Performance and Politics - How can they work together?
My name is Asif Majid, and I’m a second-year PhD student in Anthropology, Media, and Performance. Broadly speaking, my work sits at the intersection of theatre and the lived experiences of marginalized communities. I research, teach, perform, and make work at this intersection in a variety of contexts and capacities.
(Storytelling | photo: the stoop)
My PhD research focuses on the ways in which applied theatre offers insights into the lives of British Muslim youth in Manchester. Through a series of workshops, performances, and interviews, I am facilitating a theatre-making process that addresses the sociopolitical narratives that British Muslim youth face. The process spans the current academic year (2017/18), after which point I will draw out common themes from the workshops, performances, and interviews in the writing of my thesis.
Both my academic trajectory and my current research straddle the worlds of performance and politics, bridging theory/practice and a wide variety of disciplines. Originally from the US, I earned my BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Global Peace Building and Conflict Management) at UMBC in 2013. In 2015, I completed a MA in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University. During both degrees, I focused on the ways in which the performing arts are used in conflict situations and social justice endeavors. Over time, my focus shifted from the broader arts to theatre in particular. This led me to pursue a PhD under the supervision of Prof. James Thompson at Manchester, who is one of the world’s leading experts on applied theatre. My program combines his expertise in Drama with the resources of the Social Anthropology department, such that I have a supervisor from each.
At the same time, I have been an active performer across a number of arts (music, theatre, etc.). This dovetailed with my research inquiries and has allowed me to use my knowledge of theatre and the wider arts to engage with British Muslim youth who are participating in my PhD project. I borrow heavily from a particular type of theatre known as “theatre of the oppressed,” which was developed by Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal. I also leverage a process known as “devising,” which involves making theatre by starting with an idea rather than a fixed script or text. In my case, the idea is the lived experiences of the project’s participants and how they want to represent those to a wider public. My task, essentially, is to facilitate a translation of their lived experiences into art.
My work is part of a broader
conversation in the UK’s (and the West’s) cultural sector, which is
increasingly thinking about how minority groups are represented in theatre,
music, and dance. In the UK, discourses tend to represent British Muslims in
largely negative ways: as foreigners, terrorists, or zealots. This project (and
my wider work) seeks to push back against these characterizations by putting
British Muslim youth at the center of the conversation about them, rather than
on its fringes. At the same time, it challenges the public conversation about
Britishness, which is continually looking for scapegoats and ways to equate
Britishness with Englishness and whiteness, despite the country’s beautiful
(as mowgli in The Jungle Book | photo: Brian Roberts)
Playwright Omar el-Khairy and director Nadia Latif on British Muslims and theatre (https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/apr/13/drama-in-the-age-of-prevent-why-cant-we-move-beyond-good-muslim-v-bad-muslim)
An important book about Britain’s current struggles with race and multiculturalism (https://unbound.com/books/the-good-immigrant/)
On changing the narrative around British Muslims (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/05/we-will-not-tackle-extremism-by-stigmatising-muslims)
A valuable book that critiques the ways that Muslimness is policed and securitized in the UK & US (https://www.versobooks.com/books/1765-the-muslims-are-coming)
About theatre of the oppressed (https://cardboardcitizens.org.uk/theatre-oppressed)
Drama at the University of Manchester (https://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/drama/)
Anthropology at the University of Manchester (http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/social-anthropology/)