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Global Roundup: Indigenous Women’s Collective in Ecuador, Iraqi Ballet Instructor, Toronto Play about Iranian Women’s Rights, Digital Queer Art Platform, Chilean Feminist Manifesto
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
A collective of Indigenous women from the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador are supporting women’s empowerment and the preservation of Amazonian natural resources. For over a decade, Las Mujeres Amazónicas (the Amazonian Women) have been fighting for the protection of the Amazonian rainforest, despite facing death threats and attacks because of their advocacy.
Between 2002 and 2003, Argentine oil company CGC forcibly entered the Sarayaku territory in Ecuador. The company quickly installed military and private security guards, created roads, and cut down the forest. A number of trees and plants were destroyed, including ones which held environmental, sacred, and cultural value to the Indigenous community. CGC also buried 1400 kilos of explosives in their territory, which left the Sarayaku land completely compromised.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in 2012 against the State of Ecuador, ruling that the Sarayaku community’s right to life and to physical integrity was violated. This was accomplished through the advocacy of Las Mujeres Amazónicas, as well as with the help of larger organizations like Amnesty International.
In the years since the violation and destruction in Sarayaku, Las Mujeres Amazónicas have worked tirelessly to educate women within and outside the collective to defend their homeland and to prevent further destruction of the Amazon in Ecuador and beyond.
Destroying the Amazon is the destruction of the world. If they don’t realize that, we are lost. – Gualinga, member of Las Mujeres Amazónicas
Leezan Salam, 26, leads her students while giving a ballet class. Baghdad, Iraq, February 3, 2023. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deen. Photo via Context.
Leezan Salam is a 26 year-old ballet instructor who is teaching a new generation of Iraqi children dancers, despite backlash from conservatives. Many conservatives in Iraq see all forms of dancing as shameful because it exposes one’s body, but Salam has continued to pursue her passion in ballet and wants to ensure young dancers have access to the same training that she once did.
I am showing the parents that there is life beyond academia. Sure, study to be a doctor or lawyer, but also realise that there are other things inside you that you can express. – Leezan Salam
Salam was born in Baghdad, but moved to Jordan with her family when she was two years old. She moved back with her family in 2005 and has lived there since. Salam had the opportunity to attend the Baghdad Music and Ballet School, where she trained in ballet. During her first year of training, Iraq was in the midst of conflict and she was forced to flee to Jordan. After a year, her classes resumed.
During the Islamic State years in 2014 and 2015, Salam stopped dancing. Describing it as a depression that came for everyone, Salam says that the atmosphere of Baghdad at the time was very tense and it seeped into her work. During those two years, she was constantly and viciously attacked on social media, which caused her to shut down her pages and stop practicing her art. But she hasn’t been able to stay away from the art that she loves.
In 2016, Salam reached out to a private school in Baghdad and offered to teach ballet classes there. Now, she teaches a private ballet class, and teaches students who are interested in learning ballet.
When we decided to put on our first show, my most gifted student's father would not allow her to participate. He was afraid of how society would talk about his daughter, that they might perceive her as doing something shameful. She is insanely talented. She is naturally flexible and has grace. Her movements have emotion. Her father was fine with her practicing, but not performing. It took a lot of convincing, but finally he relented…Now, the same dad who wouldn't let his daughter perform keeps asking about our next show. – Leezan Salam
Anahita (Sama Mousavi, right) recognizes the spirit of protest in the chador-wearing Omid (Mahsa Ershadifar) in “Anahita’s Republic.” Taylor Long. Photo via The Star.
Anahita’s Republic is a play that was created to provide viewers with a sharp perspective on gender, power, and freedom in contemporary Iran. Playing in Toronto, Canada, this 90-minute show focuses on the life of Anahita, who is a seductive and contradictory protagonist, as she plans a crucial meeting for a protest for women’s rights.
The story follows Anahita (Sama Mousavi) and her brother Cyrus (Fuad Ahmed), who is a member of parliament, as they plan the protest meeting together. The purpose of the rally is to protest the government’s restrictions for women, particularly the law which requires women to wear the hijab in public. Cyrus wants to bring in an ayatollah (religious leader) to help their cause change within the existing structures in Iran, but Anahita refuses to have this individual present.
The rest of the play follows Anahita’s tasks and struggles over the course of the day as she begins to plan an important protest that could risk her safety. On that same day, she meets a young woman who could destroy everything that Anahita has tried to build.
The playwright’s name is Hengameh E. Rice, which is a pseudonym for two writers from Edmonton and Shiraz, Iran. The two writers have decided to keep their real identities hidden from the public out of fear for their safety. The writers left Iran in 2009 after Neda Soltan was murdered, during a time period known as the Green Revolution. Although the duo began writing Anahita’s Republic prior to the start of the current-day revolution in Iran, the context of women’s rights in Iran today is more important and relevant than ever.
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Credit: Courtesy Queer Arts Project. Photo via CNN.
A new digital queer art platform has been developed by Queer Art Projects. QAP.Digital currently houses the work of 16 LGBTQ artists and features a number of different works that are handpicked by the founders, Tuna Erdem and Seda Ergul, and collaborator Mine Kaplangi. The goal of the platform is to uplift queer art in all its forms, making it easier than ever to market it and for people to access it.
QAP.digital believes queer art needs to be kept alive not only in the name of much needed diversity, but also in the name of perpetual creativity…QAP.digital is a space to celebrate queer art, and to help it live, flourish, thrive. – QAP.Digital website
The founders of QAP.Digital look for art that goes beyond addressing queerness in terms of gender and sexuality; Erdem and Ergul are interested in how queerness serves as a creative force in our lives – through form, style, production, and presentation. The platform was born as a result of the founders’ frustrations with the limitations of the London art scene. Erdem and Ergul wanted to create a space where artists could interrogate queerness as it relates to their work. Queerness is so much more than gender and sexuality, it is about deviating from the norm and disrupting the norm. The founders wanted to make sure that was understood through the artwork chosen for the site.
One of the beautiful things about the term queer is (that it is) all-encompassing…The definition of queer by its nature has got to be quite broad and inclusive. It's fantastic having a safe space for queer people. But a space where people who don't identify as queer can come and celebrate and learn and share experiences with queer people is a really powerful thing that we need. – Gemma Rolls-Bentley, chief curator of Avant Arte, online platform bringing emerging artists together
Featuring different styles, such as paintings and zines, QAP.Digital is meant to break conventions around queerness, and to center marginalized and tokenized queer members of the art world. It provides a space for queer artists to openly express their queerness, and will continue to do so as the website expands.
‘Un violador en tu camino’ performed in Valparaíso in November 2019 | Courtesy of Camila R. Hidalgo. Photo via Open Democracy.
Many will remember a video from November 2019 when a group of women took over the streets of Valparaiso, Chile and performed “Un violador en tu camino” (A Rapist in Your Path). This chilling performance became a global feminist anthem around the world within days, with women using the song to protest sexual violence perpetrated against women.
When people asked us why we think this performance went viral, we say we don’t know, but probably because patriarchal violence, and specifically the sexual violence that we denounce in this performance, is everywhere…It’s incredible for us to see, despite our cultural and linguistic differences, that we can always connect. The way of approaching the subject may be different, or how we relate, but the problem is the same. On the one hand it makes you feel part of a much broader, transcultural, cross-border, underground community, but on the other hand it is very depressing to see that the work needs to be done everywhere. – LASTESIS
The performance was created by the Chilean collective LASTESIS, meaning The Thesis. In the time since “Un violador en tu camino” was released, LASTESIS has been working on creating their first manifesto, titled “Quemar el miedo” (Set Fear on Fire). The manifesto is a raw testimony of what drives them as a collective, as well as an angry and fierce account of the violence and struggles that they have faced as Chilean women and as Latin American women. They are all daughters of political refugees, they have faced abuse, had illegal abortions, raised children on their own, and been persecuted for speaking their minds. This manifesto speaks about an intersectional, cross-border struggle.
[We show] that there’s a feminist network with its own causes and its own fights, but also with common causes. We can communicate in different ways but we can work together to solve things together. – LASTESIS
The collective was just in New York to celebrate the launch of the English translation of “Quemar el miedo”, which will allow the English-speaking world to better access this manifesto. This manifesto will hopefully reach feminists around the world, making people a little more angry and willing to push for change.
The lack of empathy allows everything to continue as it is, reproducing this violence and oppression that have simply been normalised. And thanks to rage we can mobilise ourselves, and also mobilise the world. – LASTESIS
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.