OZASIA FESTIVAL, ADELAIDE, 26 OCTOBER – 11 NOVEMBER 2018
ANIDA YOEU ALI
26 October – 11 November, 2018
OzAsia Festival, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide
Pegasos5 is delighted to support OzAsia Festival in the presentation of Anida Yoeu Ali’s exhibition and performance as part of the Visual Arts Program for the 2018 OzAsia Festival.
ABC News Australia, Report by Alice Walker, 31 October 2018:
Muslim American artist Anida Yoeu Ali holds Adelaide funeral for chador after it is lost in transit
Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of a dress made of red sequins.
A funeral for a dress might seem a little over the top, but the dress in question — a chador, belonging to artist Anida Yoeu Ali — is extraordinary.
It was also Ali’s alter ego; both a costume and a character that the Cambodian-born US-based artist created in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, which saw 17 people killed by Islamic extremists over three days in January 2015.
To Ali, the Red Chador was a symbol of “passion and life” that allowed her to be bolder, and braver. This alter-ego was defiant in the face of Islamophobia, willing onlookers to see her and to acknowledge her humanity.
As The Red Chador, Ali did not speak, but her gestures spoke volumes — the way she held the hands of those who trembled in fear at the sight of her, for example.
And then, in December 2017, as Ali was travelling from Palestine to the US, the garment disappeared in transit — in what the artist regards as suspicious circumstances.
Ever since, Ali has been mourning the loss of the chador and the character — privately, and within a new performance work, in which she conducts a ritual combining elements of Buddhist and Islamic faith.
Last week, as part of the opening events for Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival, the performer laid the Red Chador to rest for what she says is the last time.
Provocative — and ‘fabulous’
The idea of performing in a chador came to Ali in the wake of negative media reporting on Muslims in conjunction with the war in Afghanistan.
A Khmer Muslim, Ali does not wear a chador in her day-to-day life — but has used it to powerful effect in her art.
In her video and performance work The Buddhist Bug, for example, she is seen travelling through urban streets while wearing a massive caterpillar-like chador in the same bright orange hue as the robes of Buddhist monks.
Speaking to the ABC ahead of her OzAsia performance, the artist said much of her work has to have an element of humour.
“[With The Red Chador] it was also thinking about how can I empower her [this character]? If I was an orthodox Muslim woman practising my level of modesty, how can I be really fabulous?
“Who says the chador has to be black, or has to be white?
“And so that was really the idea that birthed this red sequined outfit — because what is more fabulous than wearing sequins, right?”
Making art in Trump’s America
Since its premiere at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in April 2015, Ali has performed the Red Chador around the world — memorably in Seattle, where she lives, on the day after Donald Trump won the presidential election.
“Myself and my husband were just floored,” Ali recalled.
“Along with millions of other people we just couldn’t believe that this was our new reality.
“We were both of course very scared, because he campaigned on the threat of building a wall, banning Muslims — and this was really immediate for us.”
She couldn’t sleep — and so decided to act, through performance.
“That was my mode of existing — but it was also my mode of protest; it was my mode of connecting with people,” she explained.
And so on November 9, 2016, Ali donned the red sequined chador, and stood in a popular market in Seattle holding a sign that said: “I am a Muslim” on one side, and “Ban Me” on the other.
She says the experience was therapeutic.
“So many people came up to me whispering and crying, apologising, asking me if they could have a hug,” she said.
“There was a woman who had an IV [intravenous cannula]… She saw me on Instagram, came down, and had a handwritten sign that said ‘Not on my watch’… She walked with me for like a couple of blocks with her IV hanging out of her backpack.”
Not everyone responded to the performance so warmly.
On campus at Trinity College in Connecticut, Ali said, some students shook with fear, while others yelled profanities at the Red Chador through the windows.
In San Francisco, the artist was forced to disrobe when she felt unsafe.
“I was chased down by a man with a windshield wiper trying to attack me on the streets,” she told the ABC.
“There was a man that yelled at me… ‘Get away from me I am going to harm you because you are triggering my PTSD… I have been stationed in Afghanistan’.”
“And I had another man in San Francisco who wanted to punch my face just because he saw me walking around with a red chador.”
Lost in transit
The Red Chador was last seen at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Ali was passing through that airport on her way back to the US from a speaking engagement in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
Back in the US, she found the suitcase containing her chador had not arrived.
Months later it had not been returned — and Ali suspects foul play. She sees it as “a clear message to me that I should not be doing what I’m doing, and [that] I have no business to do this in Israel or Palestine.”
t’s not the first time Ali’s artwork has been effectively destroyed: one of her works has been defaced, some outfits were lost in a fire, and others eaten by termites.
Rather than remaking the Red Chador, she decided to mourn — publicly.
“The thing that felt right, that felt like I was honouring what was happening, was to create these memorial exhibitions — to let the world know what happened to her, to create an obituary to honour the work, to honour the persona, and then to allow myself to create out of loss.
Laying Red Chador to rest
Ali has performed eulogies for the Red Chador around the world — and finally in Adelaide, last week.
Standing at a lectern, she addressed the assembled audience:
“Dearly beloved … thank you for coming to the final moments, as we lay to rest the Red Chador … She lived a life of international mystery, veiling herself in silence and red sequins. But in her silence she spoke truth to power. Reflected people’s fears, anxieties, uncomfortable gawkings and occasionally joy and humour onto themselves. They were the unsuspecting public.”
As the crowd watched on, she lit a piece of sequined fabric on fire, buried another piece in earth from the garment’s native Cambodia, and sang to the Red Chador.
Finally, viewers were invited to light a stick of incense for the lost outfit.
Following the performance, Ali told the ABC that she feels the Red Chador is laid to rest — for now at least.
“I feel like this is a good moment to close this particular chapter, and as an artist just rest for a while — and allow [Red Chador] to have that rest as well.”
OzAsia Festival runs until November 11 in Adelaide.
The author travelled to OzAsia as a guest of the festival.