Last night JRC was honored to host a performance of the one-woman show “Unveiled,” by Rohina Malik. Breathtaking.
Rohina is a playwright, actress and solo artist of South Asian heritage who was born in London and emigrated to Chicago when she was 15. She is an impressive and important contemporary artist – and her identity as an American Muslim woman clearly plays an important role in her art.
“Unveiled” is constructed around five monologues by five Muslim women. During the course of the play, each of them greets the audience in turn, “welcoming” us with tea. Each woman tells the story of their lives, explains their Muslim culture and shares the experience of living as a Muslim woman in the post 9/11 world.
For her appearance at JRC last night, Rohina performed three monologues: “Maryam,” a Pakistani-American who has a dress making shop on Chicago’s Devon Avenue; “Shabana,” a young rapper of South Asian descent who was born and raised in London; and “Layla,” a Chicago restaurant owner from the Middle East who lost a brother to the fall of the twin towers.
It’s difficult to convey the cumulative effect these women had upon the audience. Rohina’s performances cut to the heart of painful and complicated political issues – but even more profound was the immediately empathy Rohina was able to conjure for us through these remarkable women. In a relatively short amount of time, she was able to bring us through an entire gamut of emotions – and in the end, the common humanity we shared with these women was palpable to everyone in the room.
Following the play we had an equally powerful post-performance discussion facilitated by the play’s director, Ann Filmer. Nearly 250 people were in attendance – including many members of the Chicagoland Muslim community – and it was truly a tribute to Rohina’s art that so many members of this large and diverse group were inspired to share deeply personal comments about their own lives and struggles.
If you live in the Chicago area, you should know that “Unveiled” will be starting a run at the Victory Gardens Theater on March 24. Highly, highly recommended.
Another exceptional event at JRC! Rohina’s stories were indeed moving and educational in their specificity about the challenges Muslim women face post-9/11. But the stories were equally powerful for their universality. Take the story of the young London rapper whose mom wants her to marry a doctor. Doesn’t she have a lot in common with the prototype of the Jewish mother? (And probably the Italian mother, the Greek mother, etc.) And the story of Layla had universal resonance too. How many of us have been in situations where we have a choice like Layla’s to make? Do we deal with a dangerous situation born of bigotry by trying to avoid or escape it? Or do we stand up for our beliefs and for others, even at risk to ourselves? The universality of Rohina’s women was as powerful to me as their specificity. And by presenting both the specific and universal, Rohina shows us the power that art to connect people.
I can’t agree more! I brought my 12 year old son and, while we had to leave during the post-play discussion (school night and all), we’ve continued talking about this performance all week. I will be bringing a Muslim colleague and a Catholic colleague to this play at Victory Gardens in order to continue the conversation and maybe even start it here on my community college campus.
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