Tell us what you made of this week’s Playdate At-Large, Matt Ford’s edition of the Playlist of local writing projects from the past five years. List, via liveblogging across various platforms, below, and let us know what you thought.
Artistic Director of Wexford Institute for Creative Arts, CEE-EMAN LAVET and Yaneer Al-Kifah / Love on the Rocks
June 2006. I’m out writing. I’ve just spent several hours with the best friend I have living in exile, Anissa – better known as MI Ana – who has just finished a short story on her experience as a Palestinian refugee while her husband was imprisoned in Israel and her parents were exiled by Israel. Her story, of course, is based on my own. Although her story is largely fictional, it could apply to the experience of millions, especially the experience of being moved into exile by the actions of another country.
I realized then and there that the lives and stories of dissident artists – I mean dissident writers as opposed to artists who just miss a trip to Cuba – represented a fertile field for future plays. And so began Love on the Rocks – a six-play project to celebrate the lives of South East Asian exile artists from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Yemen, as well as South Asian, North American, and Latin American exile artists living in exile.
Of course I’m now living in Canberra, but this project is still with me. The play is “Tattoo.” Love on the Rocks helps to highlight, through the work of the three artists featured in this play, the dissident practice of acquiring art in exile, with the view that it might one day be used as a public testament. But the play also argues that it’s only art that can do justice to the human condition and it can only do so as a product of the feelings, ideas, and experiences of someone living in exile. And I also think that the view that art is an escape from experience, and is ultimately a kind of self-serving celebration of aesthetic importance, is problematic and dangerous. Instead, art is a tool that can offer support and help to people deal with the world we live in. Art should not be afraid of real human experience, it should share this human experience with us, and it should help us to recognise what our world is and to develop strategies for dealing with it.
I see the artist’s exile as a wound – not as a symptom but as a symbol of some inherent fault that is present in the human condition. My own exile, like that of Anissa and Mi-Ana, is a result of a military coup d’etat. I grew up as the middle child and the one expected to lead the family. Not wanting to be seen as a leader, I took to singing and writing down. I majored in English and started a short story series on do-it-yourself knitting and crochet. I had my own clothing store in Canberra for a while. I also got married. On my honeymoon we drove to Cuba, where my parents were refugees and I was six years old.
I was embarrassed to be about to cross the border into Cuba but soon came to understand the sense of distance we all feel from the places we’re displaced from. At one point I couldn’t stop thinking about what I felt on that journey – and the feeling didn’t go away for some time. In any case the story became one of the main characters in Love on the Rocks and is now my play Tattoo.
I also wonder how good a play it would be if it was about a refugee’s return to her old home country? No, I don’t think it would be any good. But this is why I have always wanted to make it into a play – to discuss not just the exile of Anissa, Mi-Ana, and myself but also the exile of any artist in a dictatorship.