AWDB Spotlight on Performance Art: Interview with Anida Yoeu Ali 

AWDB talks to multi-disciplinary artist Anida Yoeu Ali about the evolution of her renowned performance of The Red Chador and the birth of her seven other sequined chadora companions.

The Red Chador is multi-disciplinary artist Anida Yoeu Ali’s alter ego in which she presents herself in a sparkling red sequined “Muslim” headdress. Through silent interventions in public spaces, Ali’s durational performance is a powerful exchange with spectators in which she uses her body’s gestures and reciprocated gazes to confront prejudices against Islam. A bold representation of Muslim women as a means to confront Islamophobia, sexism, and xenophobia, The Chador has been shown worldwide since its birth in 2015. En route to Ramallah in 2017, the original costume mysteriously disappeared and was formally rebirthed two years later in Honolulu, Hawaii alongside seven other sequined chadora companions.

More recently, Ali presented The Red Chador: Stranded at Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts in Townsville, North Queensland, Australia. She did a residency alongside the exhibition where she produced a new iteration of The Red Chador, and interacted with the local community through a series of participatory workshops and conversations. For the performance she engaged six participants from the community to join her and execute a cavalcade around Townsville’s public areas. The procession made its way through streets, parks, stadiums, sacred spaces, and other significant landmarks. A video of the performances was shot by her collaborator Masahiro Sugano (Studio Revolt) and has been commissioned as a new video artwork to debut at PUNQ 2024 Festival.

AWDB asked Anida about her experience:

AWDB: How do you select the participants who wear the chadoras?

AYA: With the help of the local hosting organisation (gallery/museum, community centre, residency program, etc.) that I am working with to produce the chadora performances, we write a “community casting call” where I outline specific parameters, details, and history of the performance series. That two-page casting call then goes out to trusted partners and community members and their networks. The call basically asks for six performers of diverse backgrounds “who feel the urgency and relevance of The Red Chador project and the power of performance as intervention and existence as protest.” My performers do not need to have movement, dance, art, or theatre experience, but they must have the courage to perform and address politically charged issues through this embodiment. All performers are paid for their participation directly from the hosting institution.

AWDB: How do you and the participants prepare for the performances? 

AYA: All participants are prepared through a series of workshops and pre-production meetings that occur well in advance of any live performance so that everyone is properly prepared. I check-in with folks via email and zoom and send existing videos of past performances in advance of my actual in-person arrival. When I arrive I make sure to engage in a one to two day workshop (depending on time and availability of participants) so that participants know more about the project and one another. The workshop takes the group through an arc of activities from breath work, gentle movement warm ups, and talk-story opportunities where each participant expresses why they chose to perform and risk in this specific Red Chador series. I often ask people to think of someone in their life they are doing the performance for when it comes to the performance day. I believe we are never alone when we perform and that we carry people from our past, present, and even future with us all the time.  Finally each workshop also encompasses the actual performative gestures (Islamic prayer gestures turned into choreography) I teach and how to move and wear the actual chador garment. This is the most fun part of the workshop as that is when each chador comes alive and each participant then becomes transformed in their own way into a chadora.

Documentation still of the community workshop for the six local participants of the Townsville iteration of ‘The Red Chador: Genesis I’ live performance. Image courtesy of Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts
Documentation still of the community workshop for the six local participants of the Townsville iteration of ‘The Red Chador: Genesis I’ live performance. Image courtesy of Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts

 

AWDB: How important is it for you to feel a connection with the participants wearing the chadoras? And for them to feel connected to you and your work?

AYA: Each and every time the connection is built through the in-person workshop gathering ahead of the performances and the diversity and gutsiness of each participant. The Umbrella residency in Townsville is the third international iteration of the series; the other two performances were in Honolulu, Hawaii and Bellevue City, Washington. I think the most important requirement is courage as my community casting call specifically “seeks brave individuals interested in participating in a performance that requires silently walking in a heavy sequin chador, fully covered, along several predetermined outdoor public spaces.” And because I include a diversity requirement that outlines my interest in seeking other Muslimahs, queer folks and minority bodies, I always seem to get a really amazing group of 6 participants as each person is already politically aligned on the issues of confronting Islamophobia and homophobia. Sometimes I think this project is not about the actual live performances but the act of building a small community between the seven chadoras, the supporting crew (usually made of people and volunteers from the host organisation) and the documentation team. We work so closely together for such a short amount of time on such a high level of energy that we end up creating a very powerful bond that will connect us for a lifetime.

AWDB: How do you select the sites within the community where you engage with the audience?

AYA: This is the hardest part of my performances and takes the most time. This is not usually done until I actually arrive even though location suggestions are provided before my residency arrival. For each residency project, the story doesn’t unfold until I arrive, visit various sites and communities, work alongside all the local participants, engage in several conversations with community members and the host organisation, research and learn the local history and then find the points of intersection and engagement that feel authentic and timely to The Red Chador series and project themes. Sites are not only selected for their community, historical or political significance but also for their visual presence and power – in other words every site must additionally be something we want to cinematically capture. When making a short film –it’s ultimately a story that will be cinematically stitched together thus locations as well as the performance actions and engagements are all important components to the final commissioned video work.

Exhibition detail of 'The Red Chador' garment on view for Anida Yoeu Ali’s solo show 'The Red Chador: Stranded at Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts' from 7 July to 13 August, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist
Exhibition detail of ‘The Red Chador’ garment on view for Anida Yoeu Ali’s solo show ‘The Red Chador: Stranded at Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts’ from 7 July to 13 August, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist

 

AWDB: How are you developing The Red Chador work further?  Does it change with each iteration?

AYA: Yes, each time I perform it is a different iteration of the work that is “site-specific” to the community, location and political moment. I do have an epic goal to create the series in its final form, titled The 99. In this final iteration, The 99 is conceived as a public participatory installation in which museum and gallery patrons have the opportunity to rummage through a rack of 99 chador garments and select which chador each participant would like to dress in. Imagine The Red Chador had a walk-in closet and she can dress beyond just her red sequined chador. However, The 99 is more than the wardrobe rack and walk-in closet of The Red Chador. Each of the 99 chadors will be uniquely created from textiles sourced in Southeast Asia, specifically from Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam—countries that have all contributed to shaping my ethnic heritage. This would include various fibres such as silk, lace, satin, linen, denim, faux fur, tweed and etc. This would also include various patterns from Asian batik, ikat, kimonos to African kente cloths, polka dots to stripes, crazy textured and patterned prints to Hello Kitty characters, florals to geometrics. Imagine that one could rummage through this collection of 99 “haute couture” chadors and select any garment to wear based on one’s own ideas of fashion and/or simply one’s mood at the moment. In this performance-installation the public will get a chance to directly interact with the chador of their choice and they will have the opportunity to take a selfie, look into the mirror and/or simply walk around the exhibition space as a chadora of their choice.

 

For more information on Anida Yoeu Ali, please click here.

INTERVIEW COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND ART WORLD DATABASE, SEPTEMBER 2023.