Saturday 19 January 2019

REVIEW: Cuts Of The Cloth - HOME, Manchester.

We had arrived at the Hearts And Minds Living History Museum. A number of exhibitions were on show, including Exhibit 091901. She was a Muslim woman, archived in this museum in a future which, unsettlingly, may just be lurking around the corner. Her purpose: to speak to visitors about her relationship with the cloth in a series of lecture-style structured scenes.

The context surrounding the exhibition, and this dystopian and disturbing future was, a society obsessed with policing the female body, that Islamophobia and violence was on the upsurge, and that the PREVENT counter terrorism strategy had developed. Here was a Muslim woman caught in the middle of the 'War on Terror'.

Hafsah Aneela Bashir (performer and writer) and Nikki Mailer (director) collated interviews and research for this project. They spoke to real people affected by the issues and content raised in the performance; it was based on the lived experiences of people affected by the 'War on Terror'. The performance was not afraid to go into dark places and tell it like it is.

For me, the most revelatory information I took away from the piece was in how PREVENT (the UK's counter-radicalisation strategy) was framed. I started to perceive PREVENT from a different angle. Academic research presents it has been utilised to implement infrastructures of surveillance into, and ultimately spy on, Muslim communities. The Guardian said in 2017, only 5% of the 7,631 PREVENT referrals were highlighted on the Channel scheme. In a 2016 case study, a female student came back from Haji and began wearing a hijab. The school's headteacher referred the student to the police and a counter-terrorism officer visited her home as he had concerns regarding radicalisation. This performance certainly gets the audience thinking about the effectiveness of the scheme and makes light of the Islamophobia embedded into it.

Projection was effectively incorporated into the performance, for example the video of waves crashing on the shore was a moment from one of Exhibit 091901's memories. Also, the beach could have been a deeply sad reminder of the refugees trying to cross the English channel. One minor comment though is that the images were projected onto the set and onto the cyclorama causing unnecessary shadows to appear. Saying that, the nightmarish imagery and museum documentary-style footage complimented the performance well.

Memory was a subtle theme in the performance: the touch, the smell, the sight, and the sound of something conjured up memories. Her privacy was on show in this exhibition. She was a participant of the Muslim Re-alignment Programme, having to constantly say, "All hail for peace" immediately afterwards. Islamophobia had gone too far. We were reminded not to touch the exhibits by a tour guide voice and the main themes of examination and scrutiny were all too apparent. Now and then, there was some humour, associated with cultural differences, which was a light-hearted contrast to the overall intense and word-heavy nature of the piece. It is worth pointing out, the occasional dramatic silences in this made it all the more impactful - allowing the audience to process, emotionally and intellectually, what was explained to them.

From a practical point of view, while the writing was educational and absolutely made an emotional impact, sometimes the writing style was somewhat too 'on the nose'. The audience knew what moral and highly-important points were trying to be made, it wasn't necessary to over explain. Some blocking and movement didn't seem rehearsed or defined enough, leading to some moments where Bashir appeared to lack confidence. On the other hand, Bashir's honesty, boldness, and passion in her performance was just beautiful.

To conclude: Cuts Of The Cloth was a politically-charged, passionate, and topical performance -challenging Islamophobia and raising awareness of society's contradictions, debates like "to wear or not to wear?", and prejudice against Islam and Muslims as a Political force.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 18/1/19

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