“And how many rains must fall before the stains are washed clean?”
Taken from the writings of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, this line served as the title for Imran Qureshi’s 2013 installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This unanswerable question, translated in the version below as “after how many monsoons will the blood be washed from the branches,” reflects on the violence that tore through Pakistan and Bangladesh during the 1960s:
On My Return from Dhaka (Faiz Ahmed Faiz, trans. Agha Shahid Ali)
After those many encounters, that easy intimacy, we are strangers now–
After how many meetings will we be that close again?
When will we again see a spring of unstained green?
After how many monsoons will the blood be washed from the branches?
So relentless was the end of love, so heartless–
After the nights of tenderness, the dawns were pitiless, so pitiless.
And so crushed was the heart that though it wished it found no chance–
After the entreaties, after the despair–for us to quarrel once again as old friends.
Faiz, what you’d gone to say, ready to offer everything, even your life–
Those healing words remained unspoken after all else had been said.
Qureshi, a Pakistani artist whose intricate painting is influenced by imperial Islamic art, was similarly concerned with civil unrest and frailty when he crafted his museum installation. He covered the floor of the roof garden with an elaborate mix of motifs and splatters in red, so that the surface at once indexes the intellectual and creative heritage of the Middle East and appears to be covered in blood.
This week on KRO, we feature two plays by Yasmine Beverly Rana that respond to Qureshi’s roof garden installation. The first, “Fauna and Blood,” imagines two visitors to the exhibit, Ayesha and Dia, who share a split sense of home and identity and struggle with their reactions to this evocation of bloodshed. The second, “Fauna and Blood: Tears,” takes place in an American immigration detention center, as Ayesha says goodbye to a lover whose former life hovers over their conversation. Qureshi’s installation is site-specific, taking into account the contrast between the gruesomeness of the red splatters and the surrounding views of Central Park, and Rana’s play responds in kind. The characters engage not only with the installation itself, but with the possibilities of freedom and danger that arise as they survey the city from a great height, contemplating the possibilities of flight and of plummeting.
Publishing a site-specific play that responds to a site-specific installation presents obvious challenges; the piece demands to be performed, and to be presented with some context. So we are also featuring a dramatic recording of each play, provided by the playwright. In addition, you can find photos of Qureshi’s installation, which serves as the backdrop for the first play, alongside the recordings. Hear, read, and view the full piece here.