A Reflection on The House is Black

By Holly Bullis

“One can be like a wind-up doll and look at the world with eyes of glass, one can lie for years in lace and tinsel a body stuffed with straw inside a felt-lined box, at every lustful touch for no reason at all one can give out a cry “Ah, so happy am I!”’

A woman wearing a white dress dances on stage while holding a microphone.

As she recites the last stanza of Forough Farrokhzad’s poem “Wind Up Doll,” Sussan Deyhim is blindfolded, and pushed from her place of influence to make way for a plastic mannequin. This image is burned in my memory days afterward.

As we walked to the performance that night, my partner and I speculated about what we would see. After being confronted with the intricate layers of graphics, music, poetry, and history Deyhim seamlessly folded together in “The House is Black” we were not disappointed.

She started with history, showing dates from the late 1800’s to 1930 and describing important developments from those years. When the ticking numbers reached 1930, Forough Farrokhzad’s picture appeared on the screen and we were immersed in a poem. Farrokhzad is called the godmother of Iranian poetry, from the 1930’s to her death in 1962 she was, and still is, controversial. Coming into this I was completely unfamiliar with Iranian poetry, but my ignorance was no obstacle to Deyhim. She brought the performance to my level allowing me to understand by showing the events in Farrokhzad’s life that simultaneously fueled and critiqued her work.

Farrokhzad’s poems we’re read in Persian–my English speaking partner and I basked in the flow of the smooth tones. Once again Deyhim did not leave us behind, translations of the poems were displayed on screens allowing us to experience the poem while also understanding it. Deyhim’s fluid instrumentals and haunting vocals danced in and throughout each poem.

Deyhim’s songs, and graphics, inspired by Farrokhzad’s poems show not just what it feels like to be an Iranian woman but what it feels like to be a human. These two women choose to reflect upon universal emotions. Like in Farrokhzad’s poem “Wind Up Doll.” The option to be a wind up doll is open to us all. We have the ability to be what is expected of us, default option dolls occupying rolls of influence. Sometimes we lock ourselves in our own boxes convincing ourselves we are happy with our limited view of the world. If we choose to be dolls we choose to take the path of least resistance, to ignore the culture and humanity of Islamic nations instead of choosing to reach for understanding.

Deyhim stepped out to show her inspiring culture. She invited me into her world. Showing that human experiences, emotions, and poetry cross cultural lines. Now I am left with an obligation to share what I have seen to encourage others to reach out and learn from their fellow humans.

Workshop: How to Defeat Islamophobia

Performance can help us to examine substantive issues of the day and can be a catalyst for dialogue and learning. Our Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey project for example, offers a variety of performances and events that reveal the plurality of Muslim identity and refute monolithic thinking.

In a time of increasing Islamophobia, there is an urgent need to address misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims as well as identify means of intervention. That’s why we are collaborating with the Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia (MERI) to host their workshop titled: How to Defeat Islamophobia. The workshop draws on the personal experiences of Muslims and people of color, and will use images, videos, and interactive exercises to examine the following topics:

– What is Islamophobia?
– Address common myths and assumptions about Islam and Muslims
– Understand how we are unintentionally participating
– Identify how we can interrupt our own and others’ participation
– Define action steps

Event Details:
September 28 from 2-5pm at Toy Lounge in Dey Hall, complimentary and open to the public.
RSVP here.

“We understand both Islamophobia and racism within a framework that sees how discrimination based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and religion are part of multiple, interlocking forms of oppression that reinforce and sustain one another.”MERI

Profile: Aisha Anwar

Aisha head shot

On February 10, 2015, Razan Abu-Salha, Yusor Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat lost their lives in a hate crime that shook the Chapel Hill community. The night of the vigil I watched, through my tears, the candles flickering and wondered, how long will the candle wax stain these bricks? My perceptions creaked under the strain of a heinous crime that in many ways marked the end of a way of being for me – waves of distress echoed throughout my individual and shared Muslim psyche. Of course it wasn’t solely in Chapel Hill or the local Muslim communities that people were hurting. In the coming year, I saw the connectedness of people aching and agitating for change from Baltimore to Palestine. Through my own grief, I sought ways to witness and stand in solidarity with others. Even now, I yearn for communities to move beyond the seemingly endless procession of vigils to a place of honest connections and nuanced understanding.

In honor of our friends, I curated a multimedia exhibition: Muslims in the Carolinas. As the Persian poet Rumi writes, “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and this exhibition was an opportunity to collect a few of those kisses. From home bakeries to eco-boxes, classrooms to abandoned parking lots, we interviewed and photographed students as well as community members who work with their hands in a myriad of ways: cooking, painting, writing… In tandem with Rumi’s words, the work of these folks reflect the acts of daily life that bind a community. Throughout our travels for this project, scholars, artists and activists continuously spoke to the importance of communities to stand for justice and connect to each other. As such, Muslims of the Carolinas was a celebration as well as a show of resilience.

As the Engagement Coordinator at Carolina Performing Arts working with Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey, I have been searching for ways to integrate self-reflexive artistic expression into my activism and community engagements. How can we encourage critical, socially conscious, and compassionate dialogue? What are those shared spaces where humanity mingles in ways that afford us our differences? We must not forget the names and nuances of lives taken unjustly. These names, lives, and legacies, even in their singularity, are of people intrinsically intertwined in the realities of us and others. Artistic expression can give us the tools for beckoning the silence of unsung deeds and unrecorded acts, for turning audience members into witnesses, for allowing the light of vigil candles to flicker eternally in our memories. Whether it be music or dance, storytelling in its many forms can allow us to create an ever dynamic history of voices and experiences that joins individual to collective, private to public. Carolina Performing Arts’ dedication to consistently illuminating different voices invites many into its performance of solidarity. I’m grateful for the opportunity to tap into the role of art and artists in advocating for social justice.

Aisha Anwar graduated in May 2016 with degrees in English and Global Studies. She is the Engagement Coordinator at Carolina Performing Arts and a freelance writer and photographer.

Student Ambassadors Program

We invite undergraduates from any major to participate in the newly-launched Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) Student Ambassadors program. The program aims to foster compassionate dialogue among students and peers via this season’s year-long exploration of Muslim cultures through music, dance and performance.

Student will have the opportunity to attend performances, engage with artists, and participate in thoughtful discussion over dinner with their fellow Ambassadors.

A cohort of 20 students will be selected to attend performances as well as corresponding programs and share their experiences with the Carolina community. Students will attend an orientation workshop on Sunday, August 28, 2016 at Gerrard Hall and a minimum of five performances throughout the season.

To learn more or apply, click here. The deadline to apply is Friday, August 26th at noon.

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