As Birds Flying
19 September 2019

Last Skies: Avian Imaginaries in Video Art from the Middle East

FILM PROGRAM & PANEL DISCUSSION | 19 September | 19:00 - 21:30 | Museum Volkenkunde, Grote Zaal 

Where should we go after the last frontiers?

Where should the birds fly after the last sky?

Where should the plants sleep

After the last breath of air?

(Mahmoud Darwish, “The Earth is Closing on Us”)


This program is organized by LUCIS & Research Center for Material Culture (RCMC) and is curated by Nat Muller (Birmingham City University).

This screening program presents video works by some of the most exciting artists from the Middle East for the first time in the Netherlands. Drawing on avian imaginaries, in which birds operate as protagonists and tropes, these works comment on regional geopolitics, belonging, heritage, and history in unruly times. Disaster – manmade or other – looms darkly on the horizon. In these videos, past, present and future are muddled, human and nonhuman narratives and agency intertwine, and bird’s-eye views offer alternative perspectives: from the ruins of Pergamon, petrified museological artefacts, and aerial views of Jerusalem and Teheran, to the weaponization of spy birds and alien bird-human encounters. The videos in Last Skies offer speculative takes on contested pasts and uncertain futures in which human responsibility is continuously scrutinized. After the screening, two of the artists will join international experts on speculative fiction and people-bird relations for a panel discussion.

Featuring works by: Heba Y. Amin (As Birds Flying, 2016) Benji Boyadgian and Behzad Khosravi Noori (The Owls, The Queen and the Maquettiste, 2018), Hera Büyüktaşcıyan (Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky, 2019), Ali Cherri (Petrified, 2016), and Sophia Al-Maria (Mothership, 2017).

The screening program is followed by a panel discussion with Ali Cherri (artist), Ben Greet (Reading University), Tasnim Qutait (SOAS), and Dan Hassler-Forrest (Utrecht University). Curated and moderated by Nat Muller (Birmingham University)

Image: Heba Y. Amin (As Birds Flying, 2016)
Images by courtesy of Benji Boyadgian, Behzad Khosravi Noori, Sophia Al-Maria, Ali Cherri, Heba Y. Amin and Hera Büyüktaşcıyan.


  • 19.0019.15 Opening by Judith Naeff (LUCIS), Sarah Johnson (Curator Middle East and North Africa) and Nat Muller
  • 19.15–20.20 Screenings 
    - Benji Boyadgian and Behzad Khosravi Noori, The Owls, The Queen and the Maquettiste (2018)
    - Sophia Al-Maria, Mothership (2017)
    - Ali Cherri, Petrified (2016)
    - Heba Y. Amin, As Birds Flying (2016)
    - Hera Büyüktaşcıyan, Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky (2019)
  • 20.20–20.30 Break

  • 20.30–21.30 Panel discussion with Ali Cherri, Ben Greet, Benji Boyadgian, Dan Hassler-Forest, Nat Muller, Tasnim Qutait


Want to know more about the role of birds in Middle Eastern culture? You can join our curators Sarah Johnson and Erdogan Aykaç for a private viewing of objects with bird imagery before the screening.

Session 1: 15.30–16.00

Session 2: 16.00–16.30

Please note that we have limited space available for the two sessions. 

The Owls, the Queen, and the Maquettiste

Benji Boyadgian and Behzad Khosravi Noori's "The Owls, the Queen, and the Maquettiste" attempts by means of collage to narrate and fictionalise the story of three clock towers in Tehran and Jerusalem in relation to colonial history, architecture and Middle Eastern geopolitics.

The Owls, the Queen, and the Maquettiste


Sophia Al-Maria's “Mothership” creates a haunting vignette that straddles the line between documentary and fantasy. A tiny drama of cosmic proportions performed in a sinkhole in the desert where a newborn earthling receives a shadow visitor: time – the terror of all creatures.



Ali Cherri's "Petrified" questions the fetishisation of historical artefacts, by looking at the value we place on provenance and authenticity. The current prevalence of looting and the trafficking of artefacts, especially in conflict zones in the Middle East, opens a timely debate on the reconstruction and restoration of demolished heritage.


As Birds Flying

In late 2013, Egyptian authorities detained a migratory stork suspected of espionage due to an electronic device attached to its leg. Heba Y. Amin's "As Birds Flying" confronts the absurdity of the media narrative in Egypt that has turned a bird into a symbol of state paranoia.

As Birds Flying

Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky

Hera Büyüktaşcıyan's "Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky" offers a temporality that is non-linear, a place that neither reaches to the sky nor touches the ground, and travels through history that primarily turn us to our unruly present.

Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky