Multimodal Articulations of Futures in an Afghan-Danish Film Collective

March 16, 2022



ARTlife Film Collective: Dr. Karen Waltorp, Nilab Totakhil, Asma Mohammadzai Safi, Sama Sadat Ben Haddou, Mursal Khosrawi and Lea Glob


Jared Epp

In this talk, Dr. Karen Waltorp and other Afghan-Danish members of the ARTlife film collective will discuss and unpack their multimodal filmmaking collaborations within the context of politically charged media ecologies.

This talk will highlight the collaborative filmmaking activities of Afghan-Danish women and a Danish anthropologist and filmmaker who engage in multimodal experimentations and ethno-fiction. Specifically, they script scenes and film the everyday as a way of exploring and giving form to inner life as well as social and public life. The women in the collective use collaborative filmmaking and social media tools to co-articulate their imagined futures, and what it means to be both Danish and Afghan.

Referring to their chapter ‘Isomorphic Articulations: Notes from Collaborative Film-work in an Afghan-Danish Film Collective,’ Karen Waltorp and ARTlife Film Collective members will talk about their ‘research-through-filmmaking’ project and the experience of incorporating multimodality into the process. They will discuss: a) how the circulation of images in social media becomes part of the knowledge emerging among them; and b) how their work challenges Danish media’s tendency to visually represent young women’s ‘freedom’ in/from Islam in ways that do not resonate with the women in the collective.

The talk will be followed by a discussion led by Jared Epp, where EFC members will explore how multimodal collaborations may navigate a ‘media ecology’ that reinforces xenophobia, nationalism, and audiovisual capitalism, while having the potential of countering these through the circulation of images, words, sounds, and emerging networked publics. Together, we will examine how multimodal approaches might: a) help us challenge uncritical engagements with digital technologies; and b) support our collaborators’ digital/sensorial struggles, as well as their speculative articulations of futures, while resisting the reproduction of colonial histories of image making and archiving.

Image inspired by:

Francis Picabia’s Here, This Is Stieglitz Here (1915)


Karen Waltorp, PhD, is associate professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, where she heads the Ethnographic Exploratory and coordinates the Researcher Group Technē. She has been the convener of the Future Anthropologies Network under the European Association for Social Anthropologists since 2016 and is currently serving on the Editorial Board of Cultural Anthropology. Waltorp is the author of ‘Why Muslim Women and Smartphones: Mirror Images’ (Routledge 2020) and has published widely on digital media and technologies, gender and migration, and multimodal and digital methodologies. She was the Co-Principal Investigator on ARTlife: Articulations of Life among Afghans in Denmark, and her project on ‘research-through-collaborative-filmmaking’ has resulted in co-authored articles and book chapters and has transformed into an independent Film Collective. She is currently the Principal Investigator on DigiSAt - Digital Everyday Lives Far From Silicon Valley: Technological Imaginaries and Energy Futures in a South African Township. She is co-editor of the forthcoming anthologies Energy Futures (de Gruyter 2022) and An Anthropology of Technologies and Futures (Routledge 2022).


Nilab Totakhil is a teacher, a Teach First Alumnae, and a member of the ARTlife Film Collective. She holds a Cand.scient.soc from Lund University, Sweden and a BA in Education. She actively combines her academic background with her pedagogies and teaching in her everyday work life. She strives to give all children a chance to gain an education regardless of background and social status. This motivation comes from her own background as an Afghan refugee. Totakhil is the co-author of Why Care: Voluntary work, Contemporary Islam (2021) and has volunteered as an intern for the UNESCO in India and for the NGO Wale Wale Kenya. Earlier, she was the president of AYAD: Afghan Youth Association Denmark. She recently joined the board of Best.women, which fights for more women on the boards of Danish businesses.


Mursal Khosrawi holds an MA (cand.scient.pol) from the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Social Sciences. She is a public opinion maker and a regular panelist on P1 Morgen, Radio4, and Danish National Radio’s ‘Debatten’ as well as other debate programs, sharing her views on issues related to inequality, minority issues, refugees, immigration and integration policies in Denmark. Khosrawi was a candidate for the party Radikale Venstre at the municipal elections in 2013, and she is the current President of the think tank Handletanken, which works towards equality with a focus on gender. She previously worked at the Danish Refugee Council and is a regular contributor to RÆSON and Altinget.


Asma Mohammadzai Safi is a creative and a storyteller. She holds an MA in Business Administration and an MBA in Brand Management and Marketing Communication from the University of Southern Denmark. She is a videographer, photographer, and writer, and has traveled to her native Afghanistan, capturing its landscapes and people through her lens. Safi is part of the ARTlife Film Collective and the co-author of ‘Shared’ (The World in a Cup of Chai). Multicultural, open-minded, and mastering five languages, she has been a Career Ambassador at RIO University of Southern Denmark, and a volunteer and project manager at FS2S: From Street 2 School, raising funds for street children in Afghanistan to go to school. 


Sama Sadat Ben Haddou holds an MA in International Development Studies and Global Studies from Roskilde University, Denmark. She is currently a core member of the ARTlife Film Collective and the President of MINO Denmark, an interest organization for ethnic minority people in Denmark. She has written about the various understandings of gender across donors/recipients in (post)conflict areas and worked with the UN in Kosova. She is the co-author of Digital Diaspora in a Media Ecology: Afghan Women and the Case of Farkhunda, to be published in the forthcoming Routledge anthology Diasporic Political Communication: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives. Sadat Ben Haddou is also the cofounder and former president of NGO TakeMyHand, an independent Danish charitable organization that mobilizes ethnic minority and majority youth in Denmark to provide humanitarian and emergency aid to people worldwide.

Lea Glob is an award-winning director and cinematographer. Glob graduated from the documentary programme at the National Film School of Denmark in 2011. Her filmography counts ‘My Father Kasper Højhat’ (2011), ‘Olmo and the Seagull’ (2015, co-directed with Petra Costa), winner of Best Film of the Festival by the youth Jury at Locarno IFF and bought by Netflix. Her documentary “Venus” (2017), co-directed by Mette Carla Albrechtsen, was also published by the Danish publishing house Gyldendal as a book. In her forthcoming film ‘Apolonia,’ Lea is yet again at the crux of stories based in the magnificent chaos of everyday life. In the same vein, ARTlife was an invitation to use her craft to help a young generation give form to their stories that are not often seen on the big screen. 

Jared Epp is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa. His research explores the intersection of the imagination, precarity and public space in the context of contested urban daily life. Using multimodality as collaborative ethnographic practice he makes ethno-fiction films that explore the process of translating interlocutor’s imaginative worlds into film. His research builds off previous experience doing frontline social work and creative programming in a drop-in centre in Edmonton.

Talk Citation:

Epp, J., Waltorp, K, Totakhil, N., Mohammadzai Safi, A.,Sadat Ben Haddou, S., Khosrawi, M., & Glob, L. (2022). Multimodal articulationsof futures in an Afghan-Danish film collective. “Talking Uncertainty” podcast, Emergent Futures CoLab, March.

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Insights from the Talk

Challenging xenophobic media ecologies

How might collaborative multimodal ethnography begin to challenge neoliberal and xenophobic media ecologies? Collaborative, multimodal ethnography can provide under/mis-represented community members with a platform to conduct open-ended, collaborative, self-reflexive, and therapeutic explorations. For example, participants of the ARTlife Film Collective use such multimodal projects to challenge the reductionist representations of Muslim women in the Danish media. Such explorations may include the flow of images through direct messages and social media, auto-ethnography, and co-directing the film. These platforms facilitate the process of representing themselves on their own terms, in ways that challenge stereotypical portrayals of their communities within xenophobic media ecologies. The collective is critical about using iconic images that reinforce sensationalist portrayals of Muslim women.

Iconic images and productive frictions

How might multimodal anthropology reconcile the use of iconic images that reinforce racist stereotypes? As a visual anthropologist, when you create a multimodal output such as a film, you often have to balance your desire to attract the stakeholders’ attention with your attempt to challenge and avoid reproducing iconic stereotypes that are perpetuated through the media. Interestingly, the medium of film itself often inherently reproduces many stereotypes. Therefore, it is both difficult and interesting to think within the media industry. For instance, participants of the ARTlife Film Collective state that there is something “with the iconic” that they always have to negotiate and work in friction with. This is often one of the most productive frictions in these kinds of collaborative multimodal projects. Working multimodally and with images allows them to think differently about collaborative filmmaking. At the same time, such films often cut across various genres - including documentary, docu-fiction, hybrid, ethno-fiction, etc. - allowing them to forge new connections and reach a broader audience.