More than 8 years ago I️ stepped away from performing ... Now on the eve of my 40th birthday, I'm coming back to the stage!
After the whirlwind of fabulousness in D.C. I joined the team of the Anna Deavere Smith Pipeline Project to support the production of Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education!!
It is an extremely powerful and extraordinarily timely performance. Urgent and inspiring, it depicts the personal accounts of students, parents, teachers and administrators caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline. Investigating a justice system that pushes minors from poor communities out of the classroom and into incarceration.
I can’t seem to turn on the news without having violence, persecution, oppression and the worst of human behavior splashed in my face. Yesterday, I was speaking to my partner’s ex-roommate and he, teasingly, asked me what war-torn part of the world was I planning to visit next? The truth is I’ve had many impulses to run away and try to heal the pain of the world — somewhere else — but I’m counseling myself to stay here.
What is the experience of time? Sun up to sun down; the phases of the moon; an 8-hour workday; the passing of a birthday; the harvest; the sowing; the completion of a thought? The time for group remembering, the communal gatherings and the personal, internal time; we live between the two. My time in India so far has been a weaving between the two forms – personal and collective.
How do I talk about difference without putting a value judgment on it? If one thing is different than another, must one thing be better than the other? How can I value multiple experiences, approaches and perspectives while keeping a sense of self? Must I choose one as better so that I can hold on to something familiar? This project is different than the rest of my work in Afghanistan. I am not working directly with a theater group, I am working with media makers; writers, producers, researchers from Equal Access, Afghanistan. I am training them in methods of participatory storytelling for community engagement and social change
As I prepare to return to Kabul for a short project with the US Institute for Peace, I wanted to take the time to wish everyone a very happy Eid. May it be filled with closeness, kindness and a renewed hope for human liberation. May the best and brightest parts of your spirit shine. The end of Ramadan (marked by Eid) this year coincides with the Zoroastrian time of prayer and reflection for our dearly departed. The prayers we held at my parent’s home fell one week after the death anniversary of my maternal grandmother. As a girl growing up in India when she did, Dina Arjani was not to be educated past middle school, but her family relented after her insistence.
I was sitting in a café with a dear friend asking her advice on a community education project I am working on. We’re imagining the question, “What does it mean to be a citizen in the 21st century?” and we’re thinking of how to implement informal “schools” to develop poor people’s critical thinking and leadership skills. (I speak of citizen with a small “c” as in an engaged community member not related to national borders.)
It’s a Friday full of sweetness and sadness for me. I leave in a couple of days and I am spending this lazy Friday visiting friends to say goodbye … until we meet again. Everything about the city seems magical today. The mountains are glowing white, circled by grey clouds. The streets are calm and people are out and about.
Tomorrow is my last day of training. The actors from Khost, Baghlan and Herat are going to perform two short Forum Theater plays for a limited audience of friends and colleagues. At the core of both stories is the question of whose decisions are respected? Who has the power to make a life choice, and who doesn’t.
This week was a long week with lots of prodding and pushing. We were telling stories about oppression, personal experiences of oppression, something simple, clear. I started by asking them to make a frozen body sculpture of one such experience. After the activity, we spoke about what they were showing. It turns out no one made an image of something from their own life! They made images from other people’s lives, images from stories they heard, or things they saw. They were finding it hard to access those personal stories, without compounding them with others.
Through struggle we bring forth the ripened fruit of a changed tomorrow. We never stand still; motionless as life breezes by. We move in the wind. Sometimes with it, Sometimes against it. Ever changing, we remake our reality. This past week I have been changed by the fortitude, brilliance and endless capacity of Afghan artists.
Full of JOY! I feel like I’m walking on clouds, slowly climbing higher and higher till I reach my cruising altitude. I am preparing to go back to Kabul for a month of trainings and am thrilled to see my work build on itself. The first two groups I trained are coming back and I will be offering them new cultural tools for community engagement, collective problem solving and local healing. After this advanced workshop, a few members will stay with me to co-facilitate a brand new training with 3 new groups!
It’s that time of the year again. Spring is creeping up on us, new shoots are poking up from the ground and festivals of regeneration and re-birth are taking place around the world. In my ancestral part of the world, South and West Asia, the festival of Holi, (celebrated in South Asia) and Norooz (celebrated in West Asia), are coming up this month. Holi is March 8, Norooz is March 20th. Both feature fire, a meditation on righteousness and lots of color.
(This was supposed to be a post about my upcoming events this month and next. Click here to see what’s happening. I hope I can see you before I’m back in Kabul in April.)
What does “artist as leader” mean? What does it look like in our world? So often there is so much confusion about the role (and significance) of artists in our society. I have been forced to think about this since the passing of Whitney Houston. I’ve been plagued with feeling stupid for crying over the death of “an entertainer”, a Hollywood persona. I’ve been embarrassed to speak with much feeling about her death, afraid to be perceived as being ridiculous and shallow.
Yes, really, I'm talking about Whitney.
But what I have come to understand is that I was both mourning the loss of a brilliant artist who’s voice moved millions, and the loss of an artist who was struggled with her own sense of self worth in this contradictory society.
The oppressive elements in society needs us to suppress our creativity in order to maintain the status quo. To send this message, artists, those who have dedicated their lives to art and creativity, are targeted. A friend of mine said that artists need to live in water deep enough to drown them. And that is what society does. It submerges the creative in all of us.
The messages that are broadcast in our society about artists are that we are irresponsible, stupid, drug addicts, mentally ill, have questionable morals; and that art is frivolous, a diversion, not serious work, it’s only for some people, it’s stupid, and can’t pay the bills. In order to maintain the status quo, we need artists to remain on the fringes of society, barely visible, always teetering on the brink of poverty and irrelevance.
These messages get enforced from a very early age. Imagine an adult asking you, with pleasure, if you are going to be a lawyer or a dancer when you grow up; what about a firefighter or a painter? From a very young age, we are steered away from art-making as a life choice. The marginalization of the arts and of artists means that art-making as a life choice is extremely hard to accept. We all, at some point, have suppressed our own creativity and locked it away in order to live in the “real world”.
Artist’s being marginalized goes hand in hand with the suppression of creativity in society. Creativity is powerful. And that brings me to my main point: art and creativity are the most powerful forces we have for liberation.
Art can bring people together. We don’t even need tospeak the same language.
Art can make a way out of no way. When people are living in oppressive situations, artists can help imagine a way out. The fight for another world has to imagine that the impossible is possible.
Artists never stop questioning. Creativity means to use your senses to engage in a process of inquiry.
So let the artists lead us. Let us recognize that they already do!
(This was supposed to be a post about all my upcoming events … but please click here for that info. Hope you can make one or two events.)
I love this time of year since its often the only extended break I have to reflect on my life, gather with people I love and appreciate the small, simple moments of grace from the year gone by. The lights we burn on Yalda, Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa are all rooted in primal symbolism and full of references to the light of human goodness triumphing over fear and confusion.
Today is the holy day of Ashura where, in Islam, believers mourn the death of Imam Hussein, the prophet Mohammed’s grandson. Imam Hussein was fighting a great oppressor and on this day he and his entire family and followers were massacred and left in the desert of Karbala. This story is most important to Shi’ia Muslims a they believe Imam Hussein to be the rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed. Sunnis also believe this day to be sacred and attribute other reasons to the observance like the day god forgave Adam.
Hello Kabul! Hello mountains. Hello kindness. Hello community. Hello learning. Hello growing. Hello change. I feel so full of joy and gratitude to be here and do what I love. It’s been such a busy week and I can’t believe that already I am half way done! I am finding out that being the sole facilitator and workshop coordinator is pretty time consuming but I promise to send more updates.
Art imitates life, life imitates art … but what’s the deal with pepper spray at WalMart? It’s the theater of the absurd in overdrive. I sit here next to the pot bellied stove in my guest house, calm and distant. I don’t mind the distance from this facet of life. Though I do remember when I was here in late September, I had such longing to be part of the Occupy movement in NYC. Funny how things change.