Amina Khayyam & Jaf Shah on A THOUSAND FACES

As AKDC premieres its new work A THOUSAND FACES at the mac birmingham, we talk to Amina Khayyam and to Jaf Shah from Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) who have supported the making of the work,

What are your reasons for making this work?
Amina Khayyam: Last year I was asked by Akademi to present an evening of dance for a festival celebrating 43 years of independence for Bangladesh at Rich Mix.  However I had a different attitude to celebrating the idea of ‘independence’. I remember as a child hearing stories of violence against women like rape and acid attacks, yet saw very few being punished for these heinous crimes. The situation has not changed much, although great work is being done by NGOs like ASTI. So, I decided to explore a narrative about women who have a very different sense of what ‘independence’ means to them.  What was a ‘work in progress’ piece developed for the festival has now been developed to a full-scale piece which explores the theme of acid violence.

What is ASTI?
Jaf Shah: ASTI is a UK charity and the only international organisation whose sole purpose is to end acid violence, founded in 2002 and now works with a network of six Acid Survivors Foundations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Uganda that it has helped to form. ASTI has helped provide medical expertise and training to our partners, raised valuable funds to support survivors of acid attacks and helped change laws.

What would you say are ASTI’s greatest achievements?
The incidence of recorded acid violence has fallen from 500 cases in 2002 to less than 100 in 2012 in Bangladesh – over a 70% reduction. There are a number of factors that contributed to this reduction. It is generally recognised that the change in law was a key contributory factor as was increased awareness. With the support of ASTI, its local partner, Acid Survivors Foundation Bangladesh (ASF B), played a critical role in lobbying for change and working with the media to raise awareness. In 2002 the Government of Bangladesh passed the Acid Control Act and the Acid Crime Prevention Act restricting import and sale of acid. ASF B has treated thousands of patients in its 20 bed burns hospital.
Over 2000 survivors have been helped to rebuild their lives. Former ASTI trustee Dr Ron Hiles OBE, has personally performed over one thousand reconstructive surgery operations and trained hundreds of surgeons who in turn have treated thousands of patients.
Governments in Pakistan and Cambodia have been persuaded to introduce specific legislation on acid violence from which successful prosecutions have followed. Our local partners in Pakistan and Cambodia played a key role in advocating for legal change. Pakistan has recorded a significant increase in prosecutions – from 6% to 18% of recorded attacks.

Jaf how do you see the association with AKDC?
Jaf Shah: Working alongside AKDC to bring the issue of acid violence to new audiences through performing art is a new and exciting way of raising awareness for ASTI therefore we are very happy to have this opportunity to work with AKDC.

Jaf Shah and Amina Khayya in a group discussion

What can be achieved through such a project?
Jaf Shah: Awareness raising is a key element of our work and the production will help greatly to educate and engage audiences through artistic expression.
Amina Khayyam: One of the interesting aspects of working with ASTI was learning the journeys of survivors, and what happened to these women. I wanted to portray such a journey of the aftermath of such a horrific act and how closure of the attack is approached. Some women never survive, yet some do; they find the conviction and the strength to re-emerge. 

Amina, how have you approached this in dance?
I use Kathak's technique of Abhinaya to explore the pain and suffering of victims, but I negate from the traditional approach by adapting each muscle in the body to express the emotion, face is still there to express from the body's perspective.
We, the company, also use mime, from a European structure, to add a different dimension of performance - exploring the male perpetrators psychology. Together we tell a story using various characters, techniques and situations.

Jaf, what do you think the survivors will make of such a project?
Jaf Shah: I think survivors will be appreciative of a project that seeks to highlight this horrific form of violence.

What more can be done by campaigners and artists such as yourselves?
Jaf Shah: A lot more work has to be done to educate people on why it happens and what can be done to prevent it. Acid violence is a particularly vicious form of premeditated violence, where acid is thrown usually at the face to disfigure, maim and blind, but not to kill. The targets are mostly women and girls. Attacks often occur as a result of domestic or land disputes, a violent act of revenge towards a girl or woman rejected a marriage proposal or spurned sexual advances. During an attack children are often in close proximity to their mother and as a result suffer burns. Sadly children are also deliberate targets of attack. 
A key role for ASTI is to raise awareness of acid violence to an international audience so that increased pressure can be applied to governments to introduce stricter controls on the sale and purchase of acid. By raising awareness we also aim to help bring about a change in attitudes so that there is a zero tolerance of acid violence.
Amina Khayyam: A key element I explore in the piece is the conditioning both by women and men of how we have commodified the female gender through use of glamorous objectification - which to me amplifies the inequality and disrespect.
Why do we, men and women, have such views, expectations from each other when nature tells us we need one another to keep harmony in life. Both have equal parts to play though very different ones!   I feel that despite the impact of democracy and freedom enjoyed by women, particularly in western cultures, women continue to be subjugated by this conditioning.  Part of me feels there is a long way to go before women can totally be free.

A Thousand Faces premieres at mac birmingham this Thursday 8pm.Tickets available or call 0121 446 3232