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  • Up close with… Tahera Hashemi


Up close with… Tahera Hashemi

The Berlin-based Afghan film and stage actress is currently starring in the two-hander play War Zone at Ballhaus Ost from Dec 3-5. We spoke to her about War Zone and the difficulties she faced working in theatre in Afghanistan.

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Photo by Viktor Richardsson

Berlin-based Afghan film and stage actress, currently starring in the two-hander play War Zone at Ballhaus Ost

When did you start acting?

When I was 13. My sister wanted to found a theatre company, and as women it was hard for us to be accepted as artists, so we started a family company together. For seven years I was acting in Afghanistan, in Kabul and Herat. The theatre that we did was more political – about the situation and the atmosphere there.

What were your plays like?

We made pieces about women’s rights. We worked with women in prison; we also worked with schoolchildren. We took some of these plays to international festivals in Delhi and Sweden.

How were they received abroad?

The international response was really positive. And we were happy, too, that we could give them another impression of Afghanistan, which was our goal. We don’t want Afghanistan to just be associated with terror; we also want it to be known as a place where there’s art, where people live.

Who were these female prisoners you were working with?

Most of the women in prison in Afghanistan are innocent. So they weren’t dangerous at all. They were young, 17, 20 years old: only in prison because their husbands were beating them half to death every day and they went to the police and got a 16-year jail sentence.

Were you ever afraid that the government would target you or the women working with you?

I was always afraid for these women. Many were having trouble with their families, or their neighbours… I was always afraid that one day something would happen to them. And it did happen. Three years ago, two women in our group were killed for making art – it was considered heretical by religious fundamentalists and dissident by the government – and one young woman was kidnapped. We haven’t seen her since. One of my colleagues also died. And so I always feel guilty. It’s been very hard for me to accept that it’s not my fault.

How have you been preparing for War Zone?

In addition to the monologues from [writer] Dea Loher, we are also looking into our own personal histories, and philosophical material as well. We have to do a lot of research about war, and I’ve never really turned toward war – more like run away from it. And so now I have to surround myself with it, watch a lot of documentaries, read a lot. I want to transpose the feelings I have in my mother language to German. And that part is hard.

What do you want to accomplish with your performance?

I want to draw people’s attention to what’s actually going on in the world. That’s really sacred for me. If 100 people come and see our show, maybe they will tell another 100 people. For me it’s really important to inform people here in Berlin… For example, if people understood what’s really going on in my country, maybe they wouldn’t be sending asylum seekers back to Afghanistan as they’re now planning to do.

War Zone | 20:00, Dec 3-5. Ballhaus Ost, Pappelallee 15, Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bhf Eberswalder Str.