don’t necessarily need to be loud in order to be heard.

Main image: Hajra Waheed, Hum, 2020, installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt. Courtesy: the artist and mor charpentier, Paris; photograph: Diana Pfammatter 

Carina Bukuts is assistant editor of frieze based in Berlin, Germany. She is co-founder and editor of PASSE-AVANT.

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