This winter, I worked with a theatre production company called HERE in New York City, to help organize two theatre, music and art festivals- the Prototype Festival and Culturemart. I was attracted to working with HERE as each of its theatre productions, especially for the Prototype festival, had a social action component. Thumbprint is one of the operas that were featured in the Prototype festival, and during the first half of my internship I worked with the set designer, stage manager and technical director to curate this show.
Thumbprint is based on the life of Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped in 2002. When this happened, it was very rare for a woman to convict her rapists, as the Pakistan law required four male eyewitnesses to testify to the rape. Mukhtar Mai was one of the first women who brought her offenders to court and the won the case, which sentenced her rapists to death.
I am intrigued by how the story of a Pakistani woman has gained so much interest and is being revived by Americans. In 2011, five of the six accused men were acquitted, and the main culprit’s punishment was changed to life imprisonment. It is a travesty that such important cases of disempowerment of marginalized groups are often easily forgotten, and I applaud this effort for bringing fresh attention to this issue.
While discussing the possibility of Thumbprint being taken to Pakistan, I realized that there were not many opera productions in Pakistan and wondered how a local story would be perceived in a foreign art form. On the one hand, it could revive local concern for the issue since it is packaged in this new and mysterious way. On the other, it might distance people from the issue, and be seen as an effort to appeal only to the interests of a Western audience. It was clear to me that a lot of thought, and possible alteration might be necessary for the opera to create the intended impact with a different audience, something that I will continue to think about as I make my own work for diverse audiences. This opera clearly delineated to me how art and social sciences can find a bridge, and how art is integral to communicate social issues globally.
As part of the Thumbprint production, there was a talkback where the link between arts and human rights was explored. At this discussion, Mukhtar Mai skyped in and I had the opportunity to be her translator, facilitation communication between her, the panelists and the audience. This interaction made me greatly appreciate the libretto of opera. After speaking with Mukhtar Mai, I understood that the librettist had captured her spirit and dark humor so well in her work.
This FWT has been a great learning experience because I explored working in a theatre for the first time. Living in NYC has also been an incredible experience, and I was forced to teach myself a lot of basic survival skills, like being best friends with maps, cooking, and shoveling snow. Importantly, it has given me more confidence to continue exploring my own way of linking social action and art. Overall, it was a very exciting and eventful winter!