Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Huma Safdar

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Huma Safdar
theatre director/producer/actor

The Revolutionary Act of Staging Punjabi Literature
By Faiza Rna

Painter, actor, director, poet, and founder of Sangat Theatre, Huma Safdar combines her many talents to create a people-centric awareness-raising theatre that is steeped in Punjabi literature and culture. She has staged classic Punjabi texts such as Heer Damodar, Heer Waris Shah, Mirza Saheban; countless modern Punjabi texts including ‘Alfo Pairni di Vaar’, a six-hour stage play; and, classic and modern poetry presentations. She chooses diverse venues in the City, from girls’ schools and colleges to the shrines of Sufi saints; from big cities to small towns.

When Huma joined Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA) in 1981, three things had happened: because of the colonial practices of the British and then the local power holders, Punjabi language in the Punjab had been relegated to a subservient role in favor of the two ‘national’ languages, Urdu and English; Pakistan’s Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) had instituted discriminatory laws against women and minorities; and, the living conditions of the under-privileged and less-privileged population groups had become worse. Huma decided that the cumulative impact of these conditions was unacceptable to her. Politicised by the authoritarian nature of the time, she emerged from her shell of society-imposed restrictions to showcase her art and her commitment to freedom and resistance.

That year, she acted in her first play, Hawa aur Zindgi: Air and Life, that was performed for the women’s movement with arts activists Madeeha Gauhar, Faryal Gauhar, Rubina Saigol, Rabia Nadir, and Sabah. ‘I was a first year student of National college of arts at that point’, Huma said in an interview. ‘We performed at Lahore Museum’s library hall on International Women’s Day.’

Later, Huma joined Lok Rahs, an alternative theatre group that had emerged to amplify the voices of the oppressed. Huma worked as an actor and director. Here, she imparted her knowledge to new and emerging artists, and she organised theatre workshops for young people. She saw theatre as a powerful cultural medium to bring about change in Punjabi societal mentality, and she found ways to integrate it with Punjab’s many local cultural and performing art traditions. Evolving and constantly learning, she formed her own group, Sangat Theatre. Progressivism, cultural activism and social justice are the core values of her work. Her plays depict the struggles of the common people, mostly written by Punjabi poet and playwright Najm Hosain Syed, they portray the truth of the lives of the majority of people by reviving our faith in ourselves, one another and in our mother-tongue.

Huma believes that Punjabi is the language of resistance, love, art and the people. Her actors sing Punjabi classical revolutionary poetry, dancing and performing plays to a variety of audiences including rural and urban workers. Her team of versatile performers can act in a variety of arenas and sets, as well as in open air. Sangat Theatre has presented hundreds of Punjabi plays, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Huma draws inspiration from, and is keeping alive, centuries of unbroken yet ever-evolving traditions of Punjabi poetry and prose through the traditional and modern techniques of Punjab’s performing arts. In doing so, she has changed the nature of popular Punjabi theatre from slapstick-sexist-racist-ableist ‘comedies’ to a profound contemplation of a shared and evolving experience.
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Faiza Rna Faiza Rna is a writer, teacher and a poltical/social activist. She edits the Punjabi monthly magazine ‘Pancham’. She is the vice president of Punjab professors and lecturers association.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Madeeha Gauhar

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance

Madeeha Gauhar (1956-2018)
theatre director/producer/actor

By Hina Imam & Saroop Soofi

She did not just swim against the tide, she turned the tide.

Born in 1956 in Karachi, Madeeha Gauhar was an actor, director, playwright and women’s rights activist who co-founded Ajoka (present day) Theatre. She studied English Literature from Kinnaird College Lahore, and later went to England to pursue a degree in theatre sciences from University College London.

Madeeha created platforms for human rights activism at a time when General Zia-ul-Haq’s oppressive, dictatorial regime had blocked all avenues for political expression in Pakistan. In 1983, she began Ajoka Theatre with her partner playwright/director/actor Shahid Mahmood Nadeem (quoted above), where she combined conventional Western theatre techniques with local performing traditions and cultural nuances to produce her work. The group began operating out of the homes of its members, using money raised from personal contributions and donations by activists, supporters and audiences. Soon, it built up a reputation for taking up bold and topical themes, including the eroding rights of women, the plight of bonded labor, minorities facing an assault on their rights, and religious intolerance that had been given official patronage.

With censorship in force, Madeeha and her band lived with the fear of arrest, and worse, she had to quit her job as lecturer at a girl’s college because her theater activism was intolerable to the regime. She was also briefly jailed for demonstrating, along with other women activists, against the discriminatory Law of Evidence in 1984.

Ajoka, mainly operating in Urdu language, became one of Pakistan’s foremost theater groups with 40 original plays and adaptations to its credit. The list includes Bullah (on Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah) first performed in Lahore in 2001, Kaun Hai Yeh Gustaakh (Who is this Arrogant?) Lahore 2012, Lo Phir Basant Aayi (Spring is here again) Lahore 2014, and, Kaun Banega Badshah (Who will become the King?) Islamabad in 2015. Madeeha’s play ‘Burqavaganza’, a satire on the society, was banned by Pakistan’s parliament and Ajoka was threatened with sanctions. The local non-governmental cultural organisations and activist, however, went ahead, translated it in other languages, and it was performed in several other countries.

Madeeha was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, was awarded Prince Claus Award in the Netherlands in 2006, the International Theatre Pasta Award in 2007, and she received the country’s highest award, Pride of Performance for the revival of Pakistani theatre.

Madeeha lost her battle with cancer in April 2018.
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Hina Imam is a journalist living in Vancouver who previously worked in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan before moving to Canada to pursue a master’s degree at UBC. Hina writes about social justice, race and representation, gender, and urban issues.

Saroop Soofi is a visual artist, researcher and an art educationist born in Lahore, Pakistan. She has exhibited her work in solo and group shows in Canada and Pakistan where she has received awards and distinctions.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

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Women dance in defiance, Mela Chiraghaan: Festival of Lights, Lahore, 2013

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(Photo from Gumshuda Lahore via Uddari Weblog’s facebook page)

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt and Tsawwassen First Nations.

..