All Images: Ali Kazimi ©
At the turn of the 20th century, responding to mounting racial tensions in British Columbia, the Canadian government restricted immigration by passing the Continuous Journey Provision of the Immigration Acts of 1908 and 1910. All subjects of the British Empire had freedom of movement within the Commonwealth; however, the Canadian government prohibited immigration from Asia by requiring all people travel continuously from the country of their origin during a time in which steamships could not travel across the Pacific in one journey. In 1914, a group of Indian entrepreneurs set out to directly challenge this law by chartering a steamship called the Komagata Maru. Upon arrival, the passengers were detained on the ship for two months. The passengers of the ship departed only after the Canadian Government apprehended them with a navy cruiser. Upon arrival in India, nineteen passengers were shot dead by British authorities. Several leaders were accused of sedition and were imprisoned or hanged.
In recent years, there have been many commemorations of the Komagata Maru Incident, citing it as a dark chapter in Canadian history, Ali Kazimi’s work examines not just this event, but places this event into a wider historical context of racism.
Kazimi has worked extensively to contextualize this Incident by creating work which explores themes of race, migration, memory and history. While his award-winning documentary Continuous Journey (2004) is a meticulous archival project about the Incident, his most recent work, Fair Play, through ten quiet vignettes, depicts the lives of ordinary people who were affected by the arrival, detention and departure of the Komagata Maru. Much like his collaborative film Rex vs. Singh which explored the treatment of South Asians living in Canada in the early 20th century, Fair Play provides a view into the private lives of South Asians on shore during a time of extreme racial tension. These works illustrate that the Komagata Maru Incident was not an isolated one, but is emblematic of the larger context of the racist policies of the Canadian state and the attitudes of European settlers.
Fair Play opens a window to the past and allows viewers to feel as if they are in the presence of materially fathomable, historically accurate, life-sized peoples. With the immediacy and presence that only stereoscopic 3D moving images can evoke, Kazimi asks the viewer to rethink history and immerse themselves in spaces and lives of the characters.
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