Iraqi Bodies’ The Baldheaded

“Butoh”-inspired Iraqi contemporary performance

Authored by: J Dellecave

The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138691094
eBook ISBN: 9781315536132
Adobe ISBN:


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The 2000s and 2010s are proving to be an era of violent conflict and war unfolding in new locales every day. During this time countless amounts of social and popular media images represent peoples from war-torn Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. The usual onslaught of Internet images bring faraway wars to the tidy rectangles of our laptop computers, neatly packaging the diversities of war-affected humanity into generalized identity boxes – Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, refugee. Within this fast-paced quick-to-change landscape, the general ethos and pervading stereotypes of what ‘these people’ look like are constantly in flux and overwhelmingly negative. Popular amongst these images are the stereotypes of Iraqi as terrorist or Iraqi as victim of war. This essay examines perhaps the least obvious and most obscure place for an intervention into these visual media-perpetuated narratives, a contemporary Iraqi dance theater performance inspired by Hijikata Tatsumi. With focus on the butoh-inspired choreographic work The Bald-headed, I contend that choreographer Anmar Taha, director of the theatrical company Iraqi Bodies, effectively countered negative stereotypes of Iraqis as aggressive and hyper masculine. Taha’s The Baldheaded poignantly and powerfully conveys Iraqi experiences of war as universal iterations of human suffering. Through embodied butoh-inspired images of Iraqi men as artists rather than as terrorists or victims, Taha’s work illuminates compelling tensions between universalism, whiteness, and the international concert stage.

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