Tooba, the tree of life, must be controlled, kept
in fear, scrutinized
By Torange Yeghiazarian
December 8, 2003
Response to Shirin Neshat's "Tooba" currently
being screened at Asia Center, New York City, through February
I sit there watching the two screens facing each
other. On the left, there is a blue sky with scattered clouds.
A misleadingly promissing weather forcast.
On the right screen, I see a woman's face, her closed eyelids move revealing
an active dream. I stare at the woman's face, she is stuck in a tree, or
tree protecting her? Or are they one in the same?
Then they come. On the left screen, men and women
wearing black, running up the hill and down the meadow towards
the walled courtyard where that glorious
tree stands hosting the woman within it. They come running. As if they
have heard her silence within the tree and feel compelled
to - what? Silence
more? Or is it her peace that is unbearable to them?
The woman's silence awakens something in me. Her
firm stance within the tree. There is strength yet, she seems extremely
vulnerable. The crowd
There is a circle of men chanting. Their voices underscore the crowd's
emergence. I recall a distant memory, a man's body too close behind me,
I was frozen.
Tears flow down my face. What do they want from
her? The crowd gathers outside the walls of the courtyard. What
are they going to do to her? I'm
uncontrolably, silently and I don't know why. The tree is majestically
standing in the center.
I remember being followed in the street. The steps behind me growing
faster as I pick up speed hoping to lose the guy, or to arrive
at my destination
before he- he what? He does something, what ever, does it matter?
it matter if
he just touches my ass as he walks by or actually feels my breast,
or simply makes a rude comment? Does it make any difference? They
are all acts that
violate me as a free individual. I am surprised to find, thirty years
later, that it
still makes me angry. I am surprised to find myself crying in a dark
screening room because a seemingly uncontrolable mob is approching
a woman standing
peacefully in a tree. On two screens facing each other across the room.
the left screen, I can see the rythmic motion of breasts moving
up and down as the crowd breathes together, voraciously,
unified as one
animal. Hungry for what? What do they want from her? My body is filled
weight of their gaze, those strangers in the streets of Tehran that
wouldn't stop staring. There was no tree, no walls, and I remained
else was there to do? Being followed in the streets, being felt in
harrased with lude offers... these were facts of life for women when
I was growing up. And our response? Silence.
They are not all men. Don't even think about reducing
this to man-bashing. There are women in the crowd. They all look
scary. I remember being
spat on by an old
woman in Qazvin. She just plain spat on me as we crossed one another
on the sidewalk. I was barely a teen. She mumbled something under
unflattering comment I was happy not to have fully heard.
Why is there
such rage in our society? Why are we so angry with each other?
The mob begins to climb up the walls. On the right
screen I see the woman has disappeared. She is no longer visible
in the tree. The
mob gets closer
closer to the tree and then steps back, maintaining a circle, enclosing
the tree but
not attacking it. What is not done is as important. What is not
said reveals more than what is. That which has disappeared is more
"Tooba" seems such a perfect representation
of the paradoxes of our society. Our preoccupation with romanticism
on the one hand, and on the other, our inability
to actually practice love. Tooba, the tree of life - it is explained
in the lobby display - she must be controlled, kept in fear, scrutinized.
It takes courage
to let the life force roam free, within our selves and within our
society. And maybe that's just what we're missing. And maybe, just
maybe that's why we are
all so pissed.
Torange Yeghiazarian is founder and artistic director
of Godlen Thread theater
production company in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes, directs
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