A chance encounter with a blond-haired, blue-eyed Belgian on a train led to Omar A. Chowdhury’s new body of work Augustijn, which revolves around a young man’s conversion to Islam in the post-industrial city of Aalst. The Amsterdam-based artist, who was a Muslim before he became an atheist, constructed a parafiction conflating fabulation and nonfiction to reflect the personal, religious, and ideological questions that arise from his discussions with the real-life protagonist, Stijn, about Islam. The project will be presented in the form of a multichannel film installation, a publication, and a series of interventions in which the artist and Stijn invite visitors to participate in workshops, discussions, and prayers.
The project was born after the two met when the artist ended up taking the wrong train, and Stijn approached him during the journey. Mentored by artist and filmmaker Omer Fast in the category Moving Image, Chowdhury developed an ur-narrative that considers the conditions of their meeting, as well as the artist’s subsequent search for the devout and charismatic young man in Aalst, as a catalyst for larger interrogation. Due to their beliefs, both Chowdhury and Stijn are ostracized from the communities that formed them. The mirroring of the characters’ respective journeys in opposite directions, of traversing identities, and of a politics inflected or even driven by religion, are critical threads woven into a narrative that oscillates between fiction and nonfiction, ultimately blurring both.
At the Forecast Festival, Chowdhury will present a multichannel video projection filmed over the past several months. It interlaces Stijn’s monologues on religion, adulthood, masculinity, and his struggles with local societal norms with a portrait of the city of Aalst and postindustrial Flanders. The moving-image work will be accompanied by an artist book containing material relating to the film’s nonlinear narrative and the men’s encounters. In addition, Stijn will travel to Berlin for the festival, and with Chowdhury, will engage in discussions with viewers on identity, and conversion and its aftermath.
Augustijn is supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Australia Council for the Arts and Netwerk, Aalst.