During National Storytelling Week, we hear from Abir Hamdar, Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University, and also playwright and author of short stories.
Since 2017, Abir has been working on a research project looking at the cultural history of cancer in the Arab world. One strand of this - Performing Arab Cancer - has been based on extensive qualitative fieldwork conducted with female cancer patients in the Arab world. The project tells the stories of these women in creative and performative ways – creating a ‘living archive’ of Arab female cancer stories and testimonies.
As part of this project, she wrote, produced and curated a series of creative arts outputs – including two ethnodramas, a film and a video installation – in collaboration with international artists, healthcare practitioners and cancer NGOs to highlight women’s subjective experience with the disease.
Abir’s play Wasafuli al-Sabr, or I am Waiting for You became the first dramatic staging of Arab women’s experience of cancer, exploring what it feels like to have – or be had by – cancer. That disease, that thing, the bad disease: these are just some of the terms that are used to name and shame cancer and cancer patients in the Arab world.
This play aims to break some of the cultural taboos put in place vis-à-vis cancer, to contemplate fears and disavowals and to listen to experiences that have for long been rendered unspeakable.
Wasafuli al-Sabr was first performed at Nuha al-Radi Hall in Madina Theater, Beirut, Lebanon, in July 2017. The production was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK as part of the Open World Research Initiative, by Durham University, UK, the Lebanese American University’s Performing Arts Program, and the theatre company Beirut 8:30.
Watch a short film written and produced by Abir which was used as a prologue for the play.
Hear an audio recording of the play exploring the experience of one woman facing a cancer diagnosis.
Dr Abir Hamdar
School of Modern Languages and Cultures