Imran Perretta’s The Destructors borrows its title from Graham Greene’s short story about a gang of boys who set out to demolish a house that survived the Blitz. Born to Bangladeshi parents, Perretta combines his own experience of growing up during the War on Terror with Greene’s tale of postwar disaffection to explore the trauma inflicted on Muslim bodies by the UK’s counterterrorism laws. In 2003, the UK introduced Prevent. Originally implemented to dissuade vulnerable youths from joining extremist groups, it quickly turned into a top-down surveillance network.
In The Destructors, filmed in an abandoned community center in East London and driven by a percussive score of hand claps and mechanical thuds, three Muslim men sit down to discuss how it feels to live under the hostile gaze of a suspicious society. “I forgive you … I forgive you for the bombs,” repeats one interviewee as he recalls a chilling encounter with a stranger who “forgave” him for a crime he played no part in. Another man angrily refers to the welfare state as the “warfare state,” as he explains how he was forced to care for his dying mother after the NHS withdrew its support.
Perretta films these interviews like interrogations, lingering on the backs of his subjects’ heads and using high-angle vantage points to express the sensation of being both under-protected and overexposed. Presented across two screens, these monologues are disrupted by moments of magical realism. There is dreamlike imagery of the community center filling with black smoke and water. Perretta understands the role that images of violence and urban deprivation have played in dehumanizing Muslims, so he instead uses visual effects to suggest the threat that hangs over these men. By not showing the physical reality of violence, he invites the viewer to consider how external factors, such as the draconian austerity measures implemented by the UK’s coalition government, have resulted in the erosion of public spaces where Muslim men can feel safe.
Communicating how it feels to inhabit a body that has been involuntarily politicized, The Destructors is a sympathetic study of people growing up in an unsympathetic world. But unlike the nihilism that underscores Greene’s story, Perretta’s focus on community and collective experiences suggests that hope can still be salvaged through the sharing of stories.
The Destructors is on view at Chisenhale Gallery (64 Chisenhale Road, London) through March 15.