Asma Kazmi draws on a number of intersecting ideas in Building the City of Exiles, a newly commissioned virtual reality and installation project, to consider San Francisco’s sanctuary city ordinance alongside “haram,” a concept in Islamic urban planning. In a haram, contending parties are meant to peacefully settle conflict, there is a ban on bloodshed, animal slaughter, the uprooting of trees, and causing bodily harm to others is prohibited. Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, is a haram. Yet with growing populations in Mecca and SF, urban space seems beholden to the aspirations of builders and planners who erect skyscrapers at alarming rates and heights. Who and what is marginalized in this process? What is the toll on the environment? Kazmi invites viewers to reflect on the collision of these values in a virtual world not so far off from real space and time.
By Jacqueline Francis and Kathy Zarur