Studies in Aqueous Time

For Solitude Journal, Zahra Malkani who recently has been a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, shares a text and selection of drawings from the Studies in Aqueous Time series. Depicting a sacred fossil found in Nepal, a manifestation of the god Vishnu, these drawings somewhat embody the concept of discrete and indiscrete substance (the visible and invisible), spirit, and time. The drawings were created in conjunction with the Samandari Ehsaasat (Oceanic Feelings) series, an audio research project, and thus are associated with »an aquatic, infinite unity« that makes and unmakes multiversal time-space continuities and geographies.

Zahra Malkani — Nov 30, 2022

A Shaligram is a sacred fossil found at the Kali Gandaki River in Nepal. It is a manifestation of the god Vishnu in the material realm as a coal-dark stone embedded with a seemingly infinite, spiraling shell relief. The Shaligram is born of the water, emerging from deep geological time, both fossil and deity: an anionic vision of the divine. Its movement collapses time and space as expressed in its spiral ridges: maps of eternity. The stone is both dead and alive, manifestation and representation, material and spectral, vibrant water and ancient shell. The Shaligram is a bridge connecting realms visible and invisible, life and death all in the flow of a river. In Sanskrit the term for sacred place is tirtha, derived from a verbal root which means to cross over, and in particular to cross over a flowing body of water. The aquatic Shaligram is one such crossing. Despite its deceptively fixed form, this stone is dynamic, perpetual motion.

This series was created in conjunction with Samandari Ehsaasat (Oceanic Feelings), an audio research project moving through coastal Sindh and Balochistan, where the sonic and the sacred come together at sea. In this ongoing project I sought and studied sounds emerging from spaces with long, rich histories of oceanic exchange and connection – spaces now devastated by development, militarism and the Pakistani state’s extractive infrastructural nationalism. The term Oceanic Feelings refers to the affective experience of religious or spiritual rapture: a moment of ego-death, the dissolution of one’s own boundaries into an aquatic, infinite unity. From field recordings at protests and occult rituals by the beach, to folklore and anti-colonial epics, these sounds threaten and entice with those same oceanic, ecstatic border-crossings and boundary-breakings, sacred ruptures. The tentacular, multiversal and hybrid sonic traditions of this region tell stories that invoke linkages and trace lineages across Indian Ocean geographies from Oman to Sistan, from Turbat to Tanzania – as new development rapidly occupies and encloses these spaces, erases these histories.

Each sound is a kind of a Shaligram, a bridge between realms, collapsing time and space in the co-presence of life and death. The Shaligram, this ancient, aquatic deity embodying movement and water, emerged as a vision through which I could map these cosmographical sounds that collapse time. As Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes, all water is a portal to all water.

The mashq, or the practice, of Studies in Aqueous Time emerges from syncretic South Asian traditions, in which drawing is a devotional practice, and the drawing itself is a potent spiritual technology, animated by repetition, relation, and ritual. In the context of the Pakistani state’s extractive occupation of the coast, relentless dam development, and ongoing fetishization/deification of a more widely known fossil, coal, contemplating the Shaligram may offer us a different way of engaging the energetic forces of the universe.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Studies in Aqueous Time

Zahra Malkani, selection of drawings from the series Studies in Aqueous Time, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.

Zahra Malkani is an artist from Pakistan. Her research-based practice spans multiple media, including text, video, and the web. She explores the politics of development, infrastructure and militarism in Pakistan through the lens of dissident ecological knowledges and traditions of environmental resistance.

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