Gambit Weekly, Nov.20, 2001
Best Foot Forward
A local dancer hoped a multicultural performance would benefit an Afghan women's group not many Americans had heard of. Then came Sept. 11.
By Eileen Loh-Harrist
Before the Sept. 11 tragedies brought the plight of oppressed Afghan women to the forefront of national consciousness, New Orleans dancer and international performer Audrey Elizabeth Emmett wanted to do something to help them.
Emmett was introduced to their struggle earlier this year via email petitions in support of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), founded in Kabul in 1977 by Afghan women committed to improving human rights in Afghanistan and to establishing a democratic, non-religious-based government.
The group's central mission has been to educate, aid and empower women and expose human-rights violations by factions that have controlled Afghanistan since the late 1970s -- beginning with a Communist coup in 1978, a Soviet takeover in 1979, and a series of various fundamentalist groups that led to the Taliban's rise to power in 1996.
The activities of RAWA members, such as establishing girls' schools, became illegal after the Taliban took over. "Many of them were assassinated because of it," says Emmett, who learned more about RAWA's missions by watching documentaries on CNN and BBC detailing Afghanistan's bloody history.
"It was so horrifying," says Emmett, a dance instructor and founder of Dance Without Borders, an international performance troupe. "I said, 'I've got to do something, and I'm a performer, and I want to do a performance.' That's my medium to communicate."
With support by the University of New Orleans' Office for Multicultural Affairs, the UNO Women's Center and Tulane University's Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, Emmett put together A Cry of the Heart, a fundraising presentation for RAWA incorporating dance, music, spoken-word and other performances, with an emphasis on classical Middle Eastern arts. Emmett had begun organizing the event this summer, and her plans took on increased urgency after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Right now RAWA is running refugee camps on the Pakistani border, and that's what I intend the money to support -- indigenous relief efforts," Emmett says. "The camps are tiny villages and they provide shelter and hot food and emergency medical aid when possible, and it's the beginning of winter there already, so shelter there is of great importance."
RAWA's Web site, http://www.rawa.org/, contains hundreds of detailed reports and gruesome photos and videos of atrocities committed by the Taliban. "Caution," a disclaimer box on the site's home page reads. "RAWA is committed to truthfully reflecting the reality of life under fundamentalist rule. This website contains photos and links to video footage which some viewers may find extremely disturbing. Our apology for publishing such material is ... this is the reality of life for the people of Afghanistan."
Emmett will be joined in the performance by Washington, D.C.-based choreographer Laurel Victoria Grey, whose central Cry of the Heart piece "is performed fully veiled under a modified burqa," Emmett says. In addition, the Houston dance troupe Nadira Nar will present classical Persian dance, and the program will feature the Ishq Music and Dance Ensemble and Sunanda Nair, an internationally recognized classical dancer from India now living in Kenner.
Emmet says her intentions are simple. "I really want to send [RAWA] a fat check," she says. "A dollar goes a lot farther there than it does here."