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Camera Austria, Margit Neuhold

... In contrast, Ana Hoffner works in “The Bacha Posh Project” with a set of characters and cultural practices to investigate lost futures that have not yet arrived in a heteronormative present. The installation opens with two small black canvases, framing three images each, referencing Hoffner’s “The Queer Family Album – Me and My Three Daddies” (2014). This time the canvases show small photographs of her “grandmothers”: her grandmother in her self-built house in the south of Serbia, a Bacha Posh boy, Sharbat Gula, the Afghan girl on the cover of the most successful issue of National Geographic, a famous portrait of Claude Cahun, among others. This familial assemblage lays out a dense network of references across time and space from where the project unfolds: a relational proximity between questions of identity, passing, orientalism, in which the constructed character of the Afghan surrealist artist Aziza Mehran Ahmad (himself a bacha posh) emerges. He investigates the work of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore—who in the turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s challenged gender stereotypes with their powerful photographs, photomontages, and writings.

It was a very long time before anyone was ready to accept that gender is a construction; Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble was out in 1990. Having herewith gained the tools to start reading masquerade and transformations of identity beyond Dada or Surrealism, Cahun’s work subsequently became popular in Europe and the United States during the 1990s. Ahmad, who grew up in an environment where a shift of sex was part of a sociocultural praxis, discovered Cahun’s literary and photographic work in the 1960s. Installed in a line of two or three is the series of eight frames “Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions” (2016), with silver gelatin prints in different formats, mounted on a white background. The restaged, reworked, and reproduced motifs range from Cahun’s early symbolistic sujets to the later ones, where the body becomes a projection screen to undermine cultural stereotypes, to blur sexual identity, and to dissolve heteronormative conventions to maybe imagine a third gender. The placement of reworked sculptures into the gallery space shows the extensions of Cahun’s visual poetry through ingenious plays on the German notions of feathers or bells.

In the opening performance, Ana Hoffner addressed all parts of her installation: she started as an artist introducing the work and then morphed into various characters, using props—such as necklaces (used in the photographs), a headpiece, a large concavo-convex lens and a mirror (from the installation), gloves exploring the potential of drag, passing, and cross-dressing—to activate different parts within the show. In front of two green screens referencing the popular postproduction montage method, she investigated the power of storytelling while challenging facts around the Buddhas of Bamiyan (2001 destroyed by the Taliban) and ancient hidden oil paintings in their caves. What does the destabilization of knowledge do? What happens to situated knowledge in times of war? The struggle with lost futures, temporality, and an understanding of events in their simultaneity with multiple incidents are the ground from which strategies such as repetition, appropriation, imagination, fictionalization, shifting, or transformation depart to ultimately aim for a change in the present.

Ana Hoffner