Shiva Ahmadi

Still image from Shiva Ahmadi's 'Marooned' showing people standing on a rock and boarding a boat.
Shiva Ahmadi, Marooned, 2021 (video still). Single-channel video animation with sound. Commissioned by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia for Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America, March 23 – October 8, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery. © Shiva Ahmadi

Marooned, 2021

Challenging Myths

Shiva Ahmadi is inspired by classical Persian and Indian miniature paintings. Her animations employ thousands of watercolors that she digitizes into moving paintings; Marooned was created out of 5,172 figures. The contrast between the formal qualities of her work and the ominous content alludes to various conflicts around the globe.   

Marooned, conceived in response to the travel ban enacted against Muslims by former President Donald Trump, explores the destabilizing effect of politics and war on ordinary people, particularly immigrants and refugees. A group of genderless, faceless beings attempt to construct a path toward a marooned oil tanker in the ocean but are thwarted by menacing ghouls. As the pathway nears completion, the ghouls reach the tanker first, taking it for themselves and leaving the beings marooned. The film is an allegory of the labor and determination required to immigrate to a new country and the setbacks so many immigrants face, challenging the myth of the United States as a path to a better life.

My practice examines the intersection of religion and politics through storytelling. By building upon diverse storytelling traditions — Western hand-drawn animation and the arts of Iran and the Middle East — and exploring the use of audiovisual technology for its presentation, I hope to create a work that is at once visually, narratively and technically complex. I was inspired to create Marooned after seeing an image of a young child watching cartoons from behind a table during the bombing in Gaza, a reminder of my own childhood.”

— Shiva Ahmadi, personal correspondence, 2021

Learn more about the 2016 “Muslim Ban”

The “Muslim ban,” a proclamation barring the admission of non-citizens into the United States from a group of predominantly Muslim nations (along with a few others populated primarily by people of color), went through three revisions. The lower courts invalidated the first two versions of the ban. The Supreme Court in 2018 in Trump v. Hawaii upheld a significantly narrowed and refined third version. Finding a “facially legitimate and bona fide reason” for the ban and largely ignoring Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, the court accepted the Trump administration’s claim that the ban was intended to protect national security.

Justice Sotomayor dissented from the court’s opinion. She concluded that “a reasonable observer would conclude that the [ban] was driven primarily by anti-Muslim animus, rather than by the Government’s asserted national-security justifications.” Justice Sotomayor further noted that even before being sworn into office, Donald Trump stated that: 

Islam hates us,” ... warned that “[w]e’re having problems with the Muslims, and we’re having problems with Muslims coming into the country,” ...  promised to enact a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” ... and instructed one of his advisers to find a “lega[l]” way to enact a Muslim ban. ... The President continued to make similar statements well after his inauguration. … Moreover ... President Trump ...  never disavowed any of his prior statements about Islam. Instead, he has continued to make remarks that a reasonable observer would view as an unrelenting attack on the Muslim religion and its followers.

-(citations and footnotes omitted)

Immediately after the Trump administration implemented the first version of the Muslim ban, the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic students provided legal assistance to travelers at San Francisco International Airport detained upon arrival to the United States. UC Davis Law attorneys supervised the students. Noting the palpable tensions in the air, the School of Law issued a statement of support for all students, including international ones: 

The immediate impacts of President Trump’s recent immigration executive orders on immigrants, their families, and communities have been far-reaching. Although national security and public safety unquestionably are important, we must always be vigilant to ensure that actions taken in the name of security do not trample on the rights of the most vulnerable among us. We must take to heart the lessons from, among other tragic episodes in our history, the nation’s mass detention of persons of Japanese ancestry — including U.S. citizens — during World War II. As lawyers, law professors, and law students, we have a special role in ensuring adherence to the rule of law in turbulent times. 

Kevin R. Johnson, Dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law, School of Law, and Professor, Department of Chicana/o Studies


Recommended readings

A Recommitment to Community, UC Davis School of Law Dean’s Blog (Feb. 17, 2017)

Trump v. Hawaii, U.S. Supreme Court (2018)

UC Davis Attorneys Help Families Dealing with Detainment at SFO, KCRA 3 (Jan. 30, 2017)