Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Interview with deaf Muslim punk playwright, Sabina England

From The Examiner:

Salaam Sabina! You're a performer, filmmaker, ASL artist and you also happen to be deaf. How do you do it all, what motivates you? 

Art and expression are my life, it's what keeps me breathing everyday. I was born to create and express myself. There's really nothing else better in the world than for me to "create." There's a lot of f***ed up s**t in this world but there's also a lot of beautiful things out there, and I just like to express how I feel, take something out of my soul, and share my works with the world. Sometimes I'm angry and outraged at the cruelty, racism and violations of human rights, so I'm going to speak out. Sometimes I'm just happy and in love, and I want to celebrate the beauty of Mother Earth, the beauty of life, and I want to share my love with others.

I was going to add 'Spoken Word Artist' to the list, would it be incorrect to refer to you as such or others that use Handspeak/ASL to tell a story?

You can say "sign-language spoken word artist" to the list . I think, "ASL artist" isn't an accurate term, it's like calling someone a "French-language artist",. What also works, you can also call me a stage performance artist who uses mime, ASL, and dance.

Thank you. Want to take a moment to debunk any myths that people attribute to the deaf community

A lot of deaf people can lead normal lives despite being deaf. Believe it or not, there are some deaf people who are glad to be deaf and don't want to be hearing. I know a deaf man who is in a seminary and studying to become a Catholic priest. He is profoundly deaf and cannot speak. I know another deaf person who is a veterinary who takes care of rabbits and helps run an animal clinic. Some deaf people hate being deaf and are not happy being deaf. We are all different and we all have different feelings about being deaf, and we have different experiences. Deaf people are everywhere, deaf people are diverse, and deaf people vary in their talents, careers, and dreams.

Which of your works are you most proud of and has it been well received by others?

I would say that I am most proud of having done "Allah Earth" (a sign language poetry film I shot, directed and performed in Costa Rica). I got so many emails and comments from other people on the Internet. I got an email from a Pakistani Muslim guy who said that the video showed him how beautiful ASL is, and it makes him want to learn sign language so that he can communicate better with his mom, who is deaf and hijabi. That made me so proud and happy. I also got messages from non-Muslims who say that "Allah Earth" shows the beauty of my love and connection with Allah and Mother Earth, done in a tasteful manner.
I am also proud of doing "Poema 15," another sign language poetry film based on a poem by Pablo Neruda, which was written in Spanish. I got many compliments from people in Latin America, from Argentina to Puerto Rico, Bolivia and Brasil, who enjoyed watching my film using both Spanish (oral) and American Sign Language. It was very hard for me because Spanish is not my natural language, it is my third language, so I had to think hard of how to translate Spanish into American Sign Language that would seem smooth and not forced.

Lastly, I am very proud of my book "Urdustan: A Collection of Short Stories" and the positive impact it had on people, especially South Asians, who liked that I showed a variety of South Asians from all different walks of life. It took me so much time to write short stories, and to put it all together. I hope to maybe re-publish it and add a few more stories to the collection.

I ask all interviewees this, what do you say to any naysayers or people who seem bent on tearing you down for whatever reason, how do you cope with it?

honestly, the haters don't matter to me at all. They can keep hating me and keep talking shit, and they don't affect me or my world. I do what I want everyday, I approach life with a smile on my face, with lots of love and positivity in my soul, I've started to feel happy for the first time in my life after all theese years of living with anger and resentment. So, I truly feel sorry for those people who force themselves to stay so unhappy and be full of hate and try to tear down others.

If money weren't an issue, what would you be doing and where?

I really want to go to Bolivia and Peru, and make a bunch of short films-- experimental, artsy, narrative, music, and documentary films, and work with deaf Indigenous artists in both countries. I would also love to go to West Bank and Gaza, and work with deaf Palestinians. I would just like to be able to travel everywhere in the world, perform on the stage, perform with others, whether they are deaf or hearing, South Asian or South American, Muslim or Jewish, African or Asian. I also want to produce others' scripts, turn them into short films or feature films, and be a movie producer.

If I were made to list 3 or 4 one-word descriptions of myself, off the top of my head, I'd say I'm Muslim first, Female, then Black. What about you?

Artist (Art+Film+Soul+Theatre)

When you turned 30 earlier this year, what were some life lessons you realized and can share with us?

There's just no point in hoping that others would give me opportunities to showcase my talents, so I've thought "f*** this s***," and I went out and bought myself two professional High-Def camcorders even though they were so expensive, but worth it. Now that I can continue to write, direct, produce, and edit my own films and put them in film festivals. No one else is going to give me a chance, so I have to "hire" myself over and over and over again, and then put my works out there for the world to see and enjoy. Also, I've decided to stop feeling so angry at the world. I am tired. Tired of feeling angry everyday, tired of feeling resentment toward others. So I've worked on improving my approach to life. I reached out to people in my life and have worked on improving our relationships. I've stopped responding to drama and passive aggressive bullshit. Now I'm just focused on me, my art, and my happiness. And it's actually starting to work.

If you could tell your 14 year old self one thing, what would it be?

Never, ever give up, never stop believing in yourself, keep doing what you're doing, and f*** what other people think/say about you.

What do you consider the main issues that plague western Muslims these days?

Aside from the fact that the Western governments are bombing our brothers and sisters in many different countries around the world, and aside the fact that the governments don't care about reducing human impact on Mother Earth, I think that Western Muslims have to struggle between Islamophobia and putting forth a better image of ourselves to the media. We are still trying to make our voices heard both in the media and politics. I think that Western Muslims should get more involved with social issues and human rights, and make a stand for our brothers and sisters of different races, religions, orientations, disabilities. We should show that our religion teaches us to have respect and love for all, so we should be at the forefront of the struggle, standing up for human rights, dignity, liberty and freedom for everyone.

What are some Muslim Deaf groups you support or belong to?

none, I do not belong to any Deaf Muslim groups. However, I know of Metro South Asian Deaf Association, a group in Washington DC for Deaf South Asians which include Deaf Hindus, Deaf Muslims, Deaf Sikhs, and anyone who is deaf and brown, from the Indian subcontinent.

Do you like what Muslim Global Deaf Muslims have planned for a Hajj/Umrah trip this year?

I know of them, and I really admire them that they're organizing Deaf Hajj/Umrah for Deaf Muslims to go together. I was on the Hajj one time and it was difficult for me to understand or know what was going on. Maybe someday I would go on a Deaf Hajj or Umrah w/ Global Deaf Muslims. I fully support them!

What are some future projects that your fans should look out for this year?

My new short film "Namaz Ki Udasi" (Prayer of Sorrow) is currently in the works. Insha'allah I hope to release it online by the end of June or early July. Also, I am going to perform an ASL poetry rap and shoot a video later this summer. The rap poem is called "Deaf Brown Gurl." I will also do a short experimental film about climatic change and the harmful effects of modern technology on Mother Earth. I will write a bunch of narrative scripts so maybe I will direct and shoot two comedy films at the end of the year. But I'm just going with the flow and go with whatever project feels right at the time.

Any thing else you want to share with our readers today?

I just want to thank everyone for their love and support! You can check me out here, follow my Twitter, like me on Facebook, watch my short films, and subscribe to my blog!