"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own," Audre Lorde, the New York State Poet Laureate, civil rights activist, and self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," said prior to her death.
Her words are resonant with the women depicted in "SEVEN." From Russia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan come the stories of seven compelling women, overcoming unimaginable hurdles, creating good in their worlds and fighting against any woman ever being shackled again.
The Harwood Museum of Art, in collaboration with SOMOS, will present a documentary theatrical reading of "SEVEN" Friday (March 9). The doors of the Arthur Bell Auditorium will open at 6:30 p.m., and the performance will begin at 7 p.m. No admission fee will be charged; however, donations would be appreciated.
Lorde knew that shackles manifest in many insidious ways, and Vital Voices Global Leadership Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to women's issues throughout the world, is dedicated to bringing an end to that which no woman should endure.
Members, such as Malala Yousafzai, known to everyone as the young woman shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting the education of females, and who went on to receive the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, have implemented a sweeping array of programs to provide assistance to women in need.
And in spotlighting these needs, their project, "SEVEN," "tells the true stories of seven women who bravely fought for the well-being of women, families and children around the globe: in Russia, protecting women from domestic violence; in Cambodia, rescuing girls from human trafficking; in Guatemala, giving voice to the poor; in Afghanistan, empowering rural women; in Nigeria and Pakistan, fighting for women's education and rights; and in Northern Ireland, promoting peace and equality," according to the press report.
Each of the seven stories have been given voice by an award-winning female playwright and then woven together into a kaleidoscope of fear, struggle and ultimate triumph spanning the nations. The totality is a powerful narrative that we usually don't see from the comfort of our living rooms.
"SEVEN" was first performed on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 21, 2008, at the 92nd Street Y of New York City as part of the Unterberg Poetry Center's Reading series. It has since gone on to performances throughout the United States and the world. It has been performed in more than 20 languages, and, in this country alone, has been performed in 22 states.
"Part of its genius is it can be adapted as either a play or a straight reading. It's audience-friendly format allows it to be performed in a variety of venues without losing the profound impact of its powerful stories," said Judith Kendall, guest co-curator at the Harwood.
"Judith Rane found out about 'SEVEN' and we thought it was explosive and important," Kendall said. "We had done a straight reading of it at SOMOS last year, but felt so strongly it should be part of what is currently happening at the Harwood."
Kendall is referring to the exhibition titled "Work by Women," which is running at the Harwood through May 13. "This is the first time the Harwood has dedicated the entire museum to women artists," said Kendall, whose role as guest curator was in partnership with co-curator Janet Webb, and which has resulted in 10 important, separate exhibits available to the public.
"SEVEN" is the first in a proposed series of events that the Harwood will present in conjunction with its dedication to "Work by Women," Kendall said.
"We've selected Judith Rane as Inez McCormack, Northern Ireland; Pam Parker as Marina Pislakova-Parker, Russia; Christine Autumn as Hafsat Abiola, Nigeria; Anne MacNaughton as Farida Azizi, Afghanistan; Mikala Martínez as Mu Sochua, Cambodia; Susan Nuss as Annabella De Leon, Guatemala; and me as Mukhtar Mai, Pakistan," she noted.
"And in our performance at the Harwood, 'SEVEN' will be presented in a theatrical reading, with minimal stage sets, props and movement, under the direction of Jane Ayles," she continued.
"The voices in these stories are colorful, compelling and very, very real," said Kendall.
Playwright Paula Cizmar wrote the story of Marina Pisklakova-Parker, who established the first Russian domestic violence hotline at a time when no one in society or government had a name for it as an issue. Pisklakova-Parker's nonprofit Center ANNA, continues those services today.
Mu Sochua was the former minister of women's affairs for her government in Cambodia, and was co-nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in upending sex trafficking in her home country and neighboring Thailand. She has been a Parliament member since 2008. Playwright Catherine Filloux has written her story.
In Guatemala, Anabella De Leon found herself lucky to achieve an education and advance to law school after which she was elected a congressperson. With a focus on human rights, playwright Gail Kriegel brings her incredible story to life.
Inez McCormack of Northern Ireland tackled human rights and, particularly trade union rights, and was, prior to her death in 2013, a champion of fair labor practices, especially as they affect women and minorities. Carol K. Mack, playwright, has depicted her powerful journey through a man's world.
Afghanistani Farida Azizi railed under the marginalization of women under the Taliban rule. Devoted to providing medical supplies and health instruction to women throughout Afghanistan, Azizi was forced to seek asylum in the U.S. after the preponderance of death threats against her. Playwright Ruth Margraff has captured her poignant story of achievement.
In Nigeria, Hafsat Abiola lost her parents to political assassination. In their memory she founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy and became the youngest member of the Ogun State Cabinet in Nigeria. Anna Deavere Smith brings her travails to the forefront.
Pakistani Mukhtar Mai was gang raped by four men, a story of international outrage. Rather than fold to the tradition of suicide eradicating mortification, she fought her attackers and prevailed in court. Today, she is an advocate for education, and playwright Susan Yankowitz is honored to portray her story.
"We in Taos are fortunate to live in a bubble of powerful women, but it's nevertheless amazing how emotional it is for women to see the entire museum turned over to their voices," Kendall mused. "I think the addition of 'SEVEN' is an important part of these several months of exhibitions and contemplations."
The Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street. For more information about this event or ongoing exhibitions, call (575) 758-9826, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit harwoodmuseum.org.