Volume 47 Number 33

Take it all off

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER In the downstairs den of her Noe Valley home, director Vidhu Singh and her cast are rehearsing some of the opening scenes in a madcap and punchy satirical revue making its US premiere at the Brava Theater this week. In the center of the room, to the driving beat of some irresistible Eastern pop, an MC (played by veteran improv actor-teacher Mick Laugs) introduces the diverse ensemble in the manner of a runway fashion show, as each character parades to the front of the stage to strike a pose in her or his burqa — because, female or male, just about everyone wears a burqa in this play.

Especially in this domestic setting, the whole project seems a good-natured and relaxed affair. At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the charge that comes with the satirical appropriation of this politically fraught piece of clothing, or miss the serious intention behind every comical line and gesture. For all its campy humor, Burqavaganza is a defiant piece of political theater — and, it turns out, a critique of much more than an embattled piece of female attire.

Written by award-winning Pakistani playwright, journalist, and human rights activist Shahid Nadeem, Burqavaganza sends up authoritarianism and extremism at large, the burqa becoming a byword for various public masks and ideological certainties thrown around by both sides in the tangled “war on terror.” The word itself is woven obsessively into the dialogue like a ubiquitous fabric, its constant iteration — including in names and titles — making for a comical punctuation that sounds more and more absurd as time goes on. By the end, “burqa” becomes a nonsense word, burbling on the surface of an irrational state of affairs churned by deeper interests and forces that otherwise go unnamed.

First produced in Lahore by the Ajoka Theatre Company — co-founded by Nadeem and wife Madeeha Gauhar (the play’s original director) — Burqavaganza was quickly banned by the Pakistani government after complaints from women members of a fundamentalist political party. That has not stopped it being mounted in various provinces of the country, however. As for its US debut, director Singh thinks it has something to offer local audiences beyond just entertainment.

“It seems to me that people want to talk about issues, but they don’t have a way of addressing the debate about the burqa; and the play does that using humor and satire. That makes it very accessible. It humanizes the characters while highlighting the debate,” Singh says. “I think the divide between the West and Islam is so sharp. The play tries to address both sides of the divide. On the one hand, it offends conservative Muslims, who think basically you’re making fun of the burqa. On the other hand, it’s also a critique of the West and the US’s attitude toward Islam, and parodies the war on terror. So it sort of offends people on both sides — and it’s funny, so it works.”

Positioning itself somewhere between Islamist extremism and Western imperialism, Burqavaganza critiques both from the ground of human dignity and respect for human rights. Such principled critique is more widespread throughout Muslim-majority countries than many here in the West might suspect, according to human rights lawyer and author Karima Bennoune, whose new book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), is a far-flung firsthand survey of artists, intellectuals, and activists across the Muslim world combatting Islamist extremism in the cultural realm. Among the artists she profiles are Nadeem and Guahar. (In fact, she adapts her title from a line in another Ajoka Theatre play, Bulha). Bennoune says Ajoka has proved more outspoken in their critique of Muslim fundamentalism “than many liberal circles or diaspora populations in the West dare to be.”

“What is perhaps most remarkable is that the Ajoka Theatre Company debuted this play, complete with its satire of burqa-obsessed extremists, in Pakistan in 2007, as political violence was on the rise — and only about a month after the nearby killing of the 36-year-old Punjab minister for social welfare, the women’s rights advocate Zil-e Huma Usman,” says Bennoune in a recent email correspondence. “Her murderer said she was not sufficiently covered in her shalwar kameez [a traditional South Asian dress]. As I write in my book, the real ‘Burqavaganza’ was right there, just outside the theater door.”

For all its humor and high spirits, Burqavaganza has the potential to provoke questions as well as debate among the Bay Area audiences who come to see it. But that, enthuses Bennoune, is all to the good.

“The importance of a production of this kind in the US now after the Boston bombings — when there is still such a limited space to offer a sharply critical yet non-discriminatory response to the terrible mentality that accompanies jihadism — cannot be overstated. After all, as Nadeem reminds us, ‘We all live in a Burqavaganza.'”

BURQAVAGANZA

Through June 2

Opens Thu/16, 8pm; runs Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm, $20

Brava Theater Center

2781 24th St, SF

www.brava.org

 

Fair play

4

arts@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART It’s art fair time again. Last year there were three, this year there are only two, though it looks like artMRKT, which is taking over now defunct SF Fine Art Fair’s slot at Fort Mason, has pretty much absorbed the former’s area galleries. ArtPadSF, the more festive of the two fairs, will again be renting out all the rooms at the Tenderloin’s Phoenix hotel. (Both fairs run Thu/16-Sun/19). I can’t help but wonder, will there be synchronized swimming again in the pool this year?

>>View a slideshow of our fair picks here

Say what you will about whether or not art fairs are a reasonable way to actually engage artworks in a serious way (read: they’re not), they do offer exposure to people that are worth knowing more about. With that in mind, here’s our locals only guide to Bay area artists — some emerging, some established — whose work you can catch at the fairs.

 

ARTPADSF

Andrew Benson, Johansson Projects

Benson’s sometimes gooey, sometimes crunkly digital video/experimental software work breathes some ragged, frenetic energy into the standard trope of “relationships between the body and technology.” His piece is scheduled to be projected from the Phoenix onto the six-story building next door at 8pm, Thu/16-Sat/18.

Justine Frischmann, Unspeakable Projects

Frischmann’s paintings look like something that one of those spiders on Benzedrine would make. If it lived inside an Etch A Sketch. And used neon spray paint. During a dust storm. Trust me, these are compliments.

David Hevel, Marx & Zavattero

Hevel makes collaged sculptures and sharp pop abstract paintings, usually riffing on American celebrity. His work at the fair will be very MTV 1983.

Scott Hove, Spoke Art

Will Oaklander Hove be showing one of his intensely drugged up fanged wall cakes, a knotted rope work installation, or a surrealism-on-meth painting? Yeah, it all sounds good to me, too.

Jason Kalogiros, Queen’s Nails Gallery

Kalogiros makes edgy, dense, cerebral, photo-based works, lately by manipulating found commercial images. I’m hoping to see a couple from his series of Cartier and Bvlgari watches.

Ed Loftus, Gregory Lind Gallery

Loftus does photorealism pretty much the right way, by marrying intense attention to detail with an obsessive and neurotic subject matter that crawls under your skin ever deeper the more time you spend with it. While you’re in Gregory Lind’s space, also check out Thomas Campbell and Jovi Schnell.

Matt Momchilov, Unspeakable Projects

Momchilov queers punk and rock fandom in the traditional sense of the word, meaning his paintings and sculpture snatch and redirect standard accoutrements of punk fanboys and girls to point that hardcore laser focus in new directions and at more fey subjects.

Gregg Renfrow, Toomey-Tourell

I won’t blame you one bit if you try to lick Renfrow’s luminous, vibrating color field abstractions. His meticulous, precise, wondrous paintings are like visual everlasting gobstoppers, and I fully expect that by the time I see ’em, they’ll have a layer of saliva all over.

Jonathan Runcio, Queen’s Nails Gallery

Runcio makes incisive 2 and 3D work that takes traditional hardedge abstraction in the art concrete vein, shacks it up with remnants of urban architecture, and has a post-formalist lovechild.

www.artpadsf.com

 

ARTMRKT

Johnna Arnold, Traywick Contemporary

The fair’s Collector’s Lounge will be showing Arnold’s video created to accompany the richly saturated, haunting landscape photos that will be showing offsite at the gallery.

Carol Inez Charney, Slate Contemporary

Charney’s complex photographs were the single most outstanding thing I saw last year at ArtPad. That’s complex like a personality, not like your taxes. A year later, I’m prepared for the brainfreeze again.

Amanda Curreri, Romer Young

Curreri’s precisely conceived conceptual color and abstract works are subtle in that they tend to yield only small nibbles at first pass, but they’re deceptive that way, and usually end up smacking you around by the time it’s all over.

Lauren DiCioccio, Jack Fischer Gallery

DiCioccio has recently been applying her super-meticulous needlework to fastidiously x-ing out individual letters in pages of books, as an act of both scrutiny and physical redaction of the received, mediated world.

Joshua Hagler, Jack Fischer Gallery

Somewhere in the Hamptons summer home where Glenn Brown and Lucian Freud are renting with Mark Tansey and Matthew Day Jackson, Hagler is stoned on the couch making fart noises with his armpits. That is also a compliment.

Claire Rojas, Gallery Paul Anglim

Sure Gallery Paul Anglim shows Barry McGee, but I’ll be looking at the Rojas paintings, whose hard edge and off-kilter abstractions of interior architectural spaces are spot-on and mesmerizing.

Diane Rosenblum, Slate Contemporary

Rosenblum switches up hyperanalytical and conceptual works that incorporate research, crowdsourced interactions, and photography. I’m hoping to see images from a series of recent photos that work Flickr comments into the image.

Dana Hart Stone, Brian Gross

I can’t wait to examine Hart Stone’s paintings up close, which in the past have been made by repeatedly transferring or printing antique images in rows onto canvas. Also at Brian Gross are Bay Area stalwarts Roy de Forest and Robert Arneson.

Esther Traugot, Chandra Cerrito

Traugot combines found organic objects with crochet. I know what you’re thinking, but this is not a Portlandia skit. She does it the right way, promise.

www.art-mrkt.com/sf