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Hasan Elahi

Hasan Elahi

American, born Bangladesh, 1972

After the attacks of 9/11, an erroneous tip led to an intensive FBI investigation of Hasan Elahi (he/him/his). It prompted the artist to create Tracking Transience (2003), which explores what it means to live in a state of constant surveillance. Elahi’s projects dealing with surveillance, privacy, migration, citizenship, and the challenges of borders have been presented at SITE Santa Fe, NM; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; and the Sundance Film Festival, among other venues. He is Professor and Director of the School of Art at George Mason University.

See more of Elahi's work at his website: elahi.gmu.edu.

[N]early 20 years ago, people were looking at me like, "Why in the world would you want to share all this information?" And now, people look at me like, "I don't get it. What's the big deal? This looks like my Instagram feed."

Hasan Elahi

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Hasan Elahi. Photo: Brenda Bieger for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Hasan Elahi. Photo: Brenda Bieger for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Hasan Elahi. Photo: Brenda Bieger for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

Albright-Knox Northland visitors in Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022), October 23, 2021. Art © Hasan Elahi. Photo: Jeff Mace for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Joiri Minaya (left), Hasan Elahi (right). Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Zach Blas (left), Hasan Elahi (right). Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

Thousand Little Brothers, 2014

Pigment print on canvas
Courtesy of the artist

“By opening up every aspect of my life and every little detail, I actually maintain a very private and anonymous life. All of us make data. Our phones are tracking every piece of information about us. So when you don’t have enough information out in public, that’s actually sometimes more of a red flag than having too much information.”
—Hasan Elahi

In 2002, Hasan Elahi (he/him/his) was wrongly identified as a potential terrorist, leading to a six-month investigation by the FBI. In response, he began a long-term project called Tracking Transience, 2002–present, in which he posts documentation of his daily activities to the internet so that the FBI can monitor him more easily. By transforming the normally secret and coercive act of surveillance into a public and voluntary one, the project satirically embraces the erosion of civil rights in America, especially the increased surveillance of immigrants, people of color, and Muslims in the wake of 9/11.

Thousand Little Brothers includes almost 32,000 of the photographs in Tracking Transience. They are printed on seven canvas banners that together measure almost twenty-eight feet tall and fifteen feet wide, giving concrete form to the overwhelming scale of Big Data. The photographs are overlaid with the pattern of colored bars that US television stations use to test the Emergency Broadcast System, suggesting that surveillance constitutes a nationwide emergency. According to Elahi—who lives near Washington, DC—the stripes also refer to the abstract paintings of the Washington Color School of the 1960s, and particularly the striped canvases of Gene Davis (represented in the Albright-Knox’s collection), who avoided representing his politics in his art.

The related work Tracking Transience is freely available for you to experience on your own devices by visiting elahi.gmu.edu/track/.

Artist Stalks Himself So the FBI Doesn’t Have To

Laura C. Mallonee

"If you want to know where Hasan Elahi is, just check his website. Every day for the past decade, the University of Maryland art professor has voluntarily updated his location and posted snapshots of his day online so the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can more easily track him..."

Read the full article here.

FBI, Here I Am!

Elahi's talk "FBI, Here I Am!" at the TED Global conference in 2011

Tracking Transience v2.2

Explore the site designed by Hasan Elahi to track his location and activities for the FBI here.

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