The “diva” is a common trope when we talk about culture. We normally think of the diva as a Western construction: the opera singer, the Broadway actress, the movie star. A woman of outstanding talent, whose personality and ability are both larger-than-life.
But the truth is throughout history, many cultures have featured spaces for strong female artists, whose talent allows them to break free of the gender roles that pervaded their societies. In Three Asian Divas: Women, Art and Culture in Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou (Abbreviated Press: 2020) David Chaffetz briefly explores how these “Asian divas” could be seen as some of the first recognizably “modern women''.
In this interview, David and I talk about the three different cultures of Three Asian Divas: Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou. We discuss what it meant to be a diva in these historical contexts, and what they say about gender roles in these historic Asian societies.
After studying Persian, Turkish and Arabic in college, David Chaffetz worked on the publication of the Encyclopedia Iranica and is also the author of A Journey through Afghanistan, a study of its varied people, social classes and religious sects. He has lived in Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, and travelled extensively in Asia. After a forty-year break working in the technology industry, he returned to writing with “Three Asian Divas.”
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.