The Poetry of Alia Syed’s Eating Grass

July 2, 2013

With just four weeks left to see Alia Syed’s mesmerizing film installation Eating Grass at LACMA, Unframed offers an excerpt of the experimental film and its poetic script.  Eating Grass is constructed around the Muslim tradition of five daily prayers, and this excerpt uses Zohar—mid-afternoon prayer—as its starting point.  To learn more about Syed and the making of the film, read this Q&A between the filmmaker and Julie Romain, LACMA’s Assistant Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, published in September 2012. Eating Grass is on view on the fourth floor of the Ahmanson building until July 28, 2013.

Still from Eating Grass (2003), a film by Alia Syed. 16mm film transferred to HD Video, Sound, 22 minutes, 56 seconds, © Alia Syed. Courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery

Still from Eating Grass (2003), a film by Alia Syed. 16mm film transferred to HD Video, Sound, 22 minutes, 56 seconds, © Alia Syed. Courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery

Excerpt from Eating Grass (2003) by Alia Syed
The Washing line.

Daughters Narrative
They hadn’t always lived alone. The household had shrunk over the years. Each departure leaving the remaining members slightly less secure, but not because of economics. After their father died they got rid of the cook.

Their mother died.

Before the eldest sister married she intimated in hushed tones something about the chauffeur.

The youngest daughter left, they got rid of the caretaker.

And so it was just the two of them, two women alone in a beautiful house enclosed within a ten-foot wall. The women were very fastidious—both about their appearance and the appearance of their house.


Sight was regulated, shapes where continually refashioned. The race was on to find the perfect cloth, one that molded perfectly around the body.

A maid came every day to wash their clothes and clean their house.

Houses were getting taller, the population was growing.

The two sisters construed that the neighbors who could now see their washing line would also be able to imagine the shape of their bodies. So they asked the maid, if it would be possible, whilst drying their garments to conceal them by laying them on top of each other.

Eventually permission was granted to leave the country.

Still from Eating Grass (2003), a film by Alia Syed. 16mm film transferred to HD Video, Sound, 22 minutes, 56 seconds, © Alia Syed. Courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery

Still from Eating Grass (2003), a film by Alia Syed. 16mm film transferred to HD Video, Sound, 22 minutes, 56 seconds, © Alia Syed. Courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery

The two sisters started to make their preparations; they asked the maid to

Construct a very strong washing line, one that would extend around and upwards towards the top of the house. The maid called all of her daughters to come and help construct the line and wash the clothes.

In the city where they lived, it hadn’t rained for five years. On the night that the washing was completed an unexpected downpour hit the city. That night and the following day the whole city rejoiced. All, except for the sisters, who were found by the maid weeks later, just before the beginning of the month of Moharam.


Context for Hans Richter

July 1, 2013

One of the themes of Hans Richter: Encounters is the artist’s voracious appetite for so many artists, movements, and collaborations across much of the twentieth century—from Expressionism to Dadaism to Constructivism to Surrealism. The exhibition, on view in the Resnick Pavilion, looks at Richter’s entire career, which began in Germany and ended in the US.

Hans Richter, Schlittenfahrt (Skating), c. 1915, Kunsthaus Zürich, © 2013 Hans Richter Estate, Photo: Kunsthaus Zürich

Hans Richter, Schlittenfahrt (Skating), c. 1915, Kunsthaus Zürich, © 2013 Hans Richter Estate, Photo: Kunsthaus Zürich

Over in the Ahmanson Building, another exhibition offers additional context: Between Art and Politics: Hans Richter’s Germany. Curatorial Assistant Frauke Josenhans assembled this complementary exhibition, which she wrote about for Unframed not long ago, and which illustrates the many artistic movements from Germany, France, and Italy that impacted the young artist at the start of his career. Here, Josenhans takes us through the exhibition on film, which includes artists like Albert Bloch, Paul Cézanne, George Braque, and more.

Scott Tennent


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