Zain Alam is an artist, writer, and musician. His work explores the life of minorities and marginalized groups—particularly at moments of self-preservation, assimilation, and cultural innovation. Described as “a unique intersection, merging the cinematic formality of Bollywood and geometric repetition of Islamic art,” his recording project Humeysha has been covered by Vice, Fader, and Village Voice. His work has been supported by ArtCenter/South Florida, Harvard University, and the South Asian American Digital Archive. His writings on art and religion have been published in Miami Rail, Buzzfeed, and The New Yorker.
His practice explores how borrowing technologies are transforming—and reinforcing—traditional ideas of creativity. Through sampling, remix, and synthesis techniques, he charts intimate relationships with older artwork and archival material to ask what it means to borrow. His work challenges notions of “authenticity” and the “auteur” in artistic production by pointing towards a new ethical understanding that differentiates assemblage from appropriation, especially in new forms like global music and open-source technology. His projects are guided by a search for fresh, responsible approaches to borrowing that revitalize our understandings of inheritance, influence, and genealogy.
Alam began composing music while researching the dispersion of his family after the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. The following year he returned to India as an American India Foundation William J. Clinton Fellow working as an oral historian for the 1947 Partition Archive. He composed his debut album Humeysha while recording hundreds of hours of ethnography and found sound, collecting stories from survivors of the Partition. The songs and stories written from that time reflect a lifelong search to find sonic affinities between the many cultures that make up a diaspora.
His forays in film began with his audio-visual project “Lavaan,” commissioned by SAADA in 2016 as part of the “Where We Belong: Artists in the Archive” program. The work was screened in SAADA workshops held in various cities to commemorate the anniversary of the Oak Creek massacre and fostered conversation on memory, archives, and xenophobia.
As an artist-in-residence with Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF) and ArtCenter/South Florida, Alam developed new forms of solo performance and began a multi-disciplinary project on the ethics of sampling in music. It has since grown to include a set of essays, a musical composition, and an installation built with a sculptor inverting instruments to destabilize our present, dis-enchanted ways of hearing.
Raised in Kennesaw, GA and presently based in Boston and Brooklyn, Alam is the 2017-2018 Artist-in-Residence at Harvard’s Science, Religion, and Culture Program.