Making babies, overthrowing systems
Evolution and revolution. Making babies, overthrowing systems. Why has this connection never occured to me before? It’s so obvious now that I’m reading the promotional text. Perhaps the vocabulary was lacking, imprisoned by the German mother body that births body armour for destruction, and by fears of contact with second-wave rhetoric.
As I arrive at the theatre, it starts to rain. I’m tired, a little melancholy. Also curious. Others have told good things. I go around the corner to a deserted passageway and call my kids. They ask how I’m doing. What my plans are for tonight and when I’m coming home. Soon. They’re in a good mood. They say they miss me. A young woman tidies up a restaurant, cleans it, closes it. All the work involved. Who’s waiting at home? Does she ever go to the theatre? Does she work here to fund her studies? Because her parents don’t have enough money? Or did she come to this city from further afield, far away, to work here, to have any work at all? I end the call and go back to the theatre.
The performance is about to begin, we spectators are permitted to go up to the entrance, we are only a small crowd, it feels like an honour, an acquaintance couldn’t get a ticket. It’s dark, we are ushered into a room inside a room, a circle made of curtains, rather angular, but soft. Only later do I realise the obvious – again. It is, of course, a womb, like the famous Womb Room, 1972, Womanhouse, in a coarse crochet pattern, a uterus (I cannot even begin to think about the symbolism of the German word Gebärmutter, which literally means bearing-mother), and here too, the walls of lace curtains don’t seem to act as limiting boundaries but as protection. A loving enclosure, perhaps there were some in Rima Najdi’s childhood too, or maybe there are today.
Little by litte we take our seats, hesitantly, or perhaps shyly trying to find our way in the dark. I don’t know the people next to me, but at some point we are all sitting on chairs around a table, as if all of us had been invited. For a meal or a meeting. A four-sided table formation. Like in school. Or at a political conference, a small one. There is a lot of technical equipment in the room, flashing coldly (why coldly, why, more than 30 years after ‘the clitoris is a direct link to the matrix’, is technology still a patriarchal instrument of domination for me – that’s just too slow), and the performer walks across the tables, microphone in hand, repeating mantra-like that the performance is about to begin, in various permutations. I’m fascinated by how charmed I am by this. I feel invited. Addressed without being exposed.
I watch myself as I’m furtively watching the artist. As she energetically and confidently walks across the tables. Perfectly straight. Like a queen, I can’t think of another word. And the way we look up at her from below. Is this a male or a female gaze? Am I doing what John Berger disparagingly considered capitalist or what Iris Brey calls solidary warmth? I see Rima Najdi’s legs walking by, admiring their strength. Are those rhinestones on her lower legs or is this meant to be blood? Running down.
When the performance starts, I want to make sure to remember everything, the sequence, every detail. What is being said, what the music is like. And then there are the circular movements, the cycles, and it is quite clear that it is no longer clear what is what, what is when. When revolution and when street fight, with running-tear gas-shots, the moving images are projected onto the curtains. When the birth-giving occurs, with images of nature ranging from rippled-stormy to idyllic, feathers and other objects are placed on an overhead projector, the collaborators wear coats like in a laboratory. There are no clearly separate sequences, no sense of time, everything flows into each other ocean-like, no one knows how long it takes, when birth and death occur, they are so close to each other. Najdi wheezes into her microphone, gasping for breath from tear gas and labour pains, and at some point everything seems to come to a standstill, she talks about how body and mind separate because nothing is bearable anymore, and then she says the sentence that stays with me: “She ghosted herself.”
Still, it continues to flow, in waves-cycles-labour pains, and she keeps walking in circles across the tables, holding out her microphone to the guests, who, astonished, have to say words like “push” and “rrrrevolution” into them, and a collective feeling of embarrassment and amusement spreads, how varied the words sound. Some almost shout, others mumble, some say nothing, a void.
And then it all subsides, the artist asks spectators for their mothers’ names, repeats them, I am moved by this gesture of respect, imagine myself publicly saying my mother’s name, out of gratitude for having carried me and giving birth to me. And that of every female revolutionary who fought for justice. With gentle authority, Rima Najdi indicates to us that it’s over now, that every end is a beginning and every beginning an end, the performance is over, you are welcome to applaud, and I go out into the rain, which has developed into a violent thunderstorm. In the covered passageway stands a man with a stroller, the baby cheerfully clinging to him, laughing, both so contented despite the cold. Delighted, I hear the sentence the man says to the child: “Come along, it’s over. Let’s go inside to see Mummy.”
Sonja Eismann is the co-founder and co-editor of the feminist Missy Magazine. In addition to her editorial work for Missy, she works as a freelance author for Deutschlandfunk Kultur, publishes articles and books for children and adults, most recently Movements & Moments. Indigene Feminismen (2022) and Wie siehst du denn aus? Warum es normal nicht gibt (2020), and teaches about (pop-)feminist issues at universities and in workshops. She lives in Berlin with her partner and two daughters.