“Your house is a minefield… just like your car, just like the orchard, just like the backyard.” This disturbing message of Martin Crimp’s production, “Advice to Iraqi Women,” is clear through the satirical juxtaposition of motherhood in two very separate worlds. The Rooms Gallery in Pilsen will be hosting this unique interactive performance installation on April 25th and 26th from 7-10pm in conjunction with Artropolis, the annual constellation of art expositions and fairs held at the Merchandise Mart this weekend. The performance is free, but suggested donations go to the American Friends Service Committee to benefit Iraqi refugees.
There’s an immediate discomfort upon walking into Rooms Gallery for “Advice to Iraqi Women.” Instead of finding a spot in the audience, attendees must decide at which of the eight desks they would like to sit, behind all of which a well-dressed lady awaits. After scanning the room to reassure yourself you choose any open desk that looks comfortable enough, but the nature of the monologue about to ensue remains a mystery. At first when the woman across the table begins a presentation to address her guest–her viewer, participant, and subject–on the correct measures to be taken in order to ensure a child’s well being, her concerns seems bizarrely irrelevant. Suggestions like “Make sure to put locks on all the cabinets in the kitchen” and “Always put sunscreen on your child” seem trivial in light of the politically loaded title of the production.
Gradually, the theme sinks in. Dripping with condescension, the simplistic directions and elementary presentation of such “obvious” worries involved in childcare force the viewer to think twice about what is being said. “Your house is a war zone.” Though the presentation refers to household hazards like stairs and cabinets, from the perspective of an Iraqi woman the statement is a literal reality. The triviality of a sunburn pales in comparison to the kind of burning faced by Iraqi families–a day at the pool doesn’t stack up to a nearby bomb explosion. While listening to assurances that a doctor will come immediately at any sign of sickness or that you can get anything you need from a local pharmacy, you consider the falsity of these assertions on a global scale.
However, the purpose of the production is not to provoke a sense of pity, but rather to criticize that idea in itself. “Advice to Iraqi Women” takes a critical look at the American mentality when viewed in this dynamic. The production description encourages the viewer to listen to “this series of trite maternal recommendations with the ears of a mother who’s endured unimaginable horrors at the hands of her benevolent counselors.” Marrakesh, the director of the show and a co-founder of Rooms Gallery, makes this statement about the production on her website: “I’d like to believe I have good intentions in everything I do. I’d like to believe I’m a compassionate and caring human being. I’d like to believe I have other people’s best interest in mind when I try to help them. I’d like to believe the President has good intentions in everything he does. I’d like to believe the President is a compassionate and caring human being. I’d like to believe the President has other people’s best interest in mind when trying to help them. But the real truth is… I don’t always have good intentions in everything I do. The President is not always a compassionate and caring human being. And we–the President and I–most certainly don’t always have other people’s best interest in mind when trying to help them. But I do KNOW that I have the ability to see those flaws in myself and can work to rectify them. I can only hope our leaders can do the same.”
Rooms Productions, 645 W. 18th St. April 25, 26, 7pm. web.mac.com/roomsproductions