Zarina Khan – Tunisia & France & worldwide

Linked with The Zarina Khan Productions, and with Le Dictionnaire de la Vie.

She is one of the 1000 Women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price.

She says: “The world has to give birth to its soul. Perhaps through theater. Theater and cinema are a way to reach thousands, maybe even millions of people” … and: “I am lucky to say I do not know where I come from. I come from the world, from different religions, different countries. This is the gift I received, which
enables me to push borders beyond the stars”.

She says also: “I think that, after the event, we can always tell our story in a rational way. But like love stories, certain forces are profoundly rooted, part of our personal path before becoming an objective mission. I say that because I have set myself a mission, my own personal reasons arise from my family’s story. My life story was shaped by momentous events in the 20th century. My mother’s White Russian grandparents fled Russia in 1917 because of the revolution, widespread massacre and incomprehension. Yet they aspired to social equality. Their travels led them to discover the world and other cultures. They ended up in Tunisia where they were welcomed with open arms. Lawyers, engineers, and doctors were seen as fundamental architects for the country’s structure.”

See two videos of her production (with ethno music, in french):

EE-Zarina-Khan ECHT rogné.jpg

Zarina Khan – Tunisia & France & worldwide

She works for The Zarina Khan Productions.

And she says: “One of the main obstacles facing us all is the way society hides behind ‘bunkers of categories’. We cannot say, who we are if we cannot say, where we come from or which community we belong to. That is a major obstacle, which must be undone, urgently. My work is about undoing frontiers and categories. An urgent process, because those bunkers are where war begins.”

See her homepage.

Zarina Khan (born 1954), philosopher, poet, actor, theater and movie director is a true world citizen. In 1993, as war raged in Sarajevo, Zarina set up a workshop there. This gave rise to “The Dictionary of Life,” a play that toured Europe, and has been renewed in new contexts in Beirut, the Balkans, and strife-ridden suburbs, wherever one struggles for human dignity.

Author of several books on human rights, architect of many projects on children’s rights, Zarina’s articles on “a new way of teaching peace” have been published in many languages.

Born in Tunisia, of a Pakistani father and a Russian mother, Zarina’s path matched her eclectic heritage. Muslim in the first part of her childhood in Pakistan, baptized in a Russian Orthodox Church in Tunisia at the age of four.

Roman Catholic schooling with Dominican nuns, a German Protestant stepfather, then marriage with a Polish Jew, whose entire family had perished in the Holocaust.

Zarina, drawn to theater from childhood, pursued advanced studies in both drama and philosophy, A logical course, to her mind, as both disciplines were born in ancient Greece, coinciding with the earliest notions of democracy and human rights. While teaching philosophy, she directed ancient Greek plays, which denounce the horrors of war. She went on to lead workshops in writing and theater in conflict-fraught areas to heighten participants’ awareness of their own role in creating peace.

Zarina’s rare patchwork of a personal history designated her as a champion of theater as a forum for human liberty and expression. She studied human rights, specifically children’s rights, and philosophy which she still teaches.

She put on her first play at the age of nine, just as she began writing poetry as soon as she had mastered the alphabet. She has persistently pursued both vocations.

Her experience in philosophy, theater and film led her to devise a method in writing workshops and theatrical practice, adapted to all levels from primary school to university. Over the past several years, Zarina has elaborated workshop productions throughout the world, thus encouraging cultural exchanges and understanding.

In 1993, she set up the Theater and Liberty in War operation, implementing a writer’s workshop in Sarajevo’s war zone. Sarajevo in 1993 was a city in agony, with death on every corner and in every face, and people struggling to survive in terrifying conditions. This was the context for Zarina’s workshop, a space in which people could recover their dignity and stand up to face the world. Her mission was to build bridges. In a city where buildings were blown up, where ruins were lethal, Zarina explained that she is “an architect whose ‘buildings’ are human beings: our materials are writing, images, dance, our own poetry.”The ‘closed spaces’ in which Zarina works (closed in by violence, drug addiction, death) are compounded by silence.

A deadly silence. Zarina’s work is the journey back to one’s voice, finding one’s ’story’. This project gave rise to The Dictionary of Life, a play which toured throughout Europe, enlightening audiences about the civic responsibility we all must bear.

In 1995 Zarina was invited by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) to be part of a committee on the Culture of Peace, concerning peace education and the progress of peace in the world.

Alongside theater experiences with adults and children living in war zones, Zarina writes, directs and produces documentary films. She began this work in 1996, with the feature film Ados Amor. She made it with a group of teens living in a culturally and economically deprived environment, in the Seine Saint Denis. The result challenges preconceived ideas about these youths, all from racially mixed backgrounds. The film, selected for prestigious festivals around the world, including Cannes, is often used during conferences against racism.
A recent project brought together French youths from deprived backgrounds and Tuaregs from Mali. The writing workshop gave rise to a rich exchange between different ethnic groups, providing the basis for a scenario. The resulting documentary is Essabar or the Shelter of Being. Filmed in Mali with Tuaregs, it was awarded First Prize at the Festival for Mental Health in Lorquin, France.

Zarina has been able to achieve her goals because she is fired by a profound conviction, the belief that we all have a mission in life: “Our journey in this life is not a kind of sterile passage.”

Zarina has trained a great number of teachers worldwide with this system of approaching peace through art, and the method now reaches thousands of people. Teens she met in workshops are now parents, who now raise their own children with an open, pacifist view of the world. Several young drug abusers Zarina worked with have gone on to become nurses or social workers, thus working as “consciousness raisers” themselves. The tools Zarina teaches are used by doctors, therapists, teachers, and social workers alike. Moreover, her theater productions and films touch a wide population from varied backgrounds.

Participants come away with the same objective: to seek beauty in the world, or Peace.

Zarina’s mother was born in Tunisia 1923 when it was still a French protectorate. She was a French citizen living in a Russian colony in Tunisia. French was their school language, and their official nationality. During the Second World War, when Zarina’s mother was 18, she heard de Gaulle’s appeal on the radio asking the French to fight the Nazi occupants. She did not know France, but she knew what gratitude meant. Zarina’s mother felt she had a debt, and joined the resistance. Zarina’s father was from southern Indian, and familiar from childhood with all religions, including Islam. He soon understood that different religions create conflict, and committed himself to the creation of a new country: Pakistan. He believed this country would put an end to religious violence, allowing Muslims to assemble and pray for peace.

Such was Zarina’s family heritage: on one hand the conviction that borders are moveable, and on the other, the awareness that religion leads to conflict.

Most important perhaps, was Zarina’s experience that a ‘host country’ may welcome you more than your own country. From birth, Zarina was aware that the world is an accumulation of conflicts, and religion is often the cause.

Zarina’s model was a mother who traveled half the world to meet her Indian father. She married him, defying both English and Pakistani law. She was almost killed several times during the upheavals. After one attack, she was hospitalized. She fled Pakistan and her husband while still pregnant, no doubt to save her child.

Zarina realized that separations can be necessary, not because of conflict in the couple, but because of conflict in the world and intolerance towards mixed marriages. Yet such marriages represent Peace, and as such, a precious lesson.

Under Pakistani law, Zarina’s father could have made her stay, but he preferred to let her go. He told his wife to teach their daughter another religion because she did not know Islam well enough. “Give her your religion”.

Zarina was baptized in the Russian Orthodox church of Tunisia at four years old. This, she believes, was the foundation of her work today: the fact that her father pronounced the words “give Zarina another religion”, his belief that the structure of culture was more important than culture itself.

“These are deeply personal reasons, but they belong to everybody. This story belongs to the world and the 20th century and it is so rich I must share it.”

The ‘Zarina Khan’ method is now in use across the world. The workshops are the expression of profoundly democratic principles. The fundamental idea is that that each of us has a part to play, wherever one is from, whatever one’s situation. (1000PeaceWomen).

Zarina Khan est philosophe et femme de théâtre. Elle fonde en 1983 sa Compagnie de Théâtre qui, composée de peintres, musiciens et réalisateurs, monte des spectacles, dont Les “7 contre Thèbes” d’Eschyle au Théâtre de la Tempête à la Cartoucherie de Vincennes En 1992, la Cie ouvre un département vidéo – Volk Productions, et un département Editions Volk. (full text).

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