"I was so traumatized last year. You have no idea." Qinza Najm said as we were sitting outdoors at a busy restaurant in Miami Beach with our
“I was so traumatized last year. You have no idea.” Qinza Najm said as we were sitting outdoors at a busy restaurant in Miami Beach with our masks on, of course. Next to a busy street with cars flying by us, we raised our voices to hear each other under our layers of masks. Miami in late February was as humid as it could get and vibrant, as always. The city is alive with laughter, chatter, loud music, and the iconic relaxing tourist vibes. “I was stuck in my apartment by myself the whole year, and let me tell you, the stress was beyond description.” Similar to many greetings during COVID-19, the artist and I started our conversation with the pandemic and the lockdown.
I first met Qinza in early 2021 at a dinner, since the world was surrounded by the dreads of the COVID-19, 2021 was the time when everything was under better control and people were more knowledgeable about the virus and precautions, unlike the year 2020. As a Pakistani-American artist who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, Qinza’s practice mainly focuses on gendered violence, cultural identity, and social trauma. As a Taiwanese woman coming from an East Asian background, I resonate closely with female struggles and these cultural focuses Qinza brought up in her work. Her notions and observations, especially on forbidden female sexuality in a male-dominated society, reminded me of my own experiences and culture shock when I first moved here to the United States.
During our dinner conversation, we talked about our families, our U.S. experiences, childhood distresses, and the new global trauma that we are all (still) suffering. The year 2020 was highly traumatizing globally, regardless of where we were when the outbreak started. People are constantly afraid of losing loved ones, not having enough supply and food, financial crisis, and isolation. However, the pandemic seems to be the beginning of a series of joint disorders for all. Global happenings span beyond the 2019 protest in Hong Kong against the Chinese authority which led to the first COVID-19 case outbreak; from the wildfires in the southern hemisphere to the Black Lives Matter movements in the U.S highlighting social justice; from the tragic explosion in Beirut to the many and increasing tensions in multiple countries in mid-Asia and the Middle East. The double-edged saying, “May you live in interesting times,” seems pertinent today. I believe we were, are, and will continue to be in such times.
Considering the collective, globalized events we are experiencing, I decided to collaborate with a few different artists including Qinza for my most recent project, The Gift Shop. The Gift Shop is a curatorial project providing a platform for audiences, artists, and curators to rethink how exhibitions can be broadened. I work with artists on art objects collaboratively, finding a balance of presentation, demonstrating the artist’s practice, and sometimes, the conceptual expansion of the artist’s statements.
Golden Bullets is one of the collaborative projects for The Gift Shop. Golden Bullets is an extension of Qinza’s prior project, No Honor In Killing. The bullets used in the recent project are the same bullet casing that she collected from shooting ranges in NY and Pakistan for her performance in 2017 for the Museum of Moving Images. She assembled around 1100 bullets representing the lives taken by gun shootings in schools and honor killings in Pakistan.
She later weaved them over a heavy net and sat underneath it. Participants were invited to lift the heavy mesh together, carrying the weight of the bullets above their heads. By doing so, the audiences shared the pain and the consequences of the social issues in symbolization. Metaphorically, No Honor in Killing pointed out some of the most brutal facets of humanity and society in an original manner of storytelling.
While discussing her performances and projects, I approached Qinza to reconsider what bullets and guns truly represent. Is it power? Social status? Or insecurity? Or for protection and defense purposes of one’s life? Guns are tools, after all, and depending on the people who use them, they can easily take lives or protect someone from possible danger. To further suggest this concept and perhaps mark a reminder, the Golden Bullets contain seven bullet casings provided by the artist and placed in handmade boxes which I made. In each casing, rolls of idioms/proverbs were handwritten and printed onto small pieces of paper. Including seven words of wisdom in a box, with three of English origin, two of Urdu, and two of Chinese Mandarin. The Urdu and English sayings are handwritten by the artist and the mandarin ones are by me. Idioms are collective cultural wisdom. We wish to deliver our best advice between the artist and the curator and share our cultural identity and life lessons with the audience/collector. The project is currently on view at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum and will also continue as a pop-up exhibition at Laundromat Art Space in Miami, Florida.
Perhaps with some support from the past, it helps encourage us to keep moving forward and be confident in a better tomorrow. As another idiom says, “the darkest hour of the night comes just before dawn.” The Golden Bullets were made during a deep global social trauma. But despite that, the project wishes to bring hope, guidance, and a moment of reflection to the audience. The idea that Qinza needed to spread through her artworks, let it be the recent project The Gift Shop, is to discuss the pains, highlight the underneath issues, and then head towards the healing process even when Qinza and I finished our conversation on that Friday night I somehow felt more hopeful and healed, knowing whatever is happening now in our lives, shall pass one day. And it will perhaps inspire more idioms to be created and shared.
About Yi Chin Hsieh
Yi Chin Hsieh is a Taiwanese independent curator living and working in Miami. Her research interest focuses on curatorial methods under the umbrella of exhibition forms, collectiveness in curatorial practices, and contemporary visual culture in response to the current times. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Florida International University (FIU) and has realized several curatorial projects in the Greater Miami area and online.
About Qinza Najm
Qinza Najm is a Pakistani-American artist whose interdisciplinary artistic practice explores gendered violence and female subjectivity. Utilizing performance, video, painting, and other mediums, the artist, originally trained as a psychologist, understands herself as a denizen of the world, using artistic means to create empathy and understanding between societies and cultures in order to address the deepest social traumas.
Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Najm pursued her studies in fine arts at Bath University and The Art Students League of New York. She has exhibited internationally at the Queens Museum (NY), Christie’s Art (Dubai), Art|Basel (Miami, FL), National Museum of China and the Museum of the Moving Image (NY), among others. Her work has been featured in Artnet News, the Huffington Post, the NY Daily News, International Business Week, Buzzfeed, and Herald. She lives and works in New York.