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Alia Syed
Repetition is often evoked in structuralist film to reference sameness as a means of exposing the mechanical apparatus of film as part of an industrialised form of visual reproduction.

In Syed's first film Durga 1986 a pregnant belly shot to appear like a silvery moon is edited to appear alongside the repeated action of a sheet falling through a stairwell.

This use of repetition is radically different and evokes a psychic condition of circularity directed by a concern with feminine time located in the flows of the maternal body. The silence of this film is almost eerie and contrasts with most of Syed's work. Instead of a narrative structure that is endlessly repeated to expose the circularity of meaning, a silent repetition of falling and moving through passageways is contrasted with the enclosed but swelling space of the maternal body.

Durga makes the psychic and sexual condition of the feminine present in the image and inaugurates a strand of Syed's work that is developed further in Swan 1994 and Watershed 1995. All three films place the camera in close-up and frontal relation to the object forcing attention on the repetition of gestures and actions to convey bodily rhythm and the gradual build up of sexual and dramatic tension.

Psychoanalysis interprets repetition through schizophrenia as an obsessive cataloguing of the external world to exert control, or through trauma as an inability to come to terms with the shock of past events that are obsessively re-enacted. In Syed's films it is also evocative of an empowered female sexuality that shifts from an exclusive concern with the female subject towards a concern with femininity and masculinity.

In Swan the formal play of black and white was shot to deliberately exaggerate the contrasts: an abrupt series of edits render the Swan's movements more violent than one would initially imagine. It also subtly decodes sexuality and race as it can be viewed as a fetishistic representation of the white male subject as object of black feminine desire, yet the close-up shots and dramatic edit also draws associations with the phallus and vulva.

Like this film Watershed uses repetition to evoke sexual pleasure. It shifts these dynamics once more in the deliberate confusion and bringing together of masculinity and femininity. In both films the materiality of celluloid exploits the warmth it gives to textures like skin as a kind of visual pleasure.

In Watershed we see a couple engaged in making love through close-up shots of the woman's body caressed by her lover. She arches her back and brings together her shoulders, touching herself as she straddles him, suggesting feminine pleasure in a manner that is similar to the Swan. The centrality of touch displaces sight as the defining aspect of female sexual desire and corresponds to ideas outlined by writers like Luce Irigaray.

Still from Durga (A Ritual) by Alia Syed, 1985
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