Oscar-winning actor Tilda Swinton on Friday came down heavily on what children are taught in schools and the identities imposed by society on human beings.
Swinton said she always wanted to be a writer and never thought of becoming an actress, expressing regret for deviating from that line of thinking.
She also appeared to be less than pleased with her experience with the education she received, and spoke at length about the restrictions placed by mainstream education system that exists today.
The British actor also spoke about her inspirations in life, her ideas and beliefs, during a session titled “Performance as Authorship,” with poet and writer Ahsan Akbar, also one of the Dhaka Lit Fest (DLF) 2017 organisers, on the second day of the festival.
Swinton said as her education did not do her much when she was young, she was nervous about her children getting a proper education. “My education has been so alienating, and un-empowering.
“But my children went to a Steiner school and I am really, really happy,” she said, explaining how the school’s three-tier education system helped her children develop remarkably.
Swinton also said that she does not believe in identity. “Society forces us to think about identity as a concrete thing. If we do not choose it, it will be chosen for us. We have to live with it for the rest of our life.
“I think it’s a terrible thing for humanity because what humans are really good at is being changeable. Identity is beyond gender.”
Swinton’s session was one of the 38 held on Friday at Dhaka Lit Fest that celebrates a wide array of literary and cultural forms and sets off debates on topics ranging from politics to science.
The seventh edition of the festival being held at Bangla Academy premises in Dhaka not only offers books or literature, rather acts as a platform of debates, poetry, dance, paintings, films, arts, and other cultural acts.
The second day began with a sombre session of Kirtan songs, devotional music dedicated to Lord Krishna, performed by an ensemble from Dhaka’s Rayer Bazar Temple.
The first two days of the festival were also marked by a wide range of Bangla sessions, drawing much attention from both the participants and visitors. About 10 Bangla sessions, which included traditional dance and songs, Lathikhela, discussions on history and culture, were held on Friday.
One of the core attractions of the day was special recitation by Paris-based Syrian poet Adonis where the audience was mesmerised listening to the poems in original Arabic.
Considered one of the most influential Arabic poets of modern times, Adonis recited two poems on Jerusalem from his book which were, in turn, recited by Sadaf Saaz from the English translation of the book “Concerto al-Quds.”
‘Rohingya persecution is genocide’
Speakers at a plenary session titled “Rohingyas: Landless Future” on Friday afternoon said that the ongoing persecution on the Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State was genocide and the matter should be taken to the International Criminal Court for investigation.
The session was held at the Cosmic Tent with US Army War College Research Professor Azeem Ibrahim, former UN under-secretary-general Ameerah Haq, Professor Jeff Kingston from Japan’s Temple University, British journalist Justin Rowlatt and writer and journalist Machael Vatikiotis as panellists and DLF title sponsor Dhaka Tribune’s Editor Zafar Sobhan as the moderator.
A dark but funny Shriver
At the session “We need to talk about Shriver,” American journalist and author Lionel Shriver spoke at length about her work and the audience for literature.
In conversation with DLF Director Dr Kazi Anis Ahmed, Shriver discussed several of her novels, including “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a book about a teenage sociopath, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005 and was adapted into the 2011 film of the same name starring Tilda Swinton.
Shriver described her 2016 book “The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047” as a classic dystopia, imagining economic turmoil in the future United States, and discussed the possibilities of a real life economic apocalypse and the social responses to it.
Panelists at another session titled “#metoo” on Friday talked about sexual violence against women and the nuances of the issue that came to the forefront because of the online movement.
Many women, despite having financial independence, still have to face social barriers and stigmas, they said.
Shedding light on the dire situation, the panellists emphasised the relevance and importance of the social media movement which started with the hashtag #metoo.
The DLF this year also brought some good news for the fans of legendary writer and filmmaker Humayun Ahmed.
A memorial museum on Humayun will hopefully open to visitors around the end of 2017 in Gazipur’s Nuhash Palli, said the late novelist’s wife Meher Afroz Shaon at the discussion “Filmmaker Humayun.”
“Humayun Jadughor will let his fans immerse themselves in his personal and professional lives,” she added.
During another session at DLF, Nasreen Sattar and Ameerah Haq, two extraordinary women who worked in Afghanistan in different times of their careers, said they had found the country as magical, even though most of the world probably thinks of it as an active war zone.
Nasreen had became the CEO of a British bank’s headquarters in Kabul in 2007 and held the position for several years and former UN under-secretary-general Ameerah as a diplomat served two terms there.
Both of them said that they had found the Afghan people loving, caring and affectionate.
Meanwhile, book publishers at another discussion stressed on the need for government intervention in setting up local libraries to enhance the reading habit of people.
They also urged the government to integrate book reading in academic curriculum with “relevant policies” so that students can have access to various kinds of books, in addition to textbooks.
On Friday, at various sessions, Nandana Dev Sen talked about mother-daughter relationship, former publisher and CEO of Penguin Random House John Makinson discussed about publishing, and artist Sandro Kopp examined the relationship of the artists to the subject.
The second day also had six sessions for children, including a puppet show by veteran puppeteer Mustafa Monwar.
Like previous years, the festival includes book launching, cultural performances, children’s sessions, documentary and film screenings, interactive panel discussions and a lot more for literary enthusiasts.
This year’s festival focuses on free speech, the plights of the Rohingya community, women’s rights issues and a number of important debates surrounding overarching historical issues.
More than 200 writers, poets, performers, publishers and journalists, representing 24 countries, are taking part in the three-day literary extravaganza that began on Thursday.
The most highlighted event of this edition, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, which will be announced for the first time in Bangladesh, will take place today.
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