Burdens of Representation? Contemporary theatre by minority artists in Britain

Lecture Room 8 - Arts Building
Monday 27 November 2017 (17:15-18:30)
  • Seminar from the Centre for Contemporary Literature and Culture
  • Professor Peter Morey (Birmingham), Dr Asha Rogers (Birmingham) and Dr Rehana Ahmed (QMUL)
  • Curated by Dr Asha Rogers & Dr Hannah Boast

Burdens of Representation? Contemporary theatre by minority artists in Britain

This seminar will focus on the controversies surrounding two plays by minority British artists which addressed contentious themes of patriarchal violence and radicalisation. Taking the form of two linked papers by Rehana Ahmed and Peter Morey, the seminar will explore the burden of representation carried by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti, and Homegrown, by Omar El-Khairy and Nadia Latif.

Behzti (2004) is read alongside and in dialogue with the dispute triggered by its staging at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre which resulted in the termination of the production. This paper focuses on three issues that are central to both the literary text and the social text: space – the space of the gurdwara within the play and beyond, the space of the theatre which staged both play and protest – symbols and speech. Exploring how religion, class and race interact in the play and its reception, it seeks to complicate the reductive binary of religious censorship versus secular freedom that so often frames faith-based freedom of speech controversies in Britain. 

Homegrown (2015) was to be an ambitious site-specific play, conceived in response to a National Youth Theatre commission at a time when young British Muslims were travelling to Syria to join so-called Islamic. State. El-Khairy and Latif aimed to subvert and question their brief – to provide a supposedly ‘authentic’ insight into youth radicalisation – in a performance involving a moving audience ‘encountering’ different viewpoints articulated by pupils in a school setting. However, the play was unceremoniously cancelled shortly before it was due to open, the NYT citing a range of shifting and contradictory reasons. This talk considers the implications of indirect censorship on the so-called burden of representation and the mechanisms maintaining existing hierarchies that marginalise ‘minority’ art. It asks whether – in refusing to provide a linear, ‘informative’ and morally directive narrative – Homegrown was punished for failing to follow the sanctioned script for art by and about Muslims, thereby betraying the ‘trust’ placed in its Muslim creators by the NYT.

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