American Arab: a documentary on life in America | The National UAE

AlshaibiinIAearly_0008
Published November 25, 2013 in The National, Abu-Dhabi, By David D’Arcy

American Arab is full of troubling images. None more so than close-ups of Usama Alshaibi with bloody bruises on his face. Alshaibi had stumbled into a house in Fairfield, Iowa, the mid-western town where he lived in 2010, thinking that he’d been invited to a party inside. For some young men there, it wasn’t so much that he was an intruder, but that the man named Usama was an Arab. The attackers were never prosecuted. It would have been Alshaibi’s word against theirs.

Alshaibi’s new film made its world premiere on Friday at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), which runs until December 1. The director, now 44, narrates the story of his family’s rough landing in America from Iraq. Usama’s mother is Palestinian, his father Iraqi. He and his siblings, one of whom was born in the US, grew up speaking English.

The independent film, budgeted at US$200,000 (Dh734,000), is anything but an anti-American screed. Alshaibi and his US-born younger brother loved breakdancing and baseball. He and his sisters, born in Baghdad, chose to become US citizens and they all live there. But ignorance about the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks and a general resentment towards Islam made it a challenge to be an Arab there, said Alshaibi, whose younger brother died of a drug overdose. “He never found his way,” the director said.

“Especially when you come from war, the thinking is that you bring your children here to be safe, because they’re not in war any more. It’s not something that you expect, that your child will get into drugs and trouble. It’s part of what can happen in a country where you can do everything that you want,” he noted.

In the documentary, three girls whose family recently fled Iraq tell of being stigmatised whenever Osama bin Laden is mentioned, although they barely know who he was. A punk rocker from the band Al-Thawra, Marwan Kamel, ignores prejudice, yet his tearful Polish mother (his father is Syrian) talks of her fears when the phone rang with threats to her family. A Palestinian woman, Amal Abusumayah, recalls an angry American trying to remove her hijab at a supermarket. She took the case to court as a hate crime, and won.

For Alshaibi, the name Usama was an instant epithet after 9/11. “On September 12, I received an anonymous email that said: ‘The only good Arab is a dead Arab.’ You look out the window when you get something like that. You have an anxiety about yourself and what’s going to happen to you and your family.”

Taking another name was out of the question. “Asian people would do it and Persian people would do it. Even in Chicago, at a place where I went for coffee in the morning, the guy who ran it was an Arab and he wouldn’t even call me Usama. He called me ‘Sam’. Here was an Arab self-censoring.”

“There’s been a lot of pressure to change my name after 9/11, but I hold on to it. I refuse to surrender it,” he said. “Life could be easier.”

Life indeed could be easier, Alshaibi learnt on a trip home to Iraq after the outbreak of the second Gulf War. He documented that journey in the film Nice Bombs (2006). Relatives in Baghdad welcomed him warmly, speaking English for the camera to the young man and his American wife. Early in the US occupation, their feelings were already turning against US soldiers, whose common view of the Iraqis in the film was that “we brought them freedom, but they don’t understand it”. The young couple returned to the US – confused, but eager to escape the constant gunfire.

“I couldn’t have made American Arab without making Nice Bombs first,” Alshaibi noted.

Nice Bombs brought him to the attention of Kartemquin Films, the Chicago producers of the now-classic documentary, Hoop Dreams (1994), which followed two African-American teenagers for five years in their pursuit of basketball stardom. Both young men fell far short of those dreams, but the film became a huge success.

Besides American Arab, Kartenquin also produced The Trials of Muhammad Ali, which willl be screened at IDFA in Amsterdam. This is a documentary set in the racially tense 1960s about the boxer’s conversion to Islam and refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. At the time, the name Muhammad stigmatised the heavyweight champion.

The rather disturbing American Arab points to a happier sequel, with Usama Alshaibi and his wife naming their newborn daughter Muneera, which means bright or shining, towards the film’s end.

source: http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/film/american-arab-at-the-international-documentary-festival

Indiewire: American Arab: Racism in the Post-9/11 Age

11Iowa
BY ANTHONY KAUFMAN

From documentary powerhouse Kartemquin Films comes the news that Usama Alshaibi’s new documentary “American Arab” is nearing completion, readying for festival screenings in late 2013 and 2014, which could mean a Toronto premiere or a fall regional fest appearance. I got to know Alshaibi’s work when I profiled him for the Creative Capital Foundation a few years back. His 2006 doc “Nice Bombs” offered a refreshing new perspective on Iraq War, allowing Westerners to sympathize with an Arab perspective in a much deeper way. “American Arab” promises to do the same.

In March 2011, Alshaibi was beaten, he alleged, in a hate-crime attack.

According to Kartemquin’s website, the new film will be another personal doc in which Alshaibi “will share his own story and introduce us to others, sparking a frank conversation about the identity of, and perceptions about, Arab-Americans. Seamlessly weaving historical footage, animation, as well as real-life scenes of people living as Arabs in the U.S., the film will put a human face on the vague complexities of racism in post-9/11 America.”

When I interviewed Alshaibi, who grew up in Iowa City, he offered a lighthearted take on the complex identity politics he faces on a daily basis.

“For years, I felt like an outsider,” he told me. “I didn’t know who I was. Not until Osama Bin Laden became so popular did everyone know my name.”

While Alshaibi frequently taps into the dark moments of his past—from the anxiety of living under Saddam Hussein to the fear of being deported back to Iraq—a number of his videos reflect a sense of humor about his living culture clash. His celebrated 1999 short, Dance Habibi Dance, for example, is a music-video-style Arabesque disco party that examines “how American pop culture is digested and interpreted in places like Africa, the Middle East, and Asia,” and vice versa: “seeing how Middle Eastern culture is interpreted on this side, and the humor in that.”

The bulk of Alshaibi’s work, though, provokes and confronts, from subversively pornographic shorts like Ass (2001),The Foreigner (2001), and The Amateurs (2003), to the disturbingly political Bombshell (2004), a video collage of Iraqi underground torture videos and Saddam Hussein birthday celebrations. His unsettling 2003 feature debut,Muhammed and Jane, is a haunting black-and-white love story about a fearful Iraqi-Polish man who returns to the U.S. and forges a relationship with a young woman suffering from a similar sense of paranoia.

In 2006, he told, “For so long, everything terrified me: I thought I’d be kidnapped by the Baathists and sent to war, or be assassinated, or deported, or locked up here. But I know how the law works. And I’m not afraid anymore.”

http://blogs.indiewire.com/anthony/american-arab-racism-in-the-post-9-11-age

Cinesploitation: Profane (DVD Review)

Muna_downtownProfane (2011, DVD Review)
by Greg Baty

Director: Usama Alshaibi
Cast: Manal Kara, Molly Plunk, Dejan Mircea
MVD Visual/ length: 78 minutes
Disk Extras: 20 minutes of extra footage
——————-

If you really understand religion on an intellectual level, you understand indoctrination. You know brainwashing and how the teachings and dogma go against every grain of human nature. One of those grains (more like a boulder) is sex and it is probably the most contentious of the beliefs held by most major religions. That is the postulation that sex is dirty and a sin if it is outside of “holy matrimony” or the like. Documentarian Usama Alshaibi (Nice Bombs and the upcoming American Arab) knows this all too well and has written and directed an art-house film in pseudo-documentary style to air his very angry grievances, Profane. Be warned; those easily offended by sacrilege and strong sexual content may want to stay in their prayer closets until this one is over.

The story follows Muna, a 20-something Muslim woman from Jordan who now resides in Chicago. She is a former prostitute who is now a dominatrix along with her compatriot Mary. The pair hang out, do drugs, degrade their submissives and contemplate life, in particular, religion. Muna has the inner struggle that every intelligent, free-thinking person who has been subjected to religious assimilation has. She wants to believe that the things she has been taught all of her life are just and true but she also wants the freedom to be a human being. To use her body the way she feels fit and to be in control of her life. She meets and sort of befriends Ali, a devout Muslim cab driver who tries to help her on her existential journey, but he doesn’t understand the turmoil and upheaval her belief system is in.

I am not one to seek out art-house films because, for the most part, I think they all teeter on the pretentious fulcrum. Affected “artists” making unwatchable menageries and hiding the flaws and holes with incomprehensible imagery. But there are artsy films, like those of Alejandro Jodorowsky, that are made by seriously talented artists who actually have something to say and have a vision they want to share. Yes, Profane has the seemingly nonsensical, psychedelic symbolism associated with art-house movies, but in the context of Usama Alshaibi’s thought provoking storytelling they just flow and on a subconscious level they make sense. The writer and director’s ability to convey his deep convictions not only shows his talent, but his courage as well. This film, apropos of its name, is sexually heretical and if one was so inclined, one may take it as blasphemous. And we know how well Muslims take disrespect.

How Alshaibi got first-time actress (and real-life atheist) Manal Kara, who plays “Muna”, to create such a realistic portrayal is a testimony to his and her talents. Kara also has some natural “talents” as well; she is absolutely stunning. Full lips, strong, gorgeous nose, a thick mane of hair and a real feminine body complete with curves. I wanted to sit with her character and talk about religion, sex and whatever else she wanted to wax philosophical about. She is a very engaging actress, playing an engaging character in an engaging film. Win, win and win. The other two leads, Molly Plunk (“Mary”) and Dejan Mircea (“Ali”), who are also rookie thespians, are also amazingly good in their roles  and deliver dialogue so believable, the lines almost seem ad-libbed. In fact, to make the whole thing more legitimate, the partakers in the S&M scenes are actual submissive sexual slaves in their “real” life.

Muna_dark

The DVD that is currently out from MVD Visual has a 20 minute supplement that basically mashes together deleted scenes and behind the scenes footage from the making of Profane. The first three minutes of which is a scene of the ladies whipping a guys naked ass until it develops welts. Thank “god” he really doesn’t mind that, huh?

source: http://www.cinesploitation.com/profane-2011-dvd-review/

Bad Lit declares Profane Best Movie of the Year for 2011

I’m very honored that Profane was declared best movie for 2011 by Bad Lit. Thank you Mike Everleth! Check out Bad Lit a great site for all things underground film!

By Mike Everleth

Choosing Bad Lit: The Journal of Underground Film’s 2011 Movie of the Year came down to a near dead heat. There were two movies that came out this year filled with such grand ambition, artistry and skill that the decision almost came down to a tie before ultimately settling on the singular Movie of the Year tradition.

That movie this year is Usama Alshaibi‘s Profane, a spectacular triumph of uncompromising vision, extreme daring and intimate personal expression. There was simply no other film like it this year — underground or otherwise — and its only rival of sheer audacity of the past several years was last year’s Movie of the Year pick,Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then.

And yes, I did say there was almost a tie this year. The first runner-up is a film that achieved greatness for several different reasons than Profane‘s accomplishments.

But, before I get to that close runner-up, there’s even a third film that, in a weaker year, would have handily snagged the top spot:Jaimz Asmundson‘s magickal portrait of his father, The Magus.

Perhaps some might consider the adjective “dazzling” as too cliched and/or old-fashioned to use to describe a film, but it seems there’s hardly any other word to describe The Magus. This is a short film — a little over 10 minutes — with no dialogue that was originally reviewed at the very beginning of the year. However, Asmundson’s electric and beautifully crafted images of his father painting a doorway to another dimension were seared onto Bad Lit’s brain like a hot poker. In pure visual terms, this film weaves a potent spell.

The first runner-up to Bad Lit’s 2011 Movie of the Year is the powerhouse documentary Battle for Brooklyn, directed by Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky.

Made over the course of seven years, Battle for Brooklyn takes the story of a local neighborhood struggle and transforms it into a politically-charged, bare knuckle slugfest of epic proportions. Not only that, in the form of Daniel Goldstein, the film gives us the perfect everyman hero to root for at its center. To describe it another way, this is a ’70s Sidney Lumet film made real.

Even more astounding, finished and on the festival and theater circuit in the spring and summer, Battle for Brooklyn now seems like a prescient instigator of the Occupy Wall Street movement that sprouted up in the autumn. If there ever were a film to inspire the seemingly powerless masses to rise up and fight back against big business and the politicians who lie in bed with them, it would be Battle for Brooklyn.

Profane is an activist film, too, of a different sort. It is a spiritually activist film.

The main character of Profane may be a female Muslim sex worker searching to engineer a “reverse exorcism,” but one can tell that this is filmmaker Alshaibi’s — a middle-aged husband and father — most personal film to date. Perhaps even moreso than his diary documentary Nice Bombs.

It would seem that getting back in touch with his Iraqi roots in Nice Bombs have sent Alshaibi on a spiritual quest that has culminated in Profane, which combines several motifs found throughout all his work throughout his career, particularly his sexually transgressive experimental films and his explorations of the outsider.

All of this combines into a thrilling, heady and complex stew of visual provocations, challenging assumptions of American Muslim identity and oblique character development. It is the rare film that can so perfectly combine themes of political, social, spiritual and personal anxiety and upheaval into a cohesive, exhilarating whole. Perhaps none of done so with such artistic grace as Alshaibi has done with Profane.

It is for those reasons that we name Profane as Bad Lit’s 2011 Movie of the Year.

Solar Anus Cinema review by Total (no) subjective

Slovenian blogger Total (no) subjective review of Solar Anus Cinema. Translated into English using Google translate. 

No, I’m sailing in the waters porn than you think to the title, but the art combined with the exploitation of the body. The title of this blog is derived from the collection of short films, between 2001 and 2008 recorded born in Iraq and staying versatile artist Chicago Usama Alshaibi . An artist who is one of the movie screen, but above all in the space of galleries and skvotov. It creates video installations that explore the issue of physicality and sexuality.If I’m looking for the easiest way into his bizarre perversion and obsession with the world, I can not far from the audio-visual treats Solar Anus Cinema (year 2009). Some time ago I had seen his short video Ass (year 2001), which is a collective of Cinema Abattoir placed on the collection of L’erotism (year 2007) and was surprised at the directness and impact strength seen. Manipulated the pictures women butt and your object of worship turned into zavijačeno, repetitive entity, which amends and consolidates the view of mind. Even then I thought that the line that separates pornography from art, extremely thin, the whole being becomes part of your personal taste. Attacks your taste. It also destroys the boundary between aesthetic beauty and aesthetics of ugliness. Usama Alshaibi is re-examines the position and your moral values ​​that this work such as you. In the compilation of the Solar Anus Cinema all items are namely celluloid debt by more than 3 minutes, which they do not offer enough room for choice. Naked female bodies in full force attack your senses and sense of wellbeing. If his films described as pornography, the viewer feel the satisfaction and joy. He felt the excitement and gratification of their primary instincts. A sonic attack in the opposite happens – dominated by disgust, discomfort, and all the spins on the border weaknesses. A hearing is not only your conscience but the whole body. I have long looked so natural cinema, which requires openness, sensitivity and tolerance. At stake are you – the viewer.

The easiest way to compare his work with the master of transgression – a New York legend by the name of Richard Kern . Master ditches and director of apostates and those who do not paint a perfect body, but by trying to destroy and distort. Usama Alshaibi work just that – a picture of naked models and cut them with scars, bandages, wounds and bruises from the blows. Do not celebrate violence – just the opposite. The body appears as a reaction to violence. As a result of something hidden view. His female portraits penetrate the essence of physicality and sexuality. Show women as objects in the universe of viewers and directors – even if they are single entities. Usama Alshaibi is just obsessed with the view that the physical addresses of highly visual fantasy. He is fascinated with the mere physical presence of their designs, which by itself does not touch – They penetrate the bare camera. And that is all you need to make figures from them. And although short films without any story or narrative. View is in itself explodes. Voyeur guilty conscience and leave the audience itself, which it seems as if it were part of the whole event. With such a force is directed to its subject / object closer to his eyes.

For example, take two of the short films. His best known work is probably Convulsion Expulsion (year 2004) which features his wife – a performer and artist Kristie Alshaibi .Feel like being from another planet or dimension, as it is shrouded in puffs and bandages.Androgynous creature, which comes alive at the time of explosion. Metaphorical and real.The director is capturing the moments when her menstrual blood (!!!), slides from all orifices.Contrast that is created between the whiteness of the body and blood redness, discomfort and stress has announced a full assault on your perception of the seen. Penetrate the invisible wall that separates the creator and the viewer. Good thing this is not part of the performance on stage, because otherwise the viewer would become part of the action. Or rather – you will not only withdrew his gaze, but the whole body. Another film that I touched it, the 5-minute eskapada Spoiled (year 2008), which shows the naughty young woman who nažira with sweets and fruit. But really nažira. Whole, this is not run only in the weakness, but reaches the full impact resistance. On the food I never looked like, as I have before viewing this film. I have a high threshold of tolerance. On behalf of the artist but art you can afford all – authorized and unauthorized. The choice remains a matter for your discretion. I will conclude with a smile on your face. Collection of Solar Anus Cinema is complete 50-minute mockumentarec The amateurs (year 2003), which proves thatUsama Alshaibi also addresses the longer formats, as already recorded a couple of documentaries. It is not without humor also demonstrated by The amateurs , which is a kind of fake porn movie. Or quasi-pornographic film recording. So much laughter in my house there was a long time, since the quasi-porn actors and actresses really amateurs who can not grow anything. Whole works like a dirty version of the legendary Czech Is this cartoon! No kidding. Everything they undertake, and even sex, it turns into a comedy confusions which prevail female half, men are far from mačotov – impotent, disinterested and adjacent igrarij. Another proof that what I watch, not pornography, but fine art farce.

Djinn In the blogosphere

Two blog reviews of my work.

I really enjoyed reading this review by Sargasso Sea, a creative collective blog:

If there’s one thing I’m sick of, it’s not caring. Perhaps not caring is the same as apathy or indifference or a side effect of being a teenager, but I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that too often I read a book or see a film and by the end of it, I find myself profoundly unaffected. As if nothing had ever happened, as if my viewpoint had emerged unaltered – and that’s when familiarity becomes truly contemptible.

On Friday night I sat in the audience at the Brisbane Underground Film Festival and watched a film that was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The experimental, psycho-sexual feature Profane, directed by Iraqi-American Usama Alshaibi, is an alarming snapshot of life that transcends the genre structures of drama, humour and horror. Muna, a young Muslim dominatrix uprooted from her Middle Eastern culture, loses her sense of spirituality and sets about finding it in the back of taxi cabs, dirty apartments and Chicago side streets. Although Muna’s trials with the Quran, hijab and her “jinn” (a good/bad demon) may be foreign to a Westernised audience; her sometimes psychotic, other times peaceful state of mind is surprisingly relatable.

The film is a raw documentation of her disenfranchised cultural identity, playing with the ironies of submission and sanctity – culminating in a haunting piece of cinema that did in fact make me care a great deal. At times, Profane descends into a kaleidoscopic swirl of colour, allowing the audience to tread carefully through Muna’s eerie and horrific spiritual dreamscape. In fact, it’s quite fitting to consider the Greek etymology of the word psychedelic: originating from psykhē (soul)and dêlos (manifest). The director Alshaibi does exactly that – manifesting the soul with a mind-altering perception that challenges our own sense of identity, rendering “this mundane world sublime“.

The second piece is in Greek.  It’s about my art and my life… some of the facts are incorrect but has an accurate tone. The author emailed me the link at artu.gr and I explained I could not read it. He recommended I use an online translator. Here is the result:

The genie Alshaibi

The Usama Alshaibi believes in genies. The Jinn are the demons of Islam. According to the Quran, Allah created man from clay, angels from light and jinn from smokeless fire. It is as good and evil, and said that everyone has one. Whoever loses the genie loses track of itself.Then estranged from the environment, culture and religion.  The Alshaibi finding the lost films of the genie.

Amerikanoirakinos filmmaker, was born in Baghdad in 1969 and shared his life in the U.S. and the Middle East.  The videos and films screened at many festivals around the world as a documentary about the bombing of Baghdad Nice Bombs.  Also, many hosted galleries photographic exhibitions.  His work is mainly in the documentary and experimental video and the style is basically influenced by the excess Cinema (Cinema of Transgression).

The life-like “collateral damage” in a NATO war.

Born in Baghdad but in a very early age his family moved to America when his father won a scholarship from the Iraqi government for the University of Iowa. The daily did not differ from that of his peers.  Celebrated Christmas and summers spent in the camps of indoctrination.He had not even heard the word Islam.

When he was in fourth grade studying his father’s ended and the family decided to return to Baghdad. From there they moved to Basra as his father was not a member of the Baath party and this meant that he could not find a job professor in the capital.  Basra found the war between Iran and Iraq. They had to go to Saudi Arabia again in search of the institution to teach his father. Their house in Basra was bombed nine months after their departure.

O Alshaibi has two sisters who were born in Iraq and two brothers born in Iowa.  The family emigrated when he found his father to teach. In Saudi Arabia, lived two years, then went to Jordan and from there to Abu Dhabi.  It was school student when his mother decided that she wants to study fashion and took the children back to America. His father, who could not find work in America, he stayed in Abu Dhabi. After a while they got divorced.

Since the war and the Middle East suddenly found a totally different environment where the notion of his classmates were girls. The student visa mother did not allow him to work.Necessarily made several odd jobs while traveling in Santa Fe, Madison and many other places in the U.S.. When in 1990 was 21 years old, the mother’s visa does not cover and had to return to Iraq.  In August, however, war broke out. He said he would not take part in this war (the Iraqi Army had recruit), and thus managed to get political asylum.

At that time he met the underground film movements in New York and more of the Cinema of the excess. In films of Richard Kern saw a kind of cinema that fit with its environment.Immediately impressed.

In 1994 he enrolled at the University of Chicago, Film Department. Paying tuition with loans and working as a guard in the same school. To 1995 got the green card and two years later he graduated from university. Got a job at the Historical Archive of Chicago. Furthermore, contacted filmmakers in Chicago with whom they shared common ideas about cinema. The Alshaibi had preferred to experimental cinema and most personal work of the director, influenced much of the Transcendental Cinema, despite the collective work of academic cinema.

The year 2000 was one of the founders of the Z Film Festival. As part of the festival met Kristie Drew, a young graduate of the School of Fine Arts and worked in a series of films and videos in the spirit of Richard Kern, ie naïve, full of sexual innuendo and sometimes violently, but with political references, which he characterizes “young erotic love letter.” The two became a couple and worked with many artistic projects, and always heretical underground.

The few years of normal life was interrupted by 9 / 11. The threatening phone calls and visits by the FBI (“whether you are preparing an attack against the United States?”) Became a nightmare.

His first feature film “Muhammad and Jane” is the story of an Arab and American couple living in fear of lynching.

The Alshaibi and Drew were married in 2003 and then acquired American citizenship.

In the documentary Nice Bombs became widely known. The couple Alshaibi and Drew taxidepse in Baghdad in 2004 and filmed the lives of the people who bombed the city, but also themselves in the chaos, destruction and moral dilemmas.

Follow the documentary Profane, the portrait of a dominatrix, “Master’s” sadomazochistikou sex Arab descent living in the U.S., while faithful Muslim. A great story of internal struggle with the Muslim devils, the genie. The two elements of art and natural life of Usama Alshaibi, namely the explosion of suppressed libido Cinema of transgression and the search for national identity among the Arab world and America combined in the portrait of Muna.

His new film has been working title “The American Arab” and will be released soon. Clearly the issue and why the turns: not yet found the genie.

Ballard And Trauma by Jack Sargeant

This essay is by writer and film programmer Jack Sargeant. Here he discusses the novel Crash and its relationship to other artist including my films. The novel by J.G Ballard had a huge impact on me when I read it as a teenager.-Usama Alshaibi

Ballard And Trauma by Jack Sargeant

The following notes  formed the basis for a talk at the Erotics Conference that took place at Griffith University in Brisbane in February and more recently a public talk as part of the Decadent Society. At some point a more literary version may well be completed for publication, in the meantime, read on.

 

My interests presented here are crashes, trauma, sex, fetishism, white bandages, bruises, suffering, discomfort and the desire to pay witness to this copulation as chaotic fusion of flesh and technology and eroticized wounds.

Invariably, opening with a quote, used elsewhere to describe both the work of JG Ballard’s Crash and car crash culture in general, but a pertinent point of entry: “She loved accidents: any mention of an animal run over, a man cut to pieces by a train, was bound to make her rush to the spot” – Emile Zola, La Bete Humaine, 1890. Here the swirling chaos of the Industrial Age accident emerges as a moment of spectacular eroticism, a moment in which the spectacle of the sex and death matrix becomes manifest. For the victim: the body losing control over its parts and function, at the mercy of the relentless machinery the coherent logic of the body experienced as coherent self is temporarily erased. In the car crash, thrown forward, wrenched and contorted the body is at the mercy of the vagaries of velocity and gravity, impact and resistance.

Car crashes are a moment in which, to paraphrase Georges Bataille, the profane enters the world of the sacred, where the car becomes a chariot which can deliver the inhabitant to the gods, and for those left behind the marks that remain, the scars of wounds and injuries, retain a hint of the sacred, the moment at which the subject briefly entered the realm of the sacred and subsequently bares its trace.

The scars and wounds of these accidents are, for some, as fascinating as the accidents themselves, a fetish than can be traced back in the case studies described in Psychopathia Sexualis by the pioneering sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who detailed the medical fetishists he saw in his consultancy: “Case 94. Fetishism -…Since his seventeenth year he became sexually excited at the sight of physical defects in women, especially lameness and disfigured fee…At times he could not resist the temptation to imitate their gate, which caused vehement orgasm, with lustful ejaculation.…Case 96. Fetishism – …Since his seventh year he had for a playmate a lame girl of the same ago. At the age of twelve…the boy began spontaneously to masturbate. At that period puberty set in, and it lies beyond doubt that the first sexual emotions towards the other sex were coincident with the sight of the lame girl. Forever after only limping women excited him sexually…”

In Ballard’s Crash the author is explicit in his analysis of the wounds from these accidents in his examination of back seat ejaculations, spectacular car crashes and wound fucking. Although fictional there is a parallel between the handful of individuals in Crash and the case studies of Krafft-Ebing.

“Scarred hands explored the worn fabric of the seat, marking in semen a cryptic diagram: some astrological sign or road intersection.” (p.135).

While elsewhere he writes:

[The protagonist] “Watched her thighs shifting against each other, the jut of he breast under the strap of her spinal harness” (p.145)

Later:

“I explored the scars on her thighs and arms, feeling for the wound areas under her left breast… during the next few days my orgasms took place with the scars…in these sexual apertures formed by fragmenting windshield louvers and dashboard dials in a high-speed impact…” (p.148)

Ballard’s novel – famously condemned by one pre-publication reader as the work of somebody who needed professional help – is the Ur text for the transgressive fantasies of car crashes, traumaphilia (arousal from wounds and trauma) and symphorophilia (arousal from staging and witnessing an accident). The book, which follows the author’s namesake who survives a car crash and becomes immersed within a community that fetishises car crashes and the resultant scars and wounds. A book that takes meticulous pains to examine and describe the texture of semen, the moisture of vaginal secretions, the texture of vinyl seats and the musculature of the rectum: “still parting his buttocks, I watched my semen leak from his anus across the fluted ribbing of the vinyl upholstery” (p.166). Anal sex experienced through both homosexual and heterosexual liaisons (as if these simple phrases matter in this world of car crash and wound focused paraphilia, as if gender ever enters the world of the unconscious in which the specificity of the act is what defines the fetish not the gender of the object choice) recurs repeatedly in Ballard’s novel.

This transgressive sexual act, that negates reproduction and so fascinated the Marquis de Sade, finds a link here to the ‘base’ to the annihilation of the self. Sade’s sadism has been described by Gilles Deleuze in Coldness And Cruelty as almost mathematical, with its “repetitiveness” (p.28) and the multiplications of victims and sufferings and in some way Ballard’s attention to detail is similar, but replacing the mathematics with oblique references to technical detail (Ballard and his associates at the literary publication Ambit once organized a stripper – the perfectly named Euphoria Bliss – to performing while a scientific paper was read allowed).

Details matter (from the short film Crash directed by Cokliss): “Her ungainly transit across the passenger seat through the nearside door. The overlay of her knees with the metal door flank. The conjunction of the aluminized gutter trim with the volumes of her thighs. The crushing of her left breast by the doorframe, and its self-extension as she continued to rise. The movement of her left hand across the chromium trim of the right headlamp assembly. Her movements distorted in the projecting carapace of the bonnet. The jut and rake of her pubis as she sits in the driver’s seat. The soft pressure of her thighs against the rim of the steering wheel.”

They contribute to the apparent authenticity of the fantasies articulated here. Mere action is not enough, details matter, from Vaughan’s Lincoln to the description of the flickering lights of indicators of police vehicles illuminating the twin copulations associated with human coitus and the metallic penetrations of accidents.

The nihilism of Crash is overwhelming, the protagonists negation of nature and even the self, again echoes Sade, the desires are so all consuming, they consume other and self, until all that is left is ruined metal, Vaughan’s desires are to kill his target and himself simultaneously. As a protagonist Vaughan recalls Sade’s sovereign man – that figure who exists beyond the sadist / masochist dyad, an affirmation of lived experience – in Vaughan manifest as sovereign man pursuing his own desires up to and including his own annihilation, experiencing every pleasure (up to an including the pleasure of annihilation).

The roots of the story of Crash can be found in Ballard’s previous book, the experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition and in an April 1970 show curated by Ballard at the New Arts Lab in London. Crashed Cars featured three car crash ruined cars, dragged from wrecking yards and exhibited in the gallery. The opening night of the exhibition was marked by the presence of a topless model (although she was meant to be nude when she saw the ruined cars she refused) asking questions of the audience. According to Ballard’s autobiography Miracles of Life (p.240) over the following month viewers responded with outrage, with people attacking the cars and even, bizarrely, Hari Krishna’s throwing white paint on the cars. If Vaughan’s sperm scribblings described previously are some primitive sigils then this seems to be a form of ritual cleansing, as if both driving out and calling in the forces of autopic chaos.

Little known, and barely mentioned beyond Ballard fan circles, is the short film Crash directed by Harley Cokliss (aka Cokeliss – a director known for b-movies and tv shows [as either if these was bad]), this short film made for the BBC who broadcast it on BBC2 at 8:30pm two days before Valentines Day in 1971, can be found on Youtube, starring Ballard and actress Gabreille Drake (then famous for appearing in the television series UFO) it follows as Ballard – also seen onscreen – expands on the general themes that would subsequently inform Crash, while Drake enacts the role of driver and, of course, invariably, sexy car crash casualty. Thanks to – presumably the BBC Radiophonics workshop – the short film is scored by pre-industrial music / avant-garde noise, while Ballard – in beige suit – describes the human relationship to the car, the highway, while noting in fetishistic detail the movements of women climbing out of cars. Juxtaposing forms of car with curves of women’s bodies, creating a montage of eroticism. The second part of the film is dedicated to the car crash, with the author walking around ruined cars describing the fictions of the everyday manifested through consumption and car crashes, “if we really feared the car crash” he says “none of us would be able to drive a car.” In the wrecking yard Ballard glimpses women. Before discussing the style of the instrument panel as the model of our wounds. Footage shows Drake – moments before seen in the shower, her flesh, her curves and her nipple dripping with fresh water – now blood soaked and slumped over her steering wheel, the soundtrack a synthesized alarm escalating in intensity.

Ballard’s glorious fusion of sex, injury and death in the car crash realized in this short film plays on images of blood and sex, the thick heavy blood pooling on her skirt indicative of abdominal injuries, perhaps even genital injuries, her breast “bruised”. Realized with greater clarity in the subsequent Crash where the author speculates on such injuries before, later, describing a back seat fuck resulting in “bruised vulva”.

I do not want to examine David Cronenberg’s 1996 film here today. A thorough interpretation of the source material, it dances through the themes with vigor, although its cold tones never fully embraces the inherent fetishism of the traumatic, however the sight of Gabrille’s (Rosanna Arquette) legs gripped in braces as she rubs herself against a car, her short skirt rising high, is powerful, it is undone by the crass climax of the scene which sees her leg braces tearing the leather upholstery. Such images stop the film from being as unsettling – perhaps even uncanny if Ballard’s psychological description is correct – as it should be.

Instead I wish to move on to examine the emergence of traumaphilia as a source for others working in the post-Ballardian universe. Traumaphilia – the paraphilia in which the subject is aroused by wounds (sometimes referred to as traumatophilia) – can be seen in the medical art of French photographer, occasional filmmaker and fine artist Romain Slocombe whose fetishistic artistic practice depicted Asian women wrapped in crisp clean white bandages (and, to a lesser extent, in the popularity of the nurses uniforms and bandages that can be seen at some fetish clubs worn as fetish wear, although the nurses uniform is not primarily related to trauma, when played alongside bandages and the accoutrements of the emergency room, there is an element of traumatic fascination at play).

While the traumaphile is not necessarily interested in how the injured object choice came to be hurt, Crash and the car crash serve as a common source of injury and the interest in the injury. In his book Tristes Vaccacion (Sad Vacation), Slocombe’s paintings of bruised and bandaged girls are punctuated with descriptions, which detail the injuries and their sources, positioning the text / artwork within the same realm as the Sadean lists. Slocombe’s work continued to explore these themes in the collection Japan In Bandage includes images such as L’Ar Medical (1982), which depicts a naked patient in a hospital bed, bandages and orthopedic devices holding her – like bondage – in place. In the background there is an image of a car, similarly Bonne Route (1992) depicts a heavily bandaged woman standing next to a poster of a car.

The violence, as Slocombe has stated, in his work is located in the past. He is not necessarily interested in the moment of violence, the single act but the process of recovery. Car crashes, with their speed and rapid climax, are violent moments that are almost instantaneous, like film a rapid cut, a gap in time, then impact. The pleasures of watching the process of recovery – or recovering in a hospital bed – can neither be fully sadistic or masochistic, traumaphilia appears to operate in both yet neither zone, concerned as it is with everything from the mise-en-scene of the hospital and patient (white bandages, clean tiles, sheets) through to suffering (the patient restrained by surgical devices) through pain (the bruises heeling yet simultaneously so sore), and so on.

If Slocombe visualized the trauma, then American underground filmmaker Usama Alshaibi has taken it to the next level. Working in Chicago since the 1990s, Alshaibi has directed a string of short films, each lasting only a matter of minutes and exploring aspects of sexuality and fetishism (he has also made features and documentaries, but these are often very different to his shorts). In Convulsion Explosion a woman painted white and wrapped in bandages squirts red paint / stage blood from her rectum, the play here is not necessarily on the recreation of trauma so much as on the play of colours, the red and white, the texture of bandages and painted skin. In Traumata the camera plays over a naked young woman’s body the bruises, bandages and leg cast indicative of unspecified injury, while he dour expression indicates her humiliated discomfort. As if the audience and camera were intruding on her pain. In Gash the camera is turned onto an open wound a few centimeters from a woman’s vagina. The erotic potentialities of penetration doubled. In Patient a not quite naked woman writhes on a bed, her head wrapped in a bandage. These films play with trauma and traumaphilia, recognizing the fetishistic gaze onto the ‘wounded’ female, whose suffering – already in the past – is nevertheless born out on the marks that criss-cross the soft flesh.

No explanation is proffered in the films, short vignette in which the gaze on the injuries and suffering flesh appears as both first cause and intent.

There is a violence here that has happened, death has been momentarily thwarted, but the marks on the flesh remind the viewer (and the subject) of the transient nature of existence. But there is more at play here, more at stake, in paying witness to the accident and recuperation there is a sense of power of life over death. The ruined but healing body emerging as a locus of visual pleasure. To quote Paul Morrissey’s Flesh For Frankenstein, “to know life… you have to fuck death in the gallbladder”.

Reprinted with permission. Source: Ballard And Trauma by Jack Sargeant.