The Women Of Freedom Square is a devised work-in-progress piece of community theatre, led by the Manchester-based Sheba Arts, an organisation which aims to give marginalised, migrant and refugee communities a voice through art. It's an awareness-raising exercise, but the world of The Arts, especially theatre, can be a very powerful and political tool if used correctly.
Since it was the first time that any of the cast had ever set foot on a stage before, and the stories they told were deeply personal and emotive, it would be very unfair of me to critique anything at all about the artistic elements of the 50 minute production. Instead allow me to give you a little background to the piece and how it evolved.
Taking inspiration from the so-called 'Blue Girl': a young lady who, after being arrested and imprisoned for trying to enter a football stadium dressed as a man in Tehran, set herself on fire when she came away from her trial. And so this evening's play was set in that city, Tehran, the capital of Iran, a country in both political and religious turmoil. The play focused on 5 seperate stories, instances where women have tried to break away from the uber-rigid controls set on women in Iranian society. In fact one could almost say that the play as it stands at the moment is more a statement about male patriarchy than about the subjegation of women. I said I would not speak of artistic merit here, however, the decision to use just one male performer and yet have him half-concealed with his back to the audience as he spoke, was a hugely symbolistic and imageful idea.
The performance was delivered in two languages, sometimes in English, and as the play progressed, more and more in the language of Iran, Farsi - and the English translations were displayed on a screen above. Sadly the screen and the dialogue were often out of sync, but that is a minor issue. Whilst we learned much about life in Iran and how such things as not allowing women into football stadiums - something we in the UK take for granted and is indeed just a simple, basic human right for all - is forbidden there and the punishments are more than harsh, often ending tragically. The other storylines offered were a lady being imprisoned for organising a fashion show - for women only - where the models 'disgraced' their religion by wearing western clothes, dancing, and neglecting to wear the hijab. For flaunting 'sexual promiscuity' the punishment is execution. How a young Anglo-Iranian student over there visiting during the 2017 earthquake was imprisoned for helping a charity deliver aid directly to the needy. This, more than the other stories I think shocked me, since this seemed the most idiotic rule.. surely the country would be only too glad of outside help in such a time...?! Another woman for not wearing her hijab properly and another - a British reporter - for trying to interfere, speak with and report things which are 'forbidden'. Thus, without such plays as the one presented this evening, how is anyone ever going to know the truth and be able to do something about it.
I fear that Iran is not the only country to be repressing female expression, and whatever we think either of the religion or the politics of these countries, we must surely give every citizen the right to make their own minds up. Congratulations to Sheba Arts for your bravery at exposing such injustices and to the performers too for their perspicacity and determination to tell their stories. I often think that living in the UK is not easy; we are a deeply troubled, riotous, unsafe and state controlled society. It takes stories like these to shake me awake and realise just how lucky we are to be living here.
See the original review on the link below:
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5 de Junio de 1995
My name is Sally Hilton and I am from Guatemala. I came to the UK a frew years ago.
I have been working as a volunteer since entering the United Kingdom. I was a volunteer with the Liverpool Foundation and Migrant Support where I had my experience in introducing myself for the first time at a Refugee event. My teacher discovered that I had talent then I contacted Sheba Arts to attend their workshops.
I have been dancing since I was 7. But Sheba Art opened the door for me and allowed me to share my culture and tradition and trained me to become a dancer and performer. Sheba Art workshops helped me discover my talents and gave me confidence on stage. Dance Away the Spiders was my first experience with theatre and it helped me gain confidence and establish my dance company lxcanul Art.
My plan for the future is to work with people from all over the world and explore their dance styles, atttending workshops and teach them to discover their art.
I want to thank Sheba Arts, Migrant Support and Journeys Festival for supporting me as a dancer and painting model artist.
Fereshteh Mozaffari is the founder of of Sheba Arts and has lived in two different countries, Iran and the UK. Bring Me the Mountain is her new work in progress, which delves into the devastating impact that being a refugee can have on mental health. Although it firmly states in the programme that this is not autobiographical, Mozaffari brings her experiences into a fictional character, Oraman, who flees a war zone, coming to the UK with hopes of piecing her life back together.
Fereshteh Mozaffari’s Bring Me The MountainOraman’s fragmented mental health is effectively mirrored in the play’s structure. As she suffers flashbacks of war and memory loss, the narrative switches between the past and present, causing confusion amongst the audience, and for the protagonist. Consulting the doctor about her health, Oraman is subject to a crude interrogation with absurd questions for someone who is clearly distressed, an interrogation by a British doctor that almost shames the patient into believing that they are at fault for their condition.
“Why should I speak the truth when you don’t believe me?”
Mozaffari deftly turns Oraman’s mental collapse into a traditional piece of dance, Sufi whirling to the rhythm of a Daf. This Whirling Dervish dance isn’t peaceful though, in fact it is difficult to watch, as she physically struggles, her arms reaching out for support. This inner conflict eventually turns into a meditative trance, and she discovers her centre of gravity, finding inner peace and tranquillity. It is a remarkable piece of physical theatre that profoundly translates the character’s mind transforming from fragmentation into wholeness.
It came as a surprise to me in the show’s Q&A session that Fereshteh Mozaffari is relatively inexperienced as an actor. Although creativity has always been an outlet, this is usually in writing poetry and plays, and she rarely actually performs. It is a testament to the director, Szilvi Naray-Davey, that she manages to get the most out of Mozaffari as an actor. To be able to portray such emotional torment throughout the performance deserves the utmost credit. It mustn’t be easy to relive those experiences.
Sophie Tyrell‘s stage design remarkably adds a surrealist setting for what is a piece rooted in emotional realism, creating an effective juxtaposition. A vast sheet of paper covers the floor, transcending into the air at the rear of the stage. In a significantly symbolic moment, the white paper is torn to shreds by Oraman, a bold statement of resilience and freedom, and an explosive release of energy.
By elevating the paper, Tyrell’s design forms a screen for Kooj Chuhan‘s visual elements to be projected onto. Surreal mouths break through the paper, taunting Oraman within her conscience, or visually providing a mouth for the doctor and policemen who interrogate the character. Faceless, these machinations are deeply disturbing, show the autonomy and bureaucracy of the state.
As a work in progress, Bring Me The Mountain is an accomplished piece of theatre and provides a strong foundation, with only small improvements required. There is a video which feels out of place in a piece that focuses on inner conflict. It would be more effective being performed on stage, rather than filmed outdoors.
I also feel like there can be more variety in mood, as it purposefully feels quite sombre. There are comical moments in the play that provide uplifting moments of humour, such as Oraman’s druggie neighbour who steals from charity shops, but these are only touched upon, and it would be nice to see them expanded.
Nonetheless, this is a piece that is as effective in its storytelling as it is in its design. An interesting clash between interior mental health and surrealist design, Bring Me The Mountain has plenty of potential. It also shows what a gifted writer and performer Fereshteh Mozaffari is.
To see the original text click here.
Refugee Week is an opportunity to celebrate multi-culturalism and the contributions of refugee communities and individuals to our society and there was no better illustration of this that Sheba Arts' 'Diversity and Friendship' festival in Stockport.
The event was an uplifting and triumphant celebration that united the local Hazel Grove community and a wonderful variety of highly talented acts bringing their skills, their cultural traditions, heritage and love of the arts and expression to St Peter's Parish.
Although our selection of performances is a drop in the ocean of the North West's diverse community, together we demonstrated just how privileged we are to have the world on our streets.
We were joined by many amazing talents who helped to turn the evening into the most lively and inspiring occasion by sharing their cultural traditions and talents with the local community.
We enjoyed amazing performances including Irish dancers from St Peter's Parish, no doubt bringing pride and joy to the local community, many of whom revealed they were of Irish descent. We also enjoyed Guatemalan dancing from Sheba Art's own Sally Perez Hilton, performing her own Ixcanul Art project in her traditional Mayan influenced style. The room was on fire for the amazing Malayalee Association of Stockport MAS representing the state of Kerala with their Bollywood and Classical dance act.
Kurdish artist Amang brought us a wonderful paint-to-music spectacle along with Irish music from Lizzy, Connor, Dave and Abbey.
We even enjoyed traditional Morris dancing from Brendan and Dave who led the heavily audience-inclusive Country Dance with all the attendees dancing rounds on stage accompanied by Lizzy on the violin (who had performed earlier in the evening with Dave). We also were honoured to hear Lucy's wonderful singing and poetry from Jolivia.
The evening finally reached it's crescendo with the Culture Bridge organisation. These Kurdish artists had opened the festival with their musical act, and now they rightly would finish the event with the energy and spirit that only a Kurdish dabke can summon, bringing the whole audience to the stage for the final dance.
Meanwhile, the children were challenged to create their own flag designs for nations of their own invention or new designs for existing places and also had the opportunity to enjoy a drumming circle.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the event and helped to make this such a successful and special celebration of diversity from the acts, to the workshop facilitators, to the catering and the wonderful people of St Peter's Parish. We were also profoundly honoured to be supported by Stockport Council.
Fereshteh Mozaffari featured in Mancunian Matters: 'Creativity saved my life': Sheba Arts founder chats Celebrating Diversity - finding new refugee narratives
[View original article here]
When Fereshteh Mozaffari Vanani attended a national conference on cultural diversity, she was shocked to be the only black person in a room of 200 attendees.
In May 2018, Fereshteh founded Sheba Arts, a Manchester-based collective tackling this problematic representation of migrant communities in the arts.
After previously working as a journalist in Iran, Fereshteh moved to the UK in 2010 to start a new life as a multidisciplinary creative artist. With an acclaimed one-woman show, One More Push, and an MA in Creative Writing under her belt, she is determined to use her experience to support other underrepresented voices.
“I had a problem with the narratives created for refugees in the arts and I felt like we needed self-advocacy and to speak for ourselves,” Fereshteh, who now lives in Ardwick, told MM.
“In this society, there is too much hostility about refugees. We need new narration – we need to exist and have a presence through art.”
After attending several seminars on diversity, Fereshteh was concerned by the lack of BAME representation in leadership roles and Sheba Arts was borne from the desire to return agency to the artist.
“When you don’t invite diverse art leaders, there will be no diverse audiences,” she said on the irony of cultural diversity panels led by white men.
Launched only a year ago, Sheba Arts works as a self-advocacy group for artists from marginalised migrant communities.
The network of freelancers lead projects to empower women from these diverse backgrounds while encouraging cross-cultural dialogue and facilitating social integration across Manchester.
The group have worked closely with HOME, Journeys Festival International and Community Arts North West (CAN) on a number of projects. A five-day performance lab, Explore Your Drama, was facilitated by Journeys Festival to help women from migrant communities develop their own writing and drama skills.
This project developed into Dance Away the Spiders, a dance performance created by a group of refugee and asylum seeker women for Push Festival at HOME. The show received fantastic feedback from Arts Council England for the liberating performances.
“They really enjoyed how the women took ownership of the space. Behind the scenes, these women were going through a lot – displacement, abuse, torture – and people had an insight into their lives,” Fereshteh said.
NOT A 'NOBODY'
Sheba Arts also take their community projects to areas in Greater Manchester that are less engaged with the arts. The latest project, Explore Your Storyteller, works with women from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds in Leigh, Wigan and Bolton and focuses on the positive sharing of cultures.
Funded by the Lottery Community Fund, the workshops combine a variety of arts practices and they end with participants sharing songs, dance and costumes from their own cultures.
The participants are from various backgrounds with many arriving in Manchester from Guatemala, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Iran and Syria.
“They are all shy at first and some of them can’t speak any English,” Fereshteh said.
“We help them to express themselves through their own language and dance is always an easy way to connect with other people.”
Most importantly, Sheba Arts gives these women agency over their own creative output. As creative director, Fereshteh brings together a strong team of freelancers but ultimately, their role is to support the participants to create their own stories.
The project will culminate with a sharing event in Wigan on June 19.
“I think it’s very important that we value them firstly as human beings,” she said.
“Some of the participants are so educated – they have PHDs and have been on top of their game.
“Being an asylum seeker or refugee, it does not mean that you are nobody here.
“I am so lucky to have people around me that share the same values and we learn from each other in a very beautiful collaboration.”
On June 23 during Refugee Week, Sheba Arts will put on a festival called Celebrating Diversity in collaboration with Kudac Arts Centre.
“We didn’t want to call it a refugee-led festival as the word ‘refugee’ can be traumatising.
“Being a refugee is an experience – you leave it and it is finished. It does not become your identity.”
The festival will take place at St Peter’s Parish Hall in Stockport, an area with a diverse migrant community. The Hazel Grove event will welcome everybody and activities will include Irish dancing, Kurdish music and Afghan music.
CREATING A LEGACY
The next step for Sheba Arts is registering as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) to receive charity status. Although they aim to support all marginalised voices, they would like to remain a women-led organisation.
“We are not limited to performing arts or any geographical location and I am looking to collaborate with other organisations nationwide,” Fereshteh said.
“We have to create opportunities to empower underrepresented communities and give them space to explore. In the long term, this helps with integration and bringing people together.
“My aim is to produce high-quality work because refugee art is sometimes about sympathy. If you go to a community project, there is often nothing outside of that.
“In terms of developing skills, I think there should be a follow-up when you do a project. There should be access to training and other opportunities – a legacy.”
Alongside her work as “jack of all trades” at Sheba Arts, Fereshteh is working on a follow-up to her one-woman show One More Push after receiving funding. It will be produced in October this year and continue to explore her journey from her hometown of Isfahan to her current residence in Ardwick.
“I never expected to live this life,” Fereshteh said, reflecting on her experiences.
“To be an artist, you may be poor but you are in a constant creative mood.
“Creativity saved my life and I can’t do any other job now because this is what makes me truly happy.”
MUSIC AND DANCE WORKSHOP
I was commissioned by Sheba Arts to deliver a Music and Dance workshop for their new Explore Your Storyteller project in Leigh on Friday, 22 March 2019.
I was looking forward to the experience, but I was not sure what to expect as we did not know which of the women would turn up for the workshops, which are drop-ins in nature. I had prepared an outline of work. The women had been asked to bring a piece of music from their country, something that provokes a memory and/or a piece of dance. As is usually the case, people don’t bring music as they need encouragement from a tutor, so I introduced a song that brought back memories of my own childhood: “Cielito Lindo”, by Luis Alberto del Parana y su Trio los Paraguayos. I explained that my mother used to sing this as a lullaby to me when I was a child and we studied the lyrics.
We had four ladies at the workshop: two from Kinshasa in the DR Congo and two from Zimbabwe. The Zimbabweans were sisters and they explained that they had come from a small village and they did not have a radio or TV, so were not exposed to music until they moved to Harare when they were older. They then developed an interest African music and R&B. The Congolese ladies shared two songs about motherhood and became quite emotional remembering their own mothers back home. The songs were “Maman by Papa Wemba and “Limbisa Nga Maman” by Gatho Beevans. They even sang the songs to us.
Fereshteh Mozaffari from Sheba Arts then explained that music was banned in Iran following the revolution and so their family had had to destroy their music collection.
We then decided it was time to dance! This is where my 15 years as a world music DJ came into its own. I played some African and Latin dance music and soon we were all sharing dance moves. Even one of the Zimbabwean ladies who had a pulled shoulder muscle couldn’t resist the opportunity! Finally, Fereshteh shared a traditional Isfahan dance with us and some of us also joined in. The whole experience was a positive sharing of cultures and really uplifting. I am looking forward to the next workshop in April.
27 March 2019
Sheba Arts and Kudac Arts Centre are working together to bring a refugee-led festival to Manchester for Refugee Week 2019.
The event will take place on 21st June and we are inviting artists to approach us with any interest you may have in helping to bring this festival to life.
If you are an artist (whether a performer, film-maker, visual artist, musician) and you would like to be part of this special event, send us an email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was my first time meeting the 'Explore Your Storyteller' participants and it's safe to say that we were all in the same boat. We were all feeling shy and didn't know what to expect.
It is always incredibly difficult to know where to begin, especially with something as broad as visual arts. How can you know what everyone will like, find exciting or have a feel for without knowing anything about them? So I took on this first workshop as means of discovering more about the participants and not to put too much pressure on them to bring out masterpieces.