Alia Syed

18 – 27 August

Fatima’s Letter

1992; dv from16mm film; b&w, sound, 4:3; 21 mins



A woman remembers her past by faces she sees while travelling on the London Underground. She begins to believe that these people, like her, have all taken part in the same event. She composes a letter to her friend Fatima – a personal documentary around journeys, memories and watching. The story is spoken in Urdu with sub-titles in English, although the subtitles do not always appear in conjunction with what is spoken.


DIASPORA – Alia Syed on time, memory, and story telling

The near has fallen behind the horizon – reality always juggles with ghosts – the gate of the camera – my net. Deciphering the original intent from the palpable reality of the footage – frames pass me by, London by night. It rains. The metropolis still holds me. I grew up with the hills visible from the skylight in my bedroom – a secret cigarette – our laughter mingling with the soft rain of a suburban Scottish night. I removed myself – the space stifled me. London was negotiated from the tube map. I became Scottish, but suffered from agoraphobia.

From New Cross Gate to Hoxton, seamless, the journey allows me to be somewhere else. Faces take on significance. London has to be traversed across. Recognition comes in bullets. External events collide – in my head – a moment of clarity. I devote time to travelling. We look through siphons; our attempts at observation are attempts to connect. Making becomes an endless process of re-looking, of trying to find meaning – a point where I locate. London is never London, but contains traces of other cities; the poignancy of the landscape lies in its ability to conjure, the sound of a horn – Karachi – one city falls into another. Film time slips – formal tensions reflect more accurately than actuality – a train approaches the platform, the sound quakes – they have bombed another building – the folds of her dress move with the rapidity of falling concrete – nine more children dead – dust – the slabs are to big for them. An empty space.

She writes a letter to Fatima, she speaks of her displacement, tells a story.

We position ourselves in relation to the languages within the film. Discontinuities in narrative, sound and image produce ruptures. Different languages vie for authority – written over spoken, image over text, word image over documentary footage. We become part of a dialogue, we see ourselves within ideology.  The static film frame becomes a stage. We become an audience to ourselves.

“But then we had all chosen our parts.Ours was just a different one to the one they thought it was” Fatima’s Letter.


AN ESSAY – Alia Syed by Anna Malik

“Alia Syed’s practice as a filmmaker tests the conventions of writing. Even though her films deploy a narrative structure they do so to unravel the very idea of beginnings and endings that is necessary to the act of making sense. Instead she uses repetition, circularity and the layering of word and image to explore the conditions under which the subject of language and desire is made present but also eludes our grasp.

Juxtaposing oblique camera angles with written and spoken words, she places the spectator in a position of negotiating and attempting to find points of correlation between two, some times three, registers of language: visual, graphic and aural. Each register offers a different form of narrative that transforms history, be it personal or collective, into myth…”

Courtesy Anna Malik and Lux.

Full essay available here


“It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.” John Berger, Ways of Seeing .


“The subject position of the migrant woman is now being given voice in all its complexities without having to bear the burden of representation.” Anna Malik


“I am interested in language. We construct ourselves through language; it creates the space where we define ourselves. Film can be a mirror—it can throw things back at us in a way that makes us question the ideas we have about ourselves and through this each other…I [am] interested in what happens when you hold more than one ‘culture’ within you at any given time.” Alia Syed.



Solo Exhibitions

2012‐13 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Eating Grass: Alia Syed, Los Angeles, US

2013 Talwar Gallery, Panopticon Letters: Missive I, New York, US

2010 Talwar Gallery, Wallpaper, New York, US

2009 Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain

2009 Talwar Gallery, Elision, New Delhi, India

2008 Talwar Gallery, New York, US

2006 Millais Gallery, Southampton, UK, A Story Told

2005 Arts Depot, 1001100111001, London, UK, Eating Grass

2004 Talwar Gallery, New York, NY, Eating Grass

2003 Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA), London, UK, Eating Grass

2003 Talwar Gallery, New York, NY, Spoken Diary / Swan


Selected Other Exhibitions / Screenings

2014  Tate Britain Starr Auditorium, London, UK (Upcoming)

2014  Pump House Gallery ,You cannot step twice into the same river, London, UK (Upcoming)

2014 CCA, Glasgow, UK (Upcoming)

2014 Solyanka State Gallery, PARAJANOV, Moscow, Russia

2013 5th Moscow Biennale, Moscow, Russia

2011 Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Ffilm 3, Swansea, UK

2010 The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), On Line, New York, NY, US

2006 XV Sydney Biennale, Zones of Contact,  Sydney, Australia, Eating Grass

2005 Hayward Gallery, BALTIC, The British Art Show VI, UK, Eating Grass

2005   Talwar Gallery, (desi)re,  New York, NY, US, Eating Grass, Swan

2003 Tate Britain, London, UK, Fatima’s Letter @ A Century of British Artist’s Films

Full biography available here



2010‐13  Panopticon Letters: Missive I

2008‐11  Priya

2006‐11  A Story Told

2010  Wallpaper

2005  L A Diary

2003  Eating Grass

2001  Spoken Diary

1995  Watershed

1994  Fatima’s Letter

1989  Three Paces

1989  Swan

1987  Unfolding

1985  Durga



Written by Alia Syed

Spoken by Ghazala Shaikh

Translated by Syed Ali Ahmed, Ghazala Shaikh, Samia Shaikh, Alia Syed

Rostrum  Sogand Bahram

Art Work  Tanya Syed

With thanks to
Syed Ali Ahmed, Sogan Bahram, Noski Deville, Brian Golding, Tim Highstead, Arif Khan, Ilias Pantos, Lis Rhodes, Ghazala Shaikh, Samina Shaikh, John Smith, Tanya Syed, Sarah Turner, the L.F.M.C. Staff

Made at the

Slade School of Fine Art, University College London
London Film-Makers Co-op

Financial Assistance

Julian Sullivan Award, Institute of Contemporary Art



Eating Grass – an interview to accompany Alia’s exhibition and screenings at LACMA, September 2012

Flights of Fancy -

Alia Syed A Story Told – and essay by David Thorp


Alia Syed is represented by Talwar Gallery.

Special thanks to Lux.