Crisis of representation of Afghan culture: an analysis of kaikavus and heartbeat: silence after the explosion

Chow, Edmund (2021) Crisis of representation of Afghan culture: an analysis of kaikavus and heartbeat: silence after the explosion. In: The Routledge companion to applied performance: Volume Two - Brazil, West Africa, South and South East Asia, United Kingdom, and the Arab World. Routledge, Oxon, UK, pp. 375-386. ISBN 9780367134433

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Item Type: Book Section
Title: Crisis of representation of Afghan culture: an analysis of kaikavus and heartbeat: silence after the explosion

The common perception that Afghanistan is devoid of culture due to the extremely conservative ideology left behind by the Taliban is far from the truth. This trope which I call cultural desertification is part of a larger matrix enmeshed by international relations and postcolonial re-imaginings. From arena dog-fights to buzkashi (Afghan polo with a headless carcass), and from traditional Pashtun attan (dance) to bacha bazi (cross-dressing dancers), the cultural landscape in Afghanistan has been inundated with contested and romanticised perceptions of what should be – or not be – considered as Afghan culture. Rather than attempt to argue what ‘is’ local Afghan culture, this chapter seeks to examine the imaginings of Afghanistan from the perspective of ‘circuit of culture’. Adapted from Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (1997), the ‘circuit of culture’ articulates the production–representation–identity–consumption–regulation of cultural practices constitutive of economic forces. More specifically, I use Homi Bhabha’s location of culture as the starting assumption that Afghan theatres (hence, Afghan cultures) are ‘located’ in the local – from Kabul. I shall examine two theatre performances – Kaikavus (directed by Haroon Noori, 2013) and Heartbeat: Silence after the Explosion (directed by a foreign director whose name has been withheld for security reasons, 2014) – to problematise the ‘location’ of Afghan culture as a contested space, especially in how ‘culture’ is influenced or determined by cultural stakeholders. The politics around Kaikavus demonstrated a tussle between a large corporation and a self-funded theatre director, and the issue of cultural ownership. Heartbeat: Silence after the Explosion, on the other hand, demonstrated a physical and discursive interruption to the usual ways of representation (for example, the blur between fact and fiction, postmodern and immersive theatre) when an actual bomb went off in the auditorium during the show. Because the actors were actors I had worked with when I was in Kabul (and had become personal friends), Heartbeat raises urgent questions for applied theatre practitioners, including myself, in how we should – or could – respond and stand side-by-side in relation with people who perform in spite of danger. Bhabha states that social differences “are the signs of the emergence of community envisaged as a project […] that takes you ‘beyond’ yourself in order to return, in a spirit of revision and reconstruction, to the political conditions of the present” (Bhabha, 1994). I will argue from a postcolonial framework that the project in producing, consuming, and regulating ‘an Afghan culture’ continues along tropes of victimisation both actual and imagined, which dislocates perceptions of the ‘local’ as a crisis separated from the ‘global’.

Subjects: Performing Arts
Divisions: Centre for Research in the Arts
Depositing User: Ms Ashalatha Krishnan
Date Deposited: 08 Apr 2021 09:35
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2021 09:35
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