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siren song
Institute of Contemporary Arts
January 2022

siren song, Dir. Sarah Khan & Nadia Tehran, 12:12 min., 2021

Combining archival wedding footage, text and sound, siren song by artists Sarah Khan and Nadia Tehran is an audio-visual narrative that explores lineage, assimilation, and resistance. Taking cues from the mythical Ancient Greek sirens, the half-bird, half-woman creatures who were depicted as luring sailors to their demise with the sound of their music, the siren is reinterpreted as the sound of assimilation that is forced upon bodies that exist beyond the borders of whiteness. In this reinterpretation, the sound is a clear echo of colonial legacies. It is an enticing sound that calls for the negation of selfhood and agency to appease dominant cultures within the West. This sound is a hypnotic force that draws people in until they learn the capacity for resistance.

Drawing on the artist’s personal histories, including shared experiences of ancestral arranged marriages and the displacement of family through historic events such as the Islamic Revolution and the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan, siren song explores what it means to disrupt lineages by tuning out the sound of the siren to reclaim embodiment and spatial expansiveness. The video combines a text monologue, trancelike wedding footage and an atmospheric sound piece which features a recording of Nadia’s parents watching and reacting to their own wedding film. Together, these elements signify the to-and-fro between distraction and commitment, revisiting and unlearning, destruction and rebuilding.