I am a woman! Look at me! Hear me! See me!

By Ivana Bilic

Premiere performance “Haunted Land” opened the 10th edition of FemArt Festival. What a synergy and multitude of disciplines – from poetry, theatrical choreography, dancing to traditional singing and video projections! The audience said it all with a three-minute applause and standing ovations after crying and applauding between the scenes. But let’s start from the beginning! 

What is the Language of Compassion?

“Haunted Land” was performed in both English and Albanian. The poems were originally written in English and then translated by the author herself and edited by Berat Bajrami. The author explained how the poems got entirely different meanings once translated in Albanian, they got strength and power. For sure, those who didn’t understand Albanian, witnessed the strength of these words, power of emotions and weighty presence of the actors. The polyphony of voices – both the author’s and the director’s – that was combined in the voices of actors and of the choir resonated in the entire theater hall.

The very opening comes as a messenger, a ghost from past times, to announce what we will be hearing for the next hour and a half. Interestingly enough, the poem in Albanian that opens the performance is the same poem in English that closes it: a vivid image of a house with a red rooftop, lingering in our mind. “The house was old / With golden webs hanging / From silver eaves, / An old, oaken door / And red rooftop.” These very lines introduced the colors we would see, the imagery and the tone of the performance.

Actors in light, earthy-coloured costumes get on the stage, minutes before putting golden shirts as shields and beating the drums. As if we witnessed the presence of soldiers, of boots, of their heavy uniforms and rifles. “THE DRUMS ARE BEATING. / The people are waiting / For another day, / An endless tomorrow…” All the actors, or dancers as they were, were in perfect harmony. The jumps and moves and drum strokes and tambourine rolls became almost deafening. The tension and anxiety were palpable as the actors expressed anger and power of the army. Just like a perfect symphony – every element made a matching piece of a puzzle of a masterpiece.

I am a woman!

A woman, moving our hearts with energetic movements of her endless scarlet dress, saying: “I am a woman / With a gift / Of freedom (…) Touch me / And set me free.” This scene in a way opened and highlighted the main idea of the FemArt Festival that celebrates women, their power and strength and creativity and honors their courage and resilience. We were almost able to see the movement and tormenting of her soul in the movements of her dress. The lights were changing, emphasizing the color and the tones of her voice. In one moment, her voice goes up, she is at the verge of yelling, expressing her power and the power of her presence as if she was on a throne. There was the strength and power of a woman, of all women fighting for their rights. In the words of the author of the poem, she conquered the stage. At the end, she takes that heavy bright red dress, brighter than all the other costumes on the stage, as a centerpiece in a dream and she disappears in darkness as a ghost of past times.

Look at me! Hear me! See me!

She enters and runs and raises her voice as she tries to pass, but they, men, do not let her. They form barriers with their bodies, to keep her away, to keep her silenced, to hush her down. She then cries and yells and she wants to be heard, but no one wants to hear her story! What a deeply moving scene of women’s bodies as battlefields! But despite all the pain, both physical and psychological, she fights for her voice! She fights for the truth! She is now, today, being hushed, stigmatized, ashamed for what had happened to her and what was by no means her fault. Are we ready to hear these stories? Are we ready to accept, to understand, to hear, and see?

The author Shqipe Malushi finally saw a corporeal expression of the pain she has carried inside for more than 40 years. She found her home, her house that was impossible to find after the war. Zana Hoxha, the director, finally found closure with this performance. “I do not have war in my heart. I am a peace fighter! But theater serves for catharsis. We offered that to our audience tonight.” This is the value and sake of engaged theater, to leave you with a reflection and to offer you peace and closure.

Collective memory

“Why do I do this to my public? I have to keep them awake; they cannot fall asleep,” said the author. And, for sure, she did keep us all awake. She kept us awake for the sake of collective memory, so that we do not forget. We witnessed tonight an enormous strength of all of those included in this performance to preserve their memories from oblivion, as caring keepers of our common past.

Ivana Bilić (Sarajevo, BiH) is an intern in Artpolis where she will conduct her research on the role of performing arts for social change. She is a translator and interpreter in English, French and Bosnian and a human rights student with special interest in women’s rights, minorities and LGBT+.