When Sayyida Salme bint Said (a.k.a. Emily Said Ruete, 1844-1924) published her memoirs in German in 1886, Germany was only fifteen years old and Canada was nineteen. A daughter of the king of Zanzibar and Oman, Salme had left Zanzibar of her own volition at age twenty-two following an affair with a German merchant with whom she later married and had three children. She decided to write her memoirs so that her children would know about their mother and her culture of origin in the “East/South.” Her memoirs also brought in necessary cash and gave her a minor social platform for critiquing the culture in the “West/North.” When she had left Zanzibar, only ten percent of Africa was under European control. By the time her memoirs were published, they had devised the master plan for devouring Africa. Salme did not see European ways as superior to her own culture’s, and questioned European powers “forcibly imparting their civilization” on other people.
Inhabiting the North is the second in a series of embodied reading and writing performances in my larger project Passages that explores the literature by people from the “East” who traveled to the “West.” It was performed on March 27, 2015 at Beit Zatoun, a Palestinian cultural centre in Toronto, as a dinner gathering, interactive performance and conversation, bringing collaborators from treaty and indigenous communities together with an audience of women and trans women invited through community networking. The feast was prepared by diverse artists, activists and community groups and was an integral part of the performance that also included a reading of Sayyida Salme’s memoirs against the backdrop of a projection of a northern storm. The reading was punctuated with periods of directed dialogue among the participants about gender-based issues related to indigeneity and migration, colonization and settlement, and East-West/South-North dichotomies. Also incorporated were videos of some of the food preparers as they worked and talked about the cultural significance of the dishes they brought to the feast, and the role of food in domestic space and communal welfare. The evening ended with footage of the 2015 Toronto Strawberry Ceremony for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as the event raised funds for It Starts with Us project. The performance audio was streamed live to a remote audience.
Written, directed and produced by Gita Hashemi. Guest readers: Sarah Abu-Sharar and Zainab Amadahy. Food artists: Salma Al-Atassi, Claude Awad, Azar Masoumi and Nicole Tanguay. Additional food prepared by women of Regent Park Catering Collective and Johl Ringuette (Nishdish).
This video presentation includes only the reading of Sayyida Salme’s passages. For other material, please visit: http://passages.subversivepress.org/inhabiting-the-north-portal
GITA HASHEMI was born in Shiraz, Iran. She entered the School of Fine Arts at Tehran University in 1979 but was expelled at the time of Islamic Cultural Revolution. She continued her education at California State University at Northridge, and later at York University where she graduated with a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies. She taught time-based art, (new) media and cultural studies at York and Ryerson Universities and University of Toronto, 1998-2009. She lives in Toronto, Canada. Hashemi’s transdisciplinary practice focuses on historical and contemporary issues. In 2013, her solo exhibitions included Time Lapsedat A Space Gallery in Toronto and The Idea of Freedomat MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), and she participated in The Third Spaceexhibition at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre as part of Tirgan Festival of Iranian Art and Culture. Drawing on visual, media and performance strategies and using different techniques and technologies, she explores social relations and the interconnections of writing as embodied language with cultural imaginary and politics.