Deaf Punk Playwright/Poet, Sabina England, Lets it Loose!

Leroy - Posted on 28 October 2013


Krip-Hop Nation (KHN) - Hello I’m so glad you said yes to an interview!  First of all your work is beautiful.  Tell us you call yourself a Deaf Muslim Punk Playwright please explains.

Sabina England – Thank you for asking me to do this interview for Krip-Hop Nation! As you know, I support your works and I’m a big admirer of your organization. I’m grateful for your support and friendship. Anyway, just so we are clear, I didn’t originally call myself a Deaf Muslim Punk Playwright. A Pakistani Muslim teenager in Norway who had followed my works online and was an admirer created the name of my Facebook public page.

So I was surprised to see a page about myself on there, and I became friends with her, and she talked to me about the Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia in Norway that a lot of Muslims, both immigrants and European-born youths, faced from other people. She was drawn to my works, to my anger and political awareness in my art, to my struggle existing as a Deaf South Asian Muslim woman of color immigrant punk rocker in a hearing white man’s world.

Eventually I took over the Facebook page. I like the name of the Facebook page, because it helps shows the world that I am: Deaf, Muslim, Punk, and Playwright. I wanted deaf people out there to see my name come up in results for “deaf” and see that there’s a working deaf artist who has a career in theatre, filmmaking and playwriting, these fields which are very difficult for deaf people to break into. I also wanted Muslims to find me in search results and see that there’s a Muslim woman filmmaker / artist / performer. I wanted other Muslim women to find me and enjoy my works.

And I wanted the world-- whether hearing, deaf, non-Muslim, or Muslim, to see that I am not a stereotypical “deaf and dumb” girl, or that I was NOT a “helpless  / oppressed” Muslim girl who needed to be saved.

KHN - As a Deaf Muslim woman on stage, do you want the audience to listen and feel the communities that you are from and if so how do you get them into your art/performances?

Sabina England –Yes. In a way I want the audience to know that we EXIST, we are here, and we have many stories to tell, and we are NOT invisible! Being deaf, I incorporate American Sign Language in my stage performances, because it’s easier for me to express myself through sign language when I perform. I can speak, but I find it easier if I am allowed both forms of communication. I also find that sign language is richer and more diverse in storytelling, while making it accessible to both deaf and hearing audiences. I also want to force the hearing audience to have a new experience while watching me perform.

As a deaf person, I struggle everyday with communication issues and missing out the beauty of music, sounds of nature and people and animals, etc. I am missing out something really important yet so simple that hearing people experience everyday for their rest of their lives, you know? So when I perform in ASL, the hearing audiences may not understand me 100% and I want it that way. I want them to really pay close attention and watch me and try to understand what I am saying, while the deaf audiences get to fully enjoy and understand me! So I want the hearing audiences to have a completely new experience while watching me.

As an Indian woman, I take stories and elements from my North Indian culture. I also incorporate visual aesthetics from my culture, such as traditional and modern Indian clothes, or using Indian music (whether classic or modern), Indian-style make-up. I am very inspired by the diversity of India; we have so many different religions, tribes, languages, and cultures in our motherland. Our history is great and rich. We have strong traditions in storytelling, dance, music, singing, and art. Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists, and other Indian Muslims inspire me. India inspires me; it is part of my soul and plays a very heavy role in my works.

As a Muslim woman, I take spiritual themes from my Islamic faith, such as protecting Mother Earth and honoring our home for all human beings, having respect for fellow humans and all other religions and cultures, and understanding the concept of Jihad (“Struggle”), to defend our souls, minds, and bodies against the dark, ugly things in the world (such as racism, homophobia, misogyny, audism, ableism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, hatred, bigotry, violence, cruelty, loneliness, etc.…)… strive to be happy, learn to love each other, defend our homes, and protect our Mother Earth.

KHN- Off stage you are behind a camera and pen.  As director you created “Wedding Night” which in the trailer it says that Husband & Wife meet for the first time at the wedding.  That is gripping tell us more.

Sabina England – I am from Bihar, India, and I have a very large family in India and overseas. Our family is a mixture of both modern and traditional. Arranged marriages are still very common amongst many Indians, and in our family as well. Just so that I want you and everyone else to know, arranged marriages are usually NOT forced, but usually happen when the woman asks her parents to arrange the marriage. In my family, arranged marriages only happen when the woman or man ask for it to happen. There are no forced marriages in my family. For me, personally, I could never have an arranged marriage, so I will never have one.

So anyway… I have a very active imagination and I always keep asking questions about everything. I’m thinking about something new every day. So, yeah… I’ve wondered what happened between a husband and wife for the first time on their wedding night, and what would happen if they discover they were completely wrong for each other. I thought it would be an interesting story. I wrote the script, planned the production for about 6-7 months, got an actress from Los Angeles and flew her to St. Louis, and shot the film over 3 days, and had the film professionally edited in a small town in Iowa. The film premiered at Tribeca Cinemas in New York City and I got to meet some famous filmmakers such as Mira Nair and Aparna Sen, both that inspire me greatly with their films. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget, and the experience made me even more determined and hungry to keep making films.

KHN – As an author you wrote and self-published your first novel, Urdustan (A Collection of Short Stories), a book of short stories about South Asians from all walks of life.  Why did you think this book is important and tell us why you end up self-publishing it?

Sabina England – The book has many short stories and features characters from different backgrounds. There are Hindus and Muslims, Indians and Pakistanis, punk rockers and deaf youths, Hasidic Jews and gay people. All the short stories were loosely inspired by true events in my life.

You know how some people out there claim that they don’t see race that they are colorblind, and race doesn’t matter? You know those people I’m talking about? That shit really bugs me. We ARE different, and race DOES matter. We all have different experiences based on our gender, race, disability, sexuality, religion, etc. And I wanted to show the readers that… look; we are NOT all the same. We are all different! We all have different experiences. We will not experience love or friendship the same way!

But in the end, we all want the same things in life… Love, friendship, happiness, family, respect, acceptance.  But we all experience those things in different ways, we have different experiences, and that’s fine. I wanted to show that in Urdustan.

I went the self-publishing route because I hate sitting around waiting for letters from agents or publishers. And it can take a long time for books to be professionally printed by a publishing house. Anyway, I like to have complete control over my works, so I felt that self-publishing was the best option for me.

KHN - Your short videos are a mixture of politics, laughter, nature and such.  Please give us a brief rundown on “Allah Save the Punk!” And "Allah Earth.”

Sabina England – I made “Allah Save the Punk!” because I wanted to do a light comedy with a storyline using both punk rockers and religious extremists from a Muslim punk rock perspective. Growing up in Northern England in the 1980s, I always liked punk rock and I was just drawn to the subculture for its sheer anger and energy, but also for its political awareness. I just wanted to have fun and make other Muslims laugh at ourselves. Humor is the best medicine! We all know that one person in our community who’s a self-righteous, holier-than-thou person, and I wanted to create a self-righteous character that is so full of themselves and so extreme in their beliefs. I created the Mullah, who was so religious and holy, but somehow ended up with a punk rock daughter. That’s pretty funny, right?!


 Also the title “Allah Save the Punk!” was inspired from “God Save the Queen” by Sex Pistols. 

I shot, wrote, and filmed “Allah Earth” in Costa Rica. I underwent some changes in my life, both mentally and spiritually. I was starting to figure out my place in the world and I had almost attained a sense of happiness. I had been working with a musician group called Lux Ascension, which incorporates music with performance art and storytelling, and I worked with Bryson Gerard (who moved to St. Louis from Los Angeles). He inspired me to go off and try something on my own. I was also a big lover of Sufi poetry. Sufi poets are all about love and connecting with Allah on a greater, intimate level. So I wanted to incorporate sign language into a poem about Mother Earth, and have it stylistically influenced by Sufi poetry. I thought Costa Rica was the perfect place for that because it’s such a beautiful country and the people there take great pride in their environment and take good care of Mother Earth.

Today “Allah Earth” has developed into a live theatre project, and will premiere in London on April 2014 and then go on to the St. Louis Fringe Festival, hopefully.

KHN - On your website it says you are apart of S.O.S Records, an underground Los Angeles streetpunk label, and have often been linked to the Taqwacores scene.  Please explain.

Sabina England – I was a friend with Rob Chaos, the lead singer from Total Chaos, we became friends on MySpace in the mid 00s and stayed in touch. He liked some of my posts and liked my attitude so he asked me to be the face of S.O.S Records, they printed out promotional flyers with my face and put it up at punk shows everywhere! I was also asked to appear in Taqwacore (the documentary) and I said no because I had some problems at the time and I didn’t feel ready to do the project. So they used one of my photos (with my permission) and put it in the film. So ever since then a lot of people have associated me with both.

KHN - You lived in the UK and the US as a Deaf Muslim artist/writer/filmmaker which country has been open to your work/politics and what are the politics of both countries that make it into your art?

Sabina England – This is a hard question to answer, but I will try my best. I think the UK is a better place for South Asians because South Asians are the largest minority group so we have a better representation in the media and we are very much a huge part of British society. Chicken tikka was also made in England (not India), and some of the best South Asian actors in Hollywood came from England, and so many British people can identify famous South Asians, and some Bollywood stars such as Shilpa Shetty became break-out stars in England. Major cities in England, Scotland and Wales have large heavy South Asian communities. When I lived in England, I felt very Indian and British. Yet in the USA, I’ve never felt American. I’ve always felt… foreign. (for the record, I am a dual citizen of UK and USA).

So in Great Britain, there are better opportunities for South Asians in theatre, film and television. I cannot say the same for South Asians in the USA (I say this from my own perspective, of course, and many other South Asians will disagree with me). Also, the Arts Council of England gives out money to artists, filmmakers, theatre companies, etc. and they give out grants to POC artists. That would never happen here in the USA, since so many Americans have such an anti-artist attitude and would never want the U.S government to fund the arts.  So yeah, I think for South Asians, it’s better to be in Britain than USA.

As for the Deaf, I think it’s hard anywhere on Earth for the deaf to break into, but USA and UK offer better opportunities for the deaf, so deaf artists would probably do better there than in other parts of the world.

And for Muslims… there’s a lot of Islamophobia in the UK and USA…so I don’t know how to answer this one.

KHN - Can you share with us your piece, "Being Deaf,"

Sabina England – “Being Deaf” was one of my first poems I wrote as a child, I think I was in 6th grade. I was almost 13 at that time. My body was going through hormone changes, and I felt very alone and fucked up emotionally. I had been mainstreamed in a hearing school so I was placed in a hearing environment with hearing students for the first time in my life. Before, I had been around deaf children all my childhood. I felt more comfortable around the deaf. But being around hearing students, I felt being judged, stared at, and whispered. I was also an Indian Muslim, and people at the school were all white, WASPish, And All-American. I did not fit in at all. “Being Deaf” had lines about me struggling with speech therapy and feeling left out in the dark and feeling frustrated with my speech problems and trying to communicate with hearing people.

KHN –I saw you in San Francisco in 2012 at the Women’s Building and you had visuals, audio, sign language all focus about being a Deaf Muslim woman.  I think you made a video about your piece.  Can you explain that piece for us?

Sabina England – It was for a South Asian women’s festival called Yoni Ki Baat. Yoni Ki Baat is a festival that celebrates the diversity and stories of South Asian women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, all over the Indian subcontinent. One of my friends, a musician and recording artist named Micropixie, a fellow South Asian woman, who lives in San Francisco, contacted me and suggested that I write a piece for Yoni Ki Baat, so that she and I would perform together. I liked the idea so I wrote a piece called Ugly/Beautiful Brown/White. The poem was about my childhood struggle about being brown, and how much I hated being brown and Indian.

I thought that I was very ugly for having dark skin, black hair, and dark eyes. The poem also detailed how I would drink milk to lighten my skin, and I’d often pray to Allah, asking to become white. I was surrounded by images of white girls and white women everywhere in the media, so it had a very negative impact on my self-esteem. The poem also detailed about how I came to accept my brown skin and began to see myself as beautiful.  A lot of South Asians in the audience loved it because they all went through something similar in their childhoods, too.

KHN - Have you worked with Deaf musicians/rappers?

Sabina England – No, not yet. But I would love to.

KHN – What is your advice for other Deaf women of color who want to do what you do?

Sabina England – You really have to believe in yourself. When you start out, no one else is going to help you. You have to be brave and put yourself out there and share your works. Look for any opportunities to work with other artists, musicians, filmmakers, or poets. Network your butt off, get your name out there, and go to as many arts events as possible. Volunteer if you can, and make other people remember you so that in the future maybe they’ll contact you if there’s an opportunity for you. Put yourself on many social networking platforms, and engage yourself with the public but do it in a very positive way.

Oh… and everyone should know this... if  you support other artists, they’re likely to support you back, too.

KHN - How can people get in contact with you?

Sabina England – They can contact me through my website contact form. I am  also on Twitter and Facebook, so people can send me a message or tweet me! I also have a YouTube channel that people can subscribe and watch, and a blogspot where I publish some of my short stories and poems. (@SabinaEngland)

KHN - What is one thing in your profession/world that piss you off and how do you deal with it?

Sabina England – Lack of accessibility for deaf people in film, theatre, and performing arts… being deaf is already hard enough but even harder trying to get jobs or be involved in the film / theatre industries without using an interpreter or not being able to lip-read well… and this other thing especially upsets me.. I notice there are practically NO fellowships, grants and paid opportunities for the deaf in all artistic fields, especially film and performance art.

Also there is a lot of hidden racism toward deaf people of color in the arts. I could not find any information on film grants or fellowships for the deaf, yet a black deaf filmmaker had claimed that some white deaf filmmakers were given money by relay organizations to fund their films while deaf filmmakers of color were ignored. She is probably right because I’ve seen deaf films that were sponsored and funded by organizations, yet these films feature almost all white males who were deaf. I don’t see much race diversity in these films!!! I believe she is telling the truth.

How do I deal with it? I believe in myself, I keep working hard, and I do things myself because I know nobody else will. I am not going to be angry all the time and let the anger consume my soul. I just got to be positive and keep going and ignore the hurdles that society tries to place in front of me.

KHN – Any last words?

Sabina England – You won’t hear the end of me, this is just the beginning!


Sign-up for POOR email!