ONE WOMAN SHOWS
Pieter Space, Los Angeles 2017
One Woman Shows is a play on words against the singularity of the solo exhibition to a model of multiplicity as a group of women witnessed and performed acts of self-naming. The project, initiated by Cindy Rehm is inspired by Suzanne Lacy’s 1975 collaborative performance, One Woman Shows. The network of performers was built through a chainmail structure to produce an interconnected community of participants who engaged in an experience that is both intimate and communal.
One Woman Shows is A Metabolic Studio Special Project in archiving/the Woman’s Building
In the summer of 2012, I spent 3 months in Berlin. I stayed in Neukölln, an area with a large Arab-Muslim population, must like the one in Chicago where I grew up. Berlin has a population of just under 200,000 Muslims and the number of people riding bikes on any given day is roughly that same number. However after living in the city for a couple of months, not once did I see a hijab-wearing women on a bicycle. I couldn't help but notice this as I was forbidden to ride a bike growing up. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Yemen, where conservative values of extreme gender inequality are the norm. They were raised to believe it was improper for girls to ride bikes, that bicycle riding was a threat to a girl's virginity, her “highest virtue”.
This led to the idea for these rides. I asked a few friends to don hijabs with me before setting out for a bike ride in the city. We road around Kreuzberg and Neukölln, the areas most populated by hijab-wearing Muslims. The stares of onlookers and comments of disapproval made the stigma evident.
Unfortunately, my visa ran out before I was able to continue this project with more rides to advertise bike riding lessons for women and girls in the area. But I was elated to learn that a few years later, as more Syrian refugees began to arrive in Germany, that is exactly what happened. Several groups are now offering lessons to girls and women who have never ridden bikes before.
To this day, it is highly taboo for a woman to be seen riding a bicycle in places such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. A headline in 2015 reading “Shock and Controversy as Women in Yemen Ride Bikes” was for a protest ride that 14 women turned up for; 4 knew how to ride bikes.