The Un-knitted Lives of Young Girls is part of a long collaborative relationship between visual and performance artist Anne Bean and young Iraqi performance artist Poshya Kakl. The performance was a screening of Kakl’s film Knitting Iron on two large screens hung on either side of a long industrial space in Birmingham’s AE Harris factory. The film documents Kakl visiting an Iraqi prison where women who have refused arranged marriages are imprisoned.
The film shows Kakl bringing bags of colourful wool to the prison for the women to decorate the fence that both imprisons them and makes them feel more safe. The women talk as they knit: love stories that quickly spiral into injustice are told, and accompanied, on screen, by musicians and singers. They weave the fence into a beautiful carpet on either side of the audience. In the performance at AE Harris a fence had been erected in the middle of the room which a small group of volunteer participants, costumed in dark eye make-up, decorated during the screening, starting from the bottom and working upwards, so that the fence became engulfed with soft woollen displays.
As one of the participants, I found the experience of the show affecting – the performance felt particularly profound as it nudged me to attempt to form a connection with these women who are so distant from myself and my lifestyle. As my hands worked the wool between the bars of the cold metal fence, I tried to imagine a different life for myself, to find empathy. I think this was Anne’s intention, to create an empathetic place in which we could receive Kakl’s work. At the same moment Kakl was performing a piece using the same film in Iraq. Through this action we connected to places without the complication of crossing borders and acquiring visas. The work of Anne Bean had particular potency in light of BE Festival’s multinational context and ethos of crossing borders.
The film is extremely powerful and the live action of decorating the fence enhanced this, but at times the action felt over dramatised by its use of calling voices and by the out loud repetition of subtitles – I found this distracting and it removed me from the intensity of the issues raised.