“A Better Man: A personal Documentary about Violence Against Women“
FLAXzine 3, April 30th, 2018 / Article by Zeina Kanawati
An interview with the film’s director, who survived domestic violence and made a documentary featuring her abusive partner.
Canadian director Attiya Khan raises the issue of domestic violence in her documentary, A Better Man(2018), without any beautification. In this film, she reveals the intimate details of her relationship with the boyfriend she had twenty years ago, when she was only eighteen years old. Steve was her first love, and he began abusing her while they lived together. He was one year older than her, and was also his first relationship.
Steve was physically and emotionally abusive towards Attiya on a daily basis throughout their two-year relationship. She was afraid to escape, and although they attended the same high school, no one helped her, despite the brutal signs of violence and bruises on her body.
Attiya managed to run away one day, after facing the fact that she might die if she stayed in the relationship.
Twenty years later, her body has healed, but she never recovered on the inside, and she feels the need to continue processing what happened, and why it happened to her. So, she decided to get in touch with Steve again to ask him: “Have you become a better man?”
The film revolves around Attiya and Steve, who agreed to be interviewed on camera to talk about what happened twenty years ago, in an unusual confrontation where he spoke up about many of his violent acts in detail.
Steve stands helpless in front of Attiya’s camera, and is unable to offer an apology. But he does have the courage to bear the full responsibility for his actions in the past, in order to help heal the psychological wounds deep inside.
I (ZK) recently conducted the below interview with Attiya Khan (AK).
ZK: It was remarkable that Steve had been given a place in the film to look like a good man, despite everything he did.
AK: That’s exactly what I wanted. Some people believe that those who practice violence against their partners in life are absolute evils, but the truth is that they are often good people who do bad things, and have no way of changing them. Steve was a smart and funny man, and he had his whole range of emotions, which anger and violence were some of them, and that’s what makes him a human being. I was also portraying myself the same way, with all different range of emotions, as I was sometimes angry, sad and weak. Other times, curious and even excited. I wanted us to look exactly as we are in real life. The ordinary people who have so many contradictions.
ZK: You managed to make me show empathy to someone who has been physically and psychologically abusive towards you; how did you achieve that?
AK: Actually, I completed the missing part in our societies, because usually we don’t ask the people who hurt us to come, talk, and take the responsibility for their actions. It’s what’s missing, because we’re not asking women: What do you really want after that person had hurt you, what do you need to heal and find justice? You would think many would say ‘I want him to go to prison,’ but the truth is when you ask them, all they want is for the violence to stop. As prison does not often provide a better solution, because after the man is out he will go back to his violent acts again. What he really needs is professional help to stop the violence. However, prison might be the only solution left in special cases.
ZK: Have you reached your inner recovery which you have been looking for over the past 20 years?
AK: It may seem surprising to you, but at the beginning of the project I told my family that I might have a severe bout of depression. I did not know how I could face that person again and go back to the same places where I experienced the worst conditions of my life. But, I have fully recovered, the nightmares are no longer visiting me, and I am no longer afraid. I was able to tell my story publicly, and make it a useful experience for both sides in this kind of bad relations.
ZK: It’s typical for women in such cases to be victimized by the society, which characterize them as the weaker part of the relationship, but you showed an exceptional strength, where he seemed weak and in need for help. But, to be honest, were you scared of facing him again?
AK: It was very scary, especially since today’s society avoids talking about these topics, and there are not many people you can trust to talk about such a situation. The construction of a modern society imposes limits of privacy that prevent a helping hand. I had always run away from my house full of wounds and no one came near me to help. People around me in school and neighbourhood had always noticed the effects of harassment, but they didn’t come close to help me. Everyone thought it was not so bad, and when I talked about it they asked me why I stayed in the relationship. They didn’t know how much fear the victim has in such cases, and no one goes to the abuser to ask him: Why are you choosing violence? How can we help you to stop? I think that if we do not open this side of the debate with the perpetrators of violence, we will never be able to solve the problem.
Director Attiya Khan continues her personal, lifelong healing process, and continues to help a lot of women. She urges everyone to recognize their right to obtain a better life, to face the injustice and leave all abusive relationships. “You have to learn that you can be a very happy person when you’re alone, you don’t need a man by your side if this man is hurting you in anyway,” Attiya said.
Zeina Kanawati- Prague
“Be an art teacher!”
FLAXzine 2, April 4th, 2018 / Article by Lanna Idriss
A plea for becoming an art teacher.
We all remember our school times, and we remember some of our teachers. There are many good, but also multiple bad memories. In general, teaching doesn’t have a great reputation as a career. But is this unsexy image of life as a teacher fair?
Watch this Facebook video by Australian comedian Tim Minchin, and let’s focus on Life Lesson Number 6:
This internationally well-received speech has something to say about teaching: ‘Be a teacher, please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.’
I actually love teaching. Usually I teach Economics and Management classes, but I also host workshops on cultural management, and the experience you gain and share by interacting with students is amazing. These are the moments in life when you have the chance to really achieve something. When a student asks a question that you have never thought of yourself; when you begin a discussion, ignoring the content of the day’s schedule, just letting it flow. These moments open souls and minds. I remember a special moment when one of my university teachers spoke about Kafkas Verwandlungwith so much passion that I am smiling now, even 20 years later.
So, dear artists, musicians, dancers, actors – why not share the passion inside of you with others? If Tim Mitchin’s words do not inspire you, here is some information about your financial situation:
59% of fine artists and 56% of the writers cannot live solely through their art (according to a Morgenpost Article from 2014).
In Germany in 2017, 1,5 Billion EUR was spent on arts and culture. This is around 0,5% of the annual spending of the entire country – around 329 Billion in 2017. A lot of money, that’s the good news; the bad news is, this is not spent on artist fees. The majority goes to art education and institutions. So: a second reason to be an art teacher!
If this is still not enough to convince you, the number of job opportunities is much greater. How many job opportunities are there in cultural management: cultural science, cultural education, cultural work, cultural heritage, cultural philosophy, cultural journalism, culture & technology, etc.
So, be a sexy intellectual artist and be an art teacher; rejoice in what you’ve learned and spray it!
Reflections on Arts and education
FLAXzine 2, April 4th, 2018 / Article by Tanja Knaus
I work in the field of cultural education, engaging youth across Berlin in intercultural and political issues through artistic workshops in the mediums of film, installation, and performance. I work closely with youth centres, museums, schools and artistic institutions to share knowledge and help young people access artistic education. Currently, I´m also managing FLAX’s educational projects, running workshops on fundraising in the arts, writing grant applications and managing the organization’s funding streams. I was also part of the founding team of nomadicArt, a platform for empowering newcomers through cultural activities and knowledge exchange, based at the Zentrum fur Kunst und Urbanistik (ZK/U).
Professor Barend van Heusden from the University College Groningendeclares: ‘Cultural education consists of the capacity for reflection.’ Youth and young adults learn through cultural education – which can be journalism, history, or the arts – to reflect on their own culture, the cultures of others and culture in general. The arts play an especially important role in cultivating self-awareness, cultural self-consciousness, philosophy, and learning about civil engagement.
This article is a brief reflection on my experiences in the field, and unpacks some of the challenges and concerns I encounter working in these kids of open settings. ‘Open settings’ are educational formats that exist outside of the usual school system or university institution. Those formats are mostly workshops, which run for a week or two, are free of charge and in which it is not mandatory to participate. They are mostly offered by youth clubs, independent nonprofit organizations, museums or other institutions, some of them private or state-funded. People participate in these programs of their own free will, which makes it more difficult to encourage youth or young adults to take them seriously.
Additionally, most of these programs are dependent on various state funding received on a yearly basis. This means that the funding isn’t stable, and the organization is forced to raise money each year, often from a “new” source with a completely “new” project. This puts a lot of pressure on cultural educators to reinvent the programming each time. It also means that it is harder for smaller organizations (not-for-profits, mostly) to receive stable funding with which they can offer a specific course with the same participants over a longer period of time.
Theater X, a brilliant youth theatre space in Berlin, engages with diverse social groups, focusing specifically on young people with migration backgrounds. Their youth work is highly political and works to empower their participants. This year, Theater X is focusing on the theme “heimat,” collaborating and working with exchange programs in various countries in Africa and South America. Even though some of their groups and productions are not continuously funded, they refuse to stop these projects simply because they struggle to finance them. You can’t simply stop working with groups of young people who are vulnerable. They need the feeling of belonging. Of course, it is still very difficult for the teachers and institution to invest free labour, especially in the cultural education sector, whose work is already underpaid.
How can we overcome these kinds of challenges within our organizations and as individuals? What structures and support networks can be fostered between different organizations? I think we as individuals and organizations need to collaborate more to help each other form a sustainable balance in our work.
Women in the world of Arts: How can we crack it?
FLAXzine, March 2nd, 2018 / Article by Lanna Idriss
The title of the series of images by the German artist, Annegret Soltau, created in 1978, is: ‘Ich bedrückt,’ or, ‘Me depressed.’ The work suggests a psychological depth and spreads melancholia. The artist herself fades away. The transformation into a cocoon shows us a level of isolation and secession that challenges us as soon as we process the information that the art work was produced right after Annegret Soltau learned that she was pregnant.
In summer 2016 when Marina Abramovic said that having children would have been a disaster for her work, a massive discussion arose. As there are just a few female superstars in the art world –Abramovic being one of them – we should not be surprised that the responses were rough and judgmental. The conflict in society around whether women can obtain equality and be rewarded with the same opportunities for participation as men very much extends to the world of arts. Perhaps it is even more strongly felt than in other sectors. Why? The image of the women as the saint and/or the whore has been depicted nowhere as intensely – and obviously with the right set of skills – as in the art world.
In the same year, when asked about how raising children has affected her work, Diana al Hadid responded: “No, my work hasn’t changed, and you wouldn’t ask a man that question. […] No one presumes it’s going to change (a man’s) work – their work is their work and their private life is their private life.” The interesting thing is that this phrase could have been uttered by any other woman: a doctor, a teacher or a businesswoman. The fact that the same number of female artists rank in top positions in the German art world equals the percentage of female top managers of the 30 largest German companies – this needs to be cracked!
In her landmark essay written in 1972, Linada Nochlin asks, “Why have there been no great women artists?” It feels like there has been some change (though let us be cautious in our assumptions for hope).
In 2005, 32% of female museum directors were women. In 2015, in America, 42,6% were women. But in Germany, only 5% of the artists presented in the Modern Art Departments of the museums are female. Some better news comes from Documenta graphs that show a clear positive development
So what do to next? Keep going, there is improvement, but there is much work to be done, and activism is necessary! So, please: research, analyze, network, resist, act and change!
Those who are inspired to start now, have a look at the links below that are full of diverse information relating to the subject of the article:
Iphigenie, Tales of Women Waiting to be Told
FLAXzine, March 2nd, 2018 / Article by Zeina Kanawati
The Greek theater is revived again in Syrian Iphigenie, a play written by Mohammed Al-Attar and directed by Omar Abu Saada, presented by a group of Syrian women who arrived to Germany under varying circumstances.
Iphigenie, sacrificed by her father in the original play to please the gods, is embodied again in the sacrifices of Syrian women who let go of their former lives in the hope of a better future. But have they reached safety after passing from war to peace? Have the bonds between the past and the present been completely severed so these women can venture up new roads?
The stage is empty except for a chair. The women alternate, one by one, sitting on the chair and telling their stories under the light. They sit in an audition interview supervised by another Syrian woman who is videotaping the performances on the stage.
The camera’s eye represents society’s view of each of these young women, and the discomfort this gaze causes them. Sometimes, the actresses ask to stop filming, at which point reveal secrets about their inner feelings and thoughts.
The thin line between reality and representation disappears in a single story, where the viewer cannot distinguish between the real story of each actress and the representative scene. Each of them connects her personal experience directly to Iphigenie in the original play and her complex relationship with her father, who was forced to sacrifice her despite his love for her. This experience is reflected in the women’s relationship with their families and society back home, after having to make the impossible decision to leave their home country forever.
An Empty Stage Full of Stories The stories of the Syrian women are laying their weight on the empty stage, which embodies the new place that has not yet taken its final shape or identity. The women have not yet managed to separate from their home country, nor have they succeeded in fixing their roots in the new place. Each one of them has her own moment of sparkle while telling her story, particularly when creative memory awakens and the actresses start singing, dancing or doing what they were happy doing back home. However, choosing these actresses was not an easy task, and it took time and effort to train them, as none are professional actresses. But as a result, throughout the play, the text had space to change based on the real stories and experiences shared by the actresses. Their feelings and emotions became the centerpiece of each scene. Actress Diana Kaddah said that the performance was psychologically and emotionally taxing at the beginning, but she began to reconcile with her own feelings after performing it many times, and the experience became part of Diana’s emotional and psychological growth. The more she performed, the better she felt. “It’s a new step towards accepting the past and being be able to move forward,” she said. Why Now?
Iphigenie represents the final part of three plays undertaken by Mohammad Al Attar and Omar Abu Saada since 2013. They introduced Trojan women in Jordan, Antigone in Lebanon and finally, Iphigenie in Germany. Although it was a coincidence to have the plays performed in these locations, it’s very similar to the path of the diaspora, followed by displaced Syrians searching for stability and safety.
“We chose to tell the stories of the women who paid the biggest price since the beginning of the revolution in Syria. They had the greatest sacrifices. Their struggles were not limited to standing up to political power, but they challenged a patriarchal society. However, their stories are still not heard, and their presence in fighting the political and social authorities is still ignored,” Mohammad said.
The Syrian Memory Iphigenie explores Syrian collective memory, and the complex feelings encountered in the details of everyday life. The present collapses in the face of the abandoned memories, and a familiar song can trigger the painful emotions. Despite this, Syrian women prove their miraculous ability to stand up again every morning to complete the path and make it as smooth as possible, to give their lives meaning and their memories a new home.