Shared History, the Indian Experience in South Africa is now in its 8th year. As always the theatrical experience brought out from India is one of the highlights of the festival, and sadly, the only one I managed to see this year. (Just too much on with Arts Alive and Dance Umbrella happening at the same time – a perennial complaint). The theatrical work this year was 9 Parts of Desire, an internationally acclaimed one-woman work by Heather Raffo. This work is being performed at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square.
Directed by Lillete Dubey and starring Ira Dubey this work looks at the lives of nine Iraqi women in the two decades between the 1990-91 Gulf War and the 2003 Gulf War, as well as the American Occupation of Iraq which went on from 2003 to 2011.
This is not easy viewing, and the seventy five minutes must be very hard on the actress who portrays, amidst Muslim calls to prayer, and with a variety of abayas, a Mulaya (a hired mourner who calls to women at Muslim funerals, Layal (based on a real painter, Layla Attar – and later we are invited to Google these characters) – a feminist painter and the main character of the play, Amal – a fat Bedouin woman abandoned by a prospective lover, Huda – an aging communist living in the past, a young doctor educated in the UK dealing with the aftermath of nuclear war, a woman in exile in London, an unnamed nine year old child whose mother took her out of school when the American soldiers occupied Iraq, Umm Ghada (the mother of Ghada) who lost her entire family in the Amiriyah Shelter Bombing on 13 February 1991 – a woman who is now the tour guide of that site, a young American Iraqi woman with family in Iraq and Nanna – a street peddler selling salvaged objects.
The strength of this work is in its script and one cannot be anything but horrified as Ira Dubey skillfully leads us through the futility and ugliness of war, the contemporary history of Iraq, the politics of corruption and unbelievable cruelty (makes Zuma look like a good guy) of Saddam and those he led, the difficulties of being a woman, rape, oppression and the complexities of life in exile and in one’s war torn and ravaged homeland.