Photos contributed, with kind permission.
Currently touring across Britain, Dirty Pakistani Lingerie is Aizzah Fatima’s one woman monologue on what it means to be Muslim in a multicultural society. Funny, pointed and lyrical, it uses six female voices to tackle the complexities of lived experience. I caught up with the show’s director Erica Gould to discuss the themes, and whether humour is the best way to address wider issues.
Lorna Irvine: Dirty Pakistani Lingerie is a brilliant, provocative title. Have you ever encountered controversy or resistance while taking the show on tour?
Erica Gould: We have, in fact, from both inside and outside the Asian community. As is often the case in situations like this, though, the objections tend to come from people who haven’t actually seen the work. Our intention is not to alienate, but to open up a dialogue about stereotypes, racism and women’s struggles with self-determination- still today and in many cultures that we perceive to be ‘enlightened’ about these issues.
The idea behind the title is of course a play on the notion of airing one’s dirty laundry, speaking about what is normally kept hidden or private- and in this case, talking about aspects of women’s lives that are not often spoken about in the public sphere in many conservative or traditional cultures. In fact, in some more conservative communities, it has been the word ‘lingerie’ that has been as provocative as anything else.
LI: Have you both discovered things about yourselves (be it shifts in faith, attitude, culture) that you never noticed before when devising the show?
EG: I think we’ve both been deeply affected by the response the work has received from audiences of such wide-ranging cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds- that an elderly Japanese couple would tell us that they recognised their own story in the experiences of these Muslim-American women, or that a 40-something African-American woman, and a 20-something Jewish man would both catch a glimpse of their own lives reflected in the play. It’s a one-woman show that addresses the experience of Pakistani-American women. That something so specific could resonate with people of so many different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, ages and across the gender lines was unexpected to us.
It has confirmed my belief that art may illuminate the universal through an honest exploration of the specific. And I think one of the primary universalities that the piece taps into is that of the American ‘hyphenated’ experience, the commonality of the immigrant journey, whether one’s family has been here for five months, or five generations. There is an inherent tension between what has been left behind and what we take with us, between the impulse to assimilate, and the desire to maintain our identity, between what we held onto and what we fear we may have forgotten. All of the characters in the play struggle with some iteration of this dilemma.
And for me personally, as a Jewish woman, the opportunity to find common ground across religions and culture is very powerful- after a performance the other night, I had the most amazing conversation with a group of hijabi women, talking about our respective religious and cultural upbringings, the similarities in our experiences of Yom Kippur and Ramadan,etc.
LI: Do you think humour is an effective way to deal with contentious/tricky subject matter? And who do you rate?
EG: I think that’s very true. The power of theatre lies in its ability to entertain, not lecture. Humour can break down barriers and disarm- it is such an automatic, visceral, almost biological response, really-wired into us- a truly universal language that overcomes barriers- Aristophanes is still funny! So it can cut through resistance or intellectual preconceptions. It gives the artist a licence he or she might not otherwise have to connect with an audience, especially with material or ideas that people might otherwise find challenging. it can become a passport into people’s hearts and minds, I think. I’m a huge fan of what Stephen Colbert was able to accomplish on his original Comedy central show- a breathless subversion that challenged and illuminated in really sophisticated ways- all made possible through humour and satire.
The show continues its tour across Britain until April 10th.
For more information on the work of Erica Gould and Aizzah Fatima, please head to:
For a review of the show, please refer to my previous post.
Watch the trailer for the show here: