"Iraqi people use culture and celebration to create resilience in their community and they are excellent at putting on a party. If a church is bombed, you don’t cancel the wedding, you move it to a new location and the party lasts for three days! There is so much emphasis on music, food, dancing and being together, and they often use celebration to move through pain. It’s an incredible process to watch, as music and dancing seems to last forever" said PYT Artistic Director Karen Therese.
"The refugee experience is of course very complex and difficult but we wanted this work to reflect the pure vibrancy and joyfulness that is equally important in Iraqi culture. When you share these experiences, it can change your perspectives on race and culture in Australia. We also wanted to showcase a wonderful example of what the community is doing to create positive solutions around the debate" she adds.
PYT | Fairfield (PYT) this month unveils a powerful new work inspired by the rich and vibrant Iraqi culture in Western Sydney. Created in collaboration with the local community Little Baghdad: Cafes and Gardens is a pioneering theatre experience. Set in an Iraqi community garden in Fairfield, it brings together art and music, to explore the diverse personal stories and everyday journeys of what it means to be an Iraqi in 21st Century Australia.
The evening unfolds around an Iraqi dinner party. By day the garden houses a commercial kitchen and community centre for refugees. The space will be transformed into a surprising and intimate evening of Iraqi food, culture and storytelling as audiences experience authentic Iraqi culture. This emotionally-charged and unique theatre-going experience will stay with viewers long after the evening ends.
"We make works of significance that address some of the toughest issues faced every day in the Australian community. We hope people enjoy the experience of theatre presented in this peaceful café garden setting. But even more importantly, we hope they learn a little more about Iraqi culture and the warmth and vibrancy of the community. By hearing these personal stories, we hope it challenges people to see beyond the headlines and spark intelligent conversations around the refugee debate in Australia today" said Therese.
On arrival at Little Bagdad audiences will be greeted by Iraqi residents. Viewers will be invited to wander the garden setting which will be transformed into an art gallery and multi-media installation. They will then be seated on Persian rugs and a delicious Iraqi dinner will be served. The audience will hear locals explain traditional ways of eating Iraqi food and everyone will enjoy a tea and coffee ceremony. During the dinner party, stories will be shared by local artists and community leaders, including a once-famous Iraqi TV actress from the 1950s, her daughter and granddaughter. The night will end in traditional Iraqi style with everyone on their feet dancing to live music.
Little Bagdad aims to shine a spotlight on the Parents Café as a thriving example of social enterprise. The Café has been acknowledged by the United Nations as one of the the world’s best models of resettlement practice and inter-community support for asylum seekers. Sadly, however, it is under threat of closure. "Of the 12,000 refugees arriving in Australia in 2017, as many as 8,000 have been settled in Fairfield. The suburb is at capacity and the school is struggling to cope with the increased demands of so many new students. The Parents Café provides a vital role in helping thousands of new refugees to cope with everyday life of settling in Australia and the trauma faced by many asylum seekers. Its closure would be widely felt with devastating consequences for the community" said Therese.
Running from March 16th to 24th, Little Baghdad is set inside the Parents Café garden at Fairfield High School.