Rivers of Babylon (2021) - An animated version of a scene familiar to viewers of Mohaiemen’s 2017 film Tripoli Cancelled, in which Greek-Iranian actor Vassilis Koukalani performs a lonely dance in the deserted Ellinikon Airport in Athens. The song playing from a weathered cassette tape is the Boney M version of “Rivers of Babylon”, a global pop hit of the 1970s, including in Libya and Bangladesh where Mohaiemen grew up.
The original version is a reggae song by The Melodians (Brent Dowe, Trevor McNaughton) in 1970. The lyrics were adapted from Psalms 19 and 137 of the Hebrew Bible and intended to invoke solidarity against state violence and policing. It was made into a disco hit by the German-Caribbean pop group Boney M in 1978. While the members of Melodians were from Jamaica, Boney M’s members came from Jamaica (Liz Mitchell, Marcia Barrett), Montserrat (Maizie Williams), and Aruba (Bobby Farrell).
The Babylon river is meant to be the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq. In Rastafarian concept, "Babylon" is used for any governmental system which is oppressive and unjust, even if it originated from a liberation movement. Commissioned by MoCA Cleveland
Naeem Mohaiemen combines films, photographs, drawings, sculpture, and essays to research the many forms of utopia-dystopia slippage in the Muslim world after 1945. He is Associate Professor of Visual Arts at Columbia University, New York.