Navigating Atlantic diversity and beyond

By Katie MacFadyen
18 Aug 2012

Aizzah Fatima recently brought her controversial and stimulating one-woman play 'Dirty Paki Lingerie' to these islands for the first time, following a highly successful run in the United States.

This week, she performed in St John's Church, Edinburgh, at the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, followed by a panel with Farkhanda Chaudhry OBE, director Erica Gould, and Shabnum Mustapha, Director of Amnesty International Scotland.

It was obvious from the discussion that the play, which looks at the diversity and contradictions of Muslim women's experience, has garnered very different audiences and reactions in Britain than at home in the USA (Fatima is Pakistani-American).

For many American audiences, the experiences of migration and culture clash are nigh-universal; these islands, and Scotland in particular, differ in relation to the extent of cultural mix, and audience members do not automatically find the play identifiable.

Fatima commented that the audiences the play draws in the these islands are largely white, unlike the more diverse US audiences. Though this could easily be put down to Edinburgh having a smaller Asian community, it does raise unfortunate questions about the white-dominated nature of the Festival season in general.

However, on a more positive note, a joke in the play about the French Islamic scarf controversy ('it's not like we're in France!') apparently gets a much bigger laugh on this side of the atlantic.

Perhaps the most culturally divisive aspect of the play is its title. In America, the word 'Paki' is fairly neutral; here, the title Dirty Paki Lingerie provokes reactions ranging from shock to disbelief to disgust. The natural assumption is either that the play is grossly racist and misogynistic or - in an interpretation that Fatima supports - that it intends to reclaim the word.

Dirty Paki Lingerie is in some respects more and in other less provocative in Scotland than in New York. Fatima's next goal may be to take the play to France!

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(c) Katie MacFadyen is a fourth year student of Classics at the University of Edinburgh, about to start a dissertation in Reception Studies: the study of how classics is and has been used in subsequent cultural contexts. She also writes speculative fiction and theatre, as well as film and book reviews. Her theatre reviews from the Fringe Festival 2011 can be found on http://thenewkid.co.uk and http://somesuchlike.wordpress.com. She is a media intern for the Festival of Spirituality and Peace 2012 and contributes regularly to Spirituality and Peace News (http://festivalofspirituality.blogspot.co.uk/).

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