Naeem Mohaeimen is a visual artist and writer based in Dhaka and New York. In his essays, films, photography and mixed media installations, Mohaeimen excavates episodes from Bangladesh’s post-liberation history. Kazi in Nomansland (2008) is a part of an ongoing project chronicling the life of Kazi Nuzrul Islam (1889-1976), a rebel Bengali Muslim poet and the only figure whose legacy has been claimed and commemorated in postage stamps by all three countries —India, Pakistan and Bangladesh— born out of the partition of British India.
Towers made of these stamps issued by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh form the core of Mohaeimen’s installation at the biennale. They are poignant reminders of a figure whose voice now lies lost in the no-man’s-land between national appropriations, trampled on by the very divisive ideologies he raged against.
As Mohaeimen writes in his essay 'Kazi in Nomansland', the poet, who had opposed plans to partition British India along communal lines, had by 1947 developed a condition that impaired his speech and memory and ultimately left him in a vegetative state. After his family decided to stay on in India post-1947, he came to be celebrated in India as a mute testament to its secular credentials. As the Bengali Nationalist movement gathered strength in what was then East Pakistan, the then Pakistani establishment sought to counter the dominance of the ‘Hindu poet’ Rabindranath Tagore by rebranding Kazi as a ‘Muslim poet’, even rewriting some of his poetry in the process. In 1971, with the formation of Bangladesh, Indian government flew the ailing poet to Dhaka where he lived till his death in 1976 while under virtual house arrest by the military government headed by Ziaur Rahman.