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April 23, 2024

Unveiled delves into Muslim life in America

By JENNIFER DIAMOND | November 15, 2012

“[Racism] stops with me. That’s why I write,” declared a young hip-hop rapper in Rohina Malik’s travelling play, Unveiled. 

This powerful and dynamic piece took over Arellano Theater this past Monday and provided the audience with a moving meditation on what it means to be a Muslim woman in America.

Co-sponsored by The Digital Media Center, Homewood Arts Programs, Campus Ministries, Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Program for Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Malik’s one-woman play used the narratives of five different characters to delve into the struggles and stereotypes Muslim women may encounter in America, specifically in a post-Sept, 11 world.

Ms. Malik played all five characters herself, maneuvering around a simple tables-and-chairs set and quietly swapping jackets, shawls, and sweaters as she transitioned between characters.

Each narrative came from a different woman of the Islamic faith who had decided to wear the veil, a traditional Muslim head-covering.

The characters all spilled their stories across the stage as they revealed painful details about the hardships they had experienced while trying to stay true to their faith in an often ignorant and prejudiced country.

The narratives floated smoothly between interview-style monologues and small snapshots of multi-character scenes.

The sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always eloquent accounts combined to create a colorful tapestry of experience from a diverse group of women of all different heritages.

This play derived most of its power from the brutal honesty of its characters.

Each woman, from the bubbly Pakistani fashion designer to the Moroccan lawyer on a quest for justice, told her story with a candidness that sculpted the tales into powerful entities of hope, yet were always underscored with silent screams calling out for change and understanding.

“You have tasted the bitterness of evil. Now taste the sweetness of hope,” the lawyer tells one of her clients who is, like herself, a victim of a hate crime.

Each woman has experienced some form of injustice because she is a woman in the Islamic faith, an identity that is often viewed through a lens composed of racism and animosity. The collective message of these characters rang clear: change comes from understanding and knowledge. In her post-show talk-back, Malik declared that she chose to perform all the characters herself because she wanted each story “to come from one heart.” While the tales were fictionalized, they all felt true and urgent in their quest to challenge the stereotypes of Muslim women, specifically the one that states that they are submissive and repressed.

One narrator that stood out above the others was the young hip-hop artist of Indian descent. Her youthful voice carried a message that was relatable to young women of all faiths and walks of life. She declared her decision to wear the traditional Islamic head-covering to be a part of her feminist identity. She tells the imaginary interviewer that she wants people to deal with her mind, not with her body: “that’s not yours to look at.” While, at times, many of the other narrators felt almost preachy in their passionate calls to action, this young artist spoke out in a way that managed to balance her personal experience with general feminist ideals.

In its weaker moments, this play felt repetitively sentimental, sometimes hitting the audience over the head with its message. At times it felt as though each character was using her anecdote to convince the audience that oppression is wrong, a sentiment with which most savvy theatre-goers are already in agreement. In addition, the imaginary interview setup of each narration felt a bit forced. For example, it was not entirely believable that a restaurant hostess would casually tell a group of customers about her brother’s death in the September 11th tragedy minutes after meeting them. Fortunately, these weaker moments were overshadowed by the stronger instances of writing and performance during which Malik tilted away from the abstract notion of Oppression and instead examined the vibrant specifics of each woman’s personal views on her situation and the Muslim experience.

Despite the occasional lackluster moments, Unveiled was successful in its mission to represent the diversity of Muslim women. In the talk-back, Malik discussed her interest in theatre as a creative medium because of its power to bring people of all backgrounds together. Amen to that, Ms. Malik – and thank you for bringing a little slice of that theatrical presence to a sometimes arts-deprived Hopkins.

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