BE FESTIVAL worked as a space to articulate difference, a place for empathy. Judith Butler refers to performativity as the repeated assumption of identities internalised in the course of daily life. As individuals inserted within specific discourses, we repeatedly perform modes of subjectivity and identity, and when this is broken, it sets the basis for dis-identification or counter-identifications which involve a rejection of hegemonic identity norms. In their performance/action, Anne Bean and Poshya Kakl gave voice to women who are dis-identifying with their given identity. The language of action, of enactment, creates new identities and hence by creating a space where these actions can take place a common language and identity can appear.
Kakl’s film Knitting Iron (2009) was the seed for this collaborative project between Anne Bean and Poshya Kakl. The film shows Kakl visiting young Kurdish-Iraqi women inside jail for refusing marriages arranged by their families. In her documentary Poshya brings bags of colourful wool to these imprisoned women in order to decorate the fence that both confined them and makes them feel safer. Some music is played as they weave the fence, transforming it into a beautiful tapestry, and one by one the women tell their particular narratives about love, unfairness and despair.
The performance The Un-knitted lives of young women took place in BE FESTIVAL while a simultaneous action lead by Poshya was happening in Erbil (Kurdistan, Iraq). One by one, each audience member got into a long and high pavilion at AE Harris, where a fence had been erected in the middle, dividing the space, and forcing the audience to choose a place on either side of the fence. During the screening of Poshya’s film on two large screens hung on both sides of the long industrial space, a mix group of male and female participants/performers (including two Kurdish-Iraqi men), costumed in dark eye make-up, started knitting on the fence from the bottom and working upwards, while a Kurdish-Iraqi musician played music and a Polish performer sang. Other two performers on each side of the fence crossed several times the room, laying a web with different colour wools on top of the audience heads.
The Un-knitted lives of young women worked as an intense Action. We witnessed breaking the prison’s fence in the most powerful way. Its power resided in opening up an historical present for a moment of empathy, a glimpse into other beings’ realities, in giving them voice and giving the audience ears to hear their stories, in sharing with the women an action and making a work of art together. Despite the fact that there were thousands of kilometres in-between BE-VA and the prison in Erbil, ‘we’, altogether, built up a unique and beautiful moment of awareness and connection with other people, a demonstration of equality and emancipation. Its immediacy led me to an unstoppable stream of images, thoughts, and feelings.
Putting the audience on both sides of the fence raised questions on what freedom means for these women. It was a metaphor of the notion ‘on the fence’ and ‘the border line’. The Un-knitted lives of young women was a memorable ‘moment of being’, an allegorical way of breaking boundaries and creating an empathetic in-between space and time for a communal live action.
With this piece Anne and Poshya enacted the importance of ‘talking back’, which enabled these women to be recognized and rewrite the history of what and who they are, to explore their existing identities and to create new ones, as well as to connect in an equalitarian action with other beings. Moving from silence into speech is for those who stand and struggle side by side a gesture of defiance that makes possible some kind of hope in a new life and new growth. The women act of speech, of ‘talking back’, was not a mere gesture of empty words. It was an action of dignity and not of victimhood, as ‘knowing subjects’ that speak and act in the world with the right to signify.
Anne Bean, also offered a public talk about PAVES a collaborative project with other four women around the world, based in their actions/reactions against visa-issues, borders and the impossibility to take Poshya out of Iraq. Also, she conducted a workshop leading to her performance specifically conceived for BE FESTIVAL.
Statement form Anne Bean, 2011
‘For several years I have been working with the young Iraqi artist Poshya Kakl, making several public actions together, both in Iraq and through Skype. She has just made a film Knitting Iron with women inside a jail in Iraq, imprisoned for refusing arranged marriages. These women feel safer inside prison than out. Poshya wrote: “We make pieces of Art and of cultural beauty out of the prison wire fencing with the un-knitted lives of young girls, victims of social and cultural rules. These very rules that can at any moment un-knit other lives outside the prison.” I will interact with the film that she made of this action, along with many participants. The film is screened for the first time outside of Iraq at BE FESTIVAL.’