Art with an alternative perspective

Photo by Richard Davenport, taken at Transform 2017.

Javaad Alipoor, writer, co-director and lead performer, brings The Believers Are But Brothers to centre stage at the Culture Lab Oct. 30–Nov 10.

The one-actor play deals with identity, insecurity and fantasy while taking on the topics of toxic masculinity and far-right extremism in the online world.

A representation of masculinity and extremism

With just a few years of experience under his belt, writer-director-actor Javaad Alipoor has received acclaim and buzz for The Believers Are But Brothers, which he says has enabled him to tour the play throughout the U.K. as well as abroad.

The piece is a collection of three stories about men who become involved in the world of extreme, far-right politics online, journeying further and further into narratives – and consequently, life paths – that appeal to some of the men’s most deep-seated angers, insecurities and desires.

The many themes of the show, which include toxic masculinity, the alt-right, 4chan and Islamic extremism, are some of what Alipoor feels are pressing and hotly discussed social issues of today. Alipoor says it’s the appearance of issues being distant that makes them all the more dangerous.

“I think the ideas that I explore in this play are ones that a lot of my audience are already tussling with,” says Alipoor. “I hope that through engaging with the work, they get a sense of stickiness, complicity and urgency – the feeling that these problems are not something over there to be thought about, but something we are all complicit in.”

Alipoor recognizes the proliferation of this discussion topic and says he is critical of the common approach of Western media outlets in how they seek to understand white far-right extremism and its online roots.

Alipoor says this becomes especially apparent when compared to media discourse around Islamic extremism, but the two extremes are not simply two sides of the same coin either: for both sets of beliefs there are similarities and differences in their inciting factors and consequences.

“I don’t make a simple comparison or argue that these are two reflected extremisms. What the show is really about is fantasy, resentment and digital screens as a sort of political catalyst – that’s the conversation I’m hoping to have with people,” says Alipoor.

A need for new perspective

Mainstream media is not his only source for discussion – Alipoor says that the need for a new perspective extends beyond the news. He feels art can be just as powerful in either helping or hindering such a re-framing of discussion, and the world of theatre is an engaging platform for novel perspectives.

“I think this background has always made me really bored of the parochialism of lots of Western theatre: the idea that the white and European view is international and universal by default is nonsense to me,” says Alipoor. “I think if you come from working class immigrant communities there is an easy cosmopolitanism, an internationalism that comes from below that I hope is present in my work.”

Alipoor is a British-Iranian Bradford, England native, whose background spans from DJ-ing in the U.K.’s unlicensed rave scene to advocating for alternative community work. He feels the success of The Believers Are But Brothers arguably marks another commercial success for art with an alternative perspective.

But Alipoor insists that for the frame of artistic discourse to truly open up, the worth of art must extend beyond its financial value.

“As artists I don’t think the commercial argument is the final or most important one for us. The leadership of our industries is still primarily upper class, white and male. It’s when that changes that I think the really interesting things happen – not just a change in who makes art, but why and how it’s made,” says Alipoor.

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