V-Day in Tbilisi
On the evening of February 10th, 2011, we set out by train to Georgia. We were only five from the group of women who would gather in Tbilis from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia to do a performance of the Vagina Monologues in our respective languages. After 12 hours of traveling through Armenia and Georgia, we finally arrived in Tbilisi and were greeted by Keti, a staff member of the women's organization in Georgia that was sponsoring our trip. She led us to our hotel and told us to rest for a few hours before we would be sent for to meet with the Georgian organizers of V-Day.
We arrived to the office of the Women's Political and Resource Center a few hours later and met some of the women who would be reading alongside us in Georgian. We discussed the monologues we had been working on, the process of translating the play from English, the interesting integration of 3 neighboring countries from the South Caucases working together, and the logistics for the day of the performance. The common language between us was Russian,which has remained a widely known language in the region even after the fall of the Soviet Union, and English, the language of globalization.
Throughout this project I kept thinking about what it means to translate a play from English to Armenian, to perform a play that is so widely known in the West as controversial, feminist, progressive in a country that is considered developing and third world. In the process of translating we had come upon a number of problems and had changed various parts of the text in order to fit the reality of the women in Armenia. After the initial translations were finished, each performer looked at her own monologue and made changes in the language, choice of words, etc., in order to make it fit her life, way of speaking, experiences, and so on. After all, it would sound strange to read the monologue "The Flood" and talk about "Edgar Montaine," a name that has very slight chances of belonging to an Armenian man.
In either case, it is still a play that was manufactured and produced in the United States. I still can't decide if the initial difficulty of translating "vagina" and simply talking about it the way it is written in the play and then translated, has to do with the overall common oppression of women throughout the world or if it has to do with the queerness of translating a Western reality/outlook/perspective into Armenian.
One thing that I can say is that thinking of this project in such a way can be draining and pointless. If I can go to the movies in Yerevan and watch "Sex and the City" with Russian voice-over, then it doesn't make such a huge difference in the dose of Western imperialism that is pumped into the veins of Armenians if I put on a play called the "Vagina Monologues" in Armenian. At least I can know for sure that after coming to see the play, Armenian women will not be consumed with consumerist thoughts of changing their hair color to blond and going on diets in order to lose weight or maintain a certain figure in order to be considered beautiful.
On February 14th, which is considered V-Day in the movement, we staged the performance with all three countries represented. In the background was a screen which ran the English script of the monologues, and as the performers read, the screen displayed each respective monologue. The order of the readers was mixed. First someone read in Georgian, then in Armenian, then in Georgian again, then in Azerbaijani. It was incredible to hear the different sounding languages side by side, and to hear (or read in English on the screen if one didn't understand the language that a monologue was being read in) stories about sexuality, body, birth, rape, discovery, and so on from the lips of different women, with connected histories and experiences. It was like the act of speaking dissolved the borders between the three countries.
In the end, it was't so much about the "Vagina Monologues" being a Western play and how that in itself can be oppressive in a non-Western reality. We made it our own. And we had fun. And in the process we thought about the context of the play and the way it echoed or was totally foreign to our lives. It was something like an ongoing discussion and the ending can always be changed.
Photos by Svetlana Antonyan