By: Maira Asaad
Dr. Farah Ali is the most recent academic to enter the folds of the English faculty. Born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, this is her first time in Pakistan. She will be offering ‘Words are all we have: Identity Predicament in the Theatre of the Absurd’ in Spring Semester ‘20. With a Ph.D in English Literature and Drama, and a focus on Women’s Studies in her postdoctoral research at the University of Leeds, Dr. Farah’s research on the theatre and women often intertwines.
She views the theatre as “an arena for free speech” and a place where you can see “how people wish for women to be represented, even more so than in reality”.
During our interview, she wears a ring shaped like an abstract face on her right hand. When asked about it, she says that when she saw it, she felt it was very theatrical and reminded her of the Comedy and Tragedy masks that are commonly associated with the theatre.
“I like anything that has faces or weird expressions on it. I think the face is a mirror for the person. I’m also very observant of people’s reactions; maybe that’s part of studying theatre, digging deep into people’s emotions, their likings and dislikings.”
It is this combination, she suggests, that has brought her to LUMS.
I ask her how she is settling in, both at the university and in Pakistan.
“I see more commonalities between Iraq and Pakistan than differences. We are both Muslim countries. Iraq is not a stranger in that sense – in terms of language, social norms, religion, tradition, at least.”
Because she comes from an Arabic speaking country, she is also considering the prospect of offering a course on Arabic literature in Fall ‘20.
“Poetry is a very big deal in the Arab world, especially from Iraq – we have got fantastic poets. There is a specific kind of literature that has emerged after the Iraq War. We cannot detach ourselves from politics. But at the same time it addresses many other social issues, be it in a Romantic or social framework.”
Dr. Farah Ali goes on to elucidate the effects of the Iraq War. As part of her postdoctoral research at the University of Leeds, she interviewed women from the Iraqi diasporic community in the United Kingdom to ascertain the effects of immigration on their language, settlement, and family.
As she tells me about her work, my attention drifts to a bright, framed painting hanging on the wall behind her desk. An African woman in rural, blue attire smiles back at me. The words ‘Ethiopia’ are painted in white at the bottom of the painting.
When I ask Dr. Farah about the painting, she says she received it from a friend as a gift while she was visiting Ethiopia in 2018, but the conversation quickly leads into another segment of her research, which she conducted in Nigeria as an affiliate of the American University of Nigeria. The University is notably known for launching its rehabilitation program for the Chibok girls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram in 2014, and had sparked the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign. During her time in Nigeria, Dr. Farah was able to conduct a series of interviews with the Chibok girls.
Seeing how the conditions of poverty and class had driven some of the choices in these girls’ lives also “opened her eyes to research in Pakistan”, where she is interested in similarly exploring the effects of poverty and the structure of the marriage institution on women in Pakistan, and how these factors shape women’s identities. She also wants to look into the representation of women in Pakistani theatre.
“I was applying for the post of English Professor, but I immediately linked this opportunity in Pakistan to my interest in women’s studies as well.”
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