In the Presence of Absence: An Evening With noncitizen

In the Presence of Absence: An Evening With noncitizen

Still from Meriem Bennani, Party on the CAPS at the Biennale of Moving Image 2018. Image courtesy of the artist and BIM 2018.

In the Presence of Absence: An Evening With noncitizen
Screening and discussion

Admission starts at $5

May 2, 2023, 7pm
172 Classon Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205

Join us at e-flux Screening Room on Tuesday, May 2 at 7pm for an evening on surreal border regimes and ghostly traces of migration, curated by the noncitizen collective. Four short films relate the haunting presence of absence in stories of displacement and exile, two of which—What’s Your Problem, Bruno? and If I Left You Now—were produced within the collective. Following the screenings, there will be a conversation with Palestinian researcher and community organizer Amany Khalifa on the subject of citizenship in occupied Palestine.

“To be a citizen or not to be a citizen, that is the question.” Displacing the Shakespearean phrase, the films screened on this evening all draw attention to the imposed nature of citizenship. Whether we want it or not, (non)citizenship(s) define our supposedly universal rights and nation-states’ control, and regulate our (differential) access to movement. Visible and invisible borders play a key role in creating, holding, and separating nation-states, for they determine our perception of how we encounter the world—our so-called point of view. As scholars Shahram Khorsravi and Mahmoud Keshavarz write in their essay “The Magic of Borders” (e-flux Architecture, May 2020): “Borders turn neighbors into enemies. A short distance suddenly becomes farther. The skin of people on the other side becomes darker. Nomadic tribes become illegal border crossers. Cousins from the next village become illegal transgressors.” In this way, borders differentiate belonging from non-belonging, nation from alienation. They regulate our absence or presence, and thus the destiny of our right to exist in a certain space-time: on the commuter train to high school between two suburbs in Stockholm, as in If I Left You Now; on the subway to the e-flux Screening Room; or, on the computer when accessing the Kafkaesque Swedish migration board website, as in I Wish Grapes Would Ripen, where the operator is repeatedly met with the answer, “No.” It is in this presence of absence, in the countless hindrance of living a decent life and not merely surviving one, that we, as the noncitizen collective, let this evening’s program unfold. We will speak of presence and absence through memory and forgetfulness, citizenship and noncitizenship, grief and gratitude, historicity and futurity. It is a program that engages questions at the core of noncitizen’existence as a collective: How to live, document, and be present in the absence as and for people in migration and violent diasporic geographies? How can we insert and infiltrate stories of migration—fleeting moments or mundane actions that are often dismissed as apolitical—into alternative histories to summon futures that have been hitherto canceled?

The screening is curated by noncitizen members Nour Helou, Afrang Nordlöf Malekian, and Christian Rossipal. With a music composition by Ahmad Alattar, and films by Merazul Islam and Roozbeh Behtaji, Evan Khorasani, Elyas Alavi and Critical Border Studies, and Meriem Bennani.

Merazul Islam, Roozbeh Behtaji, What’s Your Problem, Bruno? (2023, 13 minutes)
Frustration, loneliness, and grief rest in a cramped apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden. The main character Bruno, a young boy from Bangladesh, has recently arrived to Sweden alone, and cohabitates with his alcoholic uncle, who is haunted by the presence of an unborn child. 

Made with support from noncitizen.

Evan Khorasani, If I Left You Now (2023, 5 minutes)
We follow a traveler’s journey from his home in the northern Stockholm suburb, Märsta, to his school in the southern suburb, Skärholmen. There is another journey unfolding simultaneously in conversation with his reflection appearing in the train window. Bit by bit, his reflection drowns in statements sent by the Swedish Migration Agency to him. The title of this experimental short film is taken from the Swedish artist Lars Winnerbäck and Miss Li’s hit song “If I Left You Know” (2007), which the director, Evan Khorasani, used to listen to when traveling between his temporary home in Märsta and his high school in Skärholmen.

Made with support from noncitizen.

Elyas Alavi, Critical Border Studies, I Wish Grapes Would Ripen (2020, 4 minutes)
The Upper Secondary Education Act was entered into force by the Swedish Migration Agency in June 2017. Rejected unaccompanied asylum seekers under the age of 18 years who had applied for asylum before November 2015 could be granted a temporary residence permit for upper secondary studios. In the short experimental documentary film “I Wish Grapes Would Ripen,” the bureaucracy maze that the applicant faces is put on display. Over and over again, we are faced with a “no” while the poem “I Wish Grapes Would Ripen” is read aloud. It says, “I wish borders would become drunk and Mahomud Ali could see his mother after 17 years.”

Courtesy of Shahram Khosravi.

Meriem Bennani, Party on the CAPS (2018, 25 minutes) 
In a world where teleportation has replaced planes, a wacky crocodile named Fiona tells of life on the CAPS: an island-turned-refugee-camp for illegal immigrants caught mid-teleportation. Themes of displacement, biotechnology, and privacy are evoked through the augmented reality of a raucous birthday party in the Moroccan quarter of the CAPS. Mixing the languages of reality TV, advertising, documentary, and high-end commercial aesthetics, Bennani explores the potential of storytelling through magical realism and humor.

Courtesy of the artist.

For more information, contact

–Two flights of stairs lead up to the building’s front entrance at 172 Classon Avenue.    
–For elevator access, please RSVP to The building has a freight elevator which leads into the e-flux office space. Entrance to the elevator is nearest to 180 Classon Ave (a garage door). We have a ramp for the steps within the space.             
–e-flux has an ADA-compliant bathroom. There are no steps between the Screening Room and this bathroom.

Borders & Frontiers, Migration & Immigration, Film, Nationalism
Citizenship, State & Government

noncitizen is a nomadic film and cultural project founded in 2015, based in Stockholm and Gothenburg. The aim is to highlight the issues of oppression in our time and the right to have rights, borders, and freedom of movement. We work with and for people with migration experience and organize film workshops to create media together.

Ahmad Alattar (b. 1997, Lebanon) is a sound designer with a multidisciplinary background. Alattar lacks formal musical training and influences from his formative years but uses Arab pop song excerpts and virtual modular synthesizers to transform the music he was meant to have experienced growing up. His work aims to evoke the sensation of being stripped of music while retaining a music-adjacent atmosphere, resulting in an eerie and captivating auditory experience that captures the essence of rediscovering music.

Merazul Islam (b. 2004, Bangladesh) has been living in Gothenburg, Sweden, since 2018, where he is completing his second year of high school. He has been creating films together with Roozbeh Behtaji for two years now, both acting and directing. What’s Your Problem, Bruno? is his second film, which premiered at the Gothenburg Film Festival 2023.

Roozbeh Behtaji (b. 1981, Iran/Sweden) was born in Tehran and raised in Angered, Sweden. He is a trained filmmaker at HDK-Valand – Academy of Art and Design and has, among other things, directed Bastian (SVT, 2012) and Diskoteksbranden 1998 (The Discotheque Fire 1998) (Göteborgs City Museum, 2021). Currently, Behtaji is the artistic director of the Gothenburg film movement Göthenburgo.

Elyas Alavi (b. 1982, Afghanistan) is a visual artist, curator, and poet based in Adelaide, Australia. He has published three poetry books, I’m a daydreamer wolf (2008, Tehran), Some Wounds (2012, Kabul), and Hodood (2015, Tehran). He graduated with a Master of Visual Arts in 2016 from the University of South Australia and has exhibited internationally. Alavi visits many issues in his works, but mainly memory, migration, displacement, and exile.

Critical Border Studies is a network for academics, artists, and activists who are interested in border studies. The Critical Border Studies initiative aims to push forward collaborative research projects; organize conferences and workshops; and create a forum for contacts and collaboration between researchers. Hosted by CEMFOR, Critical Border Studies is affiliated with the Engaging Vulnerability program at Uppsala University and with the Department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University.

Meriem Bennani (b. 1988, Morocco) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Juxtaposing and mixing the language of reality TV, documentaries, phone footage, animation, and high production aesthetics, she explores the potential of storytelling while amplifying reality through a strategy of magical realism and humor. She has been developing a shape-shifting practice of films, sculptures, and immersive installations composed with a subtle agility to question our contemporary society and its fractured identities, gender issues, and the ubiquitous dominance of digital technologies.

Amany Khalifa (b. 1985, Occupied Palestine) is a researcher, community organizer, and former local mobilization director at Grassroots Al-Quds, a platform for Palestinian community-based mobilization and long-term strategizing in Occupied Jerusalem. Within this capacity, she has led local campaigns and supported local communities and partners. She provides political analysis and has a broad and experienced understanding of development and resistance to oppressive policies under the Israeli occupation. She has a BA in Social Work, a Master in Cultural Studies, and is currently completing a MA in Performance Studies at New York University.

Nour Helou (b. 1998, Lebanon) is a writer curious about ways we relate to each other. Her focus is on the transformation of beauty standards and gender norms in the SWANA region. She has a BA in Art History from the American University of Beirut, and is currently completing a MA in Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. As a film programmer, Helou has worked at Shasha Movies which she helped launch in 2020. Two years later, Nour joined noncitizen in Sweden as a project manager. She has previously published writings in Glänta and the Arab Image Foundation Lab. She is represented in the art collection of the Public Art Agency, Sweden. When the fruits are ripe, Helou is also a certified pastry-maker.

Afrang Nordlöf Malekian (b. 1995, Iran/Sweden) lives and works in Stockholm. His practice deals with history’s hidden actors and makers, where historicity is put into use as a form of documentation and aspiration that calls for improbable futurities, examining how narratives, hierarchies, systems, and language disappear, re-appear and return, and transform in the most unexpected ways. It poses the question of how to think about the political expression contained in fleeting moments or mundane actions, which are often dismissed as apolitical. Nordlöf Malekian has previously conducted artistic research at the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut, and been a resident at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. He holds an MA from the Dutch Art Institute and an MFA from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. His work has been shown in places such as the 10th Berlin Biennale, Moderna Museet, Tensta Konsthall, and IASPIS. Nordlöf Malekian’s work is in public collections, including Moderna Museet, Public Art Agency Sweden, and Arab Image Foundation Library.

Christian Rossipal (b. 1991, Sweden) is a scholar, writer, and curator based in Stockholm and New York. He is a PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and a founding member of noncitizen. His writing on borders, migration, and documentary has appeared in Film Quarterly, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, and The Global South, among other journals. On the noncitizen collective and its project the Noncitizen Archive, in particular, he has written for the anthology Migrant, Multicultural and Diasporic Heritage: Beyond and Between Borders (Routledge Key Issues in Cultural Heritage), the Diacritics online series Unarchive, and World Records Journal (in an edited roundtable with the Arab Image Foundation and the Nakba Archive).

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