Yours Is Not the Taj Mahal
'Yours Is Not The Taj Mahal' is a grief induced fever dream caused by seeing a woman resembling a dead friend. The shadow of grief can envelop us at any time, mixing perception with memory and disintegrating boundaries between the living and dead. In an unexpected place a ghost appears, triggering a familiar conversation about the friends’ desire to know the end of every story before it is told. The narrator grapples with whether to reveal to her friend how she dies. What – or who – is altered by knowing the outcome?
Project Type:Experimental, Short
Runtime:4 minutes 6 seconds
Completion Date:January 1, 2017
Country of Origin:United States
Wales International Documentary FestivalBlackwood
April 5, 2017
The Artists Forum Festival of FilmNew York City
October 13, 2017
North American Premiere
October 14, 2017
South Shore Connect Arts FestivalChicago, IL
November 26, 2017
2018 Film and Video Poetry SymposiumPasadena, CA
April 27, 2018
Shayna Connelly’s work explores hauntings, liminality and the boundaries between documentary, experimental and fiction filmmaking. Her films have screened at Sunderland Shorts, Toronto Short Film Festival, Big Sky Documentary, San Francisco Doc, CIMMfest, Chicago Feminist, Stranger Without a Face, Big Muddy, Columbus International, Breckenridge, Charlotte International, Crossroads, Chicago Underground, Sydney Underground, San Diego Underground, Oak Cliff, Brooklyn Film Festival, Bushwick Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival and Athens International among others. Newcity Magazine named her one of Chicago's 50 Screen Gems of 2016.
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My friend Inken died in a car crash in Algiers, Algeria on the way to the airport with her children after visiting her in-laws. No one else in the crash was hurt, but Inken was killed. Her father was in Frankfurt at the time, waiting to pick her and his grandkids up from the airport. Instead, he got on a plane to fly to Algiers in order to attend her funeral. Inken had converted to Islam and in keeping with tradition needed to be buried within 24 hours. One of her friends sent me his unofficial eulogy along with a photo of her gravesite. He warned me that it looked more like a construction site than a grave.
Inken and India are connected. I went to India for the first time when I was living in Germany and going to school with her. She is the only person who saw all of my slides when I returned. She listened to all of my stories. The Taj Mahal is a monument to a much loved Mumtaz Mahal from her husband, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I would have built something like it for Inken if I’d been able to, because we want to honor our dead with monuments that approximate the impact of their presence in our lives. We need to show others what we have lost.
I live in a culture where signifiers of Islam are considered suspect and dangerous. Inken converted to Islam and it saved her. It infused meaning, ritual and structure into her life. Like many converts she embraced her new religion fervently. She was a radical even before she converted (likely also why she converted), but not in the ways you might assume. She was not a fundamentalist. She believed in equality, justice, human rights and human dignity. She wore a headscarf and flowy clothing, which was not too far off from her pre-conversion attire. When I see a woman in a headscarf I am immediately reminded of Inken. I associate this article of clothing in all its variations with laughter, games of canasta in the park, amaretto drinks and my very first film festival experiences.
When I saw this woman sitting in front of a mosque in Jaipur with her child, memories of Inken flooded back. I had planned a film in her honor while I was there, but it was not coming together as I had hoped. Seeing this woman was like being with Inken for a moment and I filmed her. Inken and I had often spoken about the ethics of filming or photographing someone and this action was not without significant qualms and trepidation on my part. But filmmaking is sometimes a selfish act. A selfish act can also resonate with an audience.