— by guest writer Emma Crane Jaster —
I was first inspired to create To Know a Veil while traveling in Morocco a couple years ago. It was my first time in a predominantly Muslim country. As a Western woman, raised in America by a feminist mother, and as a dancer accustomed to expressing with my body, seeing all of these women who were totally covered was unnerving.
I didn’t understand why I was having such a strong reaction, and that lack of understanding is what pushed me to start making a piece.
I had gut, visceral reactions of cultural repulsion, the classic westerner’s: “These women are oppressed!” But, by literally putting myself in their shoes and trying the veil myself, I was surprised to find a whole new perspective on it and with that, a very different sense of freedom. The longer I stayed there and talked to other women and lived life as a woman who was covering herself (for the time I was there), it really opened up my perspective on it.
When I returned home and started to build To Know a Veil I started with research, because I think that’s always an important step when creating a piece about something that’s new to me. I did a lot of reading (on fashion, feminism, cultural stories, etc). And I conducted a lot of interviews with women of all kinds of backgrounds.
I had a friend in college who converted to Islam after we graduated and I had always wondered why she chose to do that, so I started with her and then I branched out and spoke with other people. I once chased a woman down on the street to get her to talk to me about why she was covered and ended up striking up a friendship with her!
Since the early stages of conception, To Know a Veil has been an ongoing collaborative effort amongst many contributing artists. Early performances were developed alongside painter Raye Leith and DC-based musician Unown contributed original beats that have, along with the interview subjects’ words, become the backbone of the piece, allowing it to flow effortlessly from dance to documentary to interactive party games. It is very important for every participant of To Know a Veil, from contributing artists to audience members, to have the chance to contribute their feedback and experience with the work.
When we had a workshop performance at Hillyer Art Space, I wanted each audience member to have the opportunity to share his or her voice. I had this idea to set out paper doll clothes and have the audience write their responses to the piece on the back. I got some AMAZING reactions. For example: “I feel least sexy at a dance club. Meat market….gross.” Or this one: “As a Muslim woman, I appreciated the views of different women you displayed. Women in veils aren’t oppressed and have a sense of humor.”
That response depicted to me a lot of why this piece has mattered so much. I’ve found there is very little dialogue between veiled and unveiled women. And I knew that even as someone who is “open-minded” and curious, I realized how little I knew about what life would be like veiled, and why people did it.
To Know a Veil is about women and our bodies and how we cover them and how we uncover them. It’s about the political and cultural implications of veiling, the fun of fashion and what it means to us personally, each day we make the decision to veil or unveil.
Join me at the Capital Fringe Festival in my exploration of the veil. There are only 3 chances to come play, learn and a-veil yourself of a truly intimate event.
This production is a part of the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival, a program of the Washington, DC non-profit Capital Fringe.
– Emma Crane Jaster is a local performance artist and puppeteer who has appeared in films and onstage with such companies as Constellation, Round House Theatre, Theater J, and Faction of Fools. She has also performed with her father, Mark Jaster, at Happenstance Theatre. –
Part of Fringe Peeks, our “in their own words” series