Text: Sarah Fichtner & Canan Mona Pour-Norouz
“As we move, we move others; in observing others move – we are moved.”
(Judith Lynne Hanna, anthropologist and author of “Dancing to Learn”)
Mona impressed me. There was something in the dance video and in the words that she had sent to our encounter team that deeply touched me. I knew I had to meet her. Call it destiny. Call it longing for answers lingering somewhere in my mind, as a woman, as an academic, as a dancer. Call it resonance… It was more than an interview seeking context for content. It was an intense encounter for its own sake.
“So, who is Mona?” I asked her, sitting face to face in a small Café in Berlin Neukölln. “That’s me”, she said. We both laughed. “I’m a Master’s student of Political Science at Humboldt University and I am also an aspiring choreographer and art director”, she explained. “I am an urban dancer, I come from Hip Hop, but I studied a lot of different styles. And I’m 23 years old.”
“Are you a Berliner?” “By now I am, but I was not born here. Funnily enough, my Dad considers himself a Berliner as he used to live here after coming to Germany. However, being a refugee from Iran, he couldn’t really choose where he wanted to stay and he had to keep moving. But Berlin was always his home, he said. I was born in a very small town in that little triangle right on the border with Switzerland and France. Pretty conservative. So when the time came to decide where I wanted to study, my first thought was Berlin; kind of going back to where my father left off. This is the way the circle is closing.”
“Was there a click moment when you knew that you wanted to dance?” I continued our conversation. “There definitely was a click moment. I remember starting to dance because I developed an overwhelming desire to express myself freely. At some point in my life, I felt so caught in myself, I felt like I really wanted to break out of that. I had so much to say, I had so many stories to tell, I really wanted to communicate with people, but obviously speaking in my everyday life wasn’t doing it justice anymore and so I was like: I want to have a platform where I can express myself fearlessly. I think, when I started dancing, I quickly realized: okay, this is it. This is really a possibility to be yourself unapologetically. Dancing finally was something that I could do to just get to know myself for once. I was 17 or 18 at the time and it was a critical phase in my life.”
I think dancing and especially creating these dance visuals is a way of empowering yourself by really reclaiming how you are perceived… it is in your hands.
ZANJEER: A STORY ABOUT SELF-LIBERATION
“You study Political Science and you dance. And I would say that your dance also carries a political message. You wrote to us: ‘When reading about the Encounter magazine, I was truly able to relate to the mentality behind your work. Being a German-Iranian woman, I am interested in the ways in which our multifaceted identities shape our interactions with others.’ How would you describe the relationship between dance and politics, or perhaps we could call it: the politics of perception, in your work?”
“I couldn’t do one without the other; one informs the other actually. The communities I get to know through dancing inspire me to keep on planting political processes that are more inclusive. I study a lot of minority rights and constitutional politics and I’m also part of these communities. And then Political Science really influences my art, because through Political Science I learned to critically reflect on a lot of things, especially on identity politics. I feel like I really need to unlock my own identity before I can unlock art. But actually: what do you mean by politics of perception?” she asked me back.
I replied: “When you were writing to us that your piece relates to the perception of womanhood, of the female body, of success and beauty – which resonates with the context it was danced and filmed in: the beautiful and powerful Bode museum with all its gold – and finally to the concepts of freedom and self-liberation: breaking the chains, I perceived these images as highly political. I thought of your dance as a medium to confront us with the political subtext of our own perception: how we perceive people and things, how we might be perceived, how we want to be perceived and how we perceive ourselves.”
“Absolutely”, Mona said. “I think dancing and especially creating these dance visuals is a way of empowering yourself by really reclaiming how you are perceived… it is in your hands. My dance visual called Zanjeer deals with just that topic. It focuses on how spaces of power in the city, in which especially women of colour are underrepresented, influence how we present ourselves to others in our everyday life.
Zanjeer, the farsi word for chain, is a story about self-liberation on two levels:
– The first level is the liberation from irrational self-protection and denial by accepting and allowing unconditional love.
– The second level deals with liberation from material possessions and those standards that are sold to us as gold, but that chain us more than iron ever could – definitions of success, of wealth, of womanhood.
The state you are in definitely informs the way you listen to music; the way you interpret it. When I listened to the song Blue Light by Kelela back in May 2018 I was in a phase where I felt like I had lost any sort of self-love. I really felt like I was just running behind these goals that I had set up for myself, but I was losing myself in the process. And then when I heard her sing about “My chains keep on falling down” repeatedly, I thought, ok, she is obviously directing this at another person. She is like: ‘I’m allowing you in, my guard is falling down and I really allow you to love me’. And I asked myself: what about allowing self-love, what about allowing myself back into myself again?
I feel like I have this hole inside and I am wondering who can actually fill it. Searching inside myself I realize that it’s only me who can fill it. No one can take this off me.
I’m not going to lie: At that time I was actually craving attention from someone else, maybe because I thought that was the solution. Loneliness was creeping up and I thought, hey, maybe I need another person, maybe some man will make me happy. But then I realized that as soon as someone was trying to give me love, I would block that and I didn’t want to have it. It was irrational. It was self-protection. I wasn’t used to receiving this love and appreciation. And I realized that in order to really embrace that and be open to that, I first have to love myself. It sounds very cliché, but I think once you have lived through it, you realize that people don’t just say that for no reason. It really is a skill to appreciate yourself for what you are. So the first level of ‘chains falling down’ is the level of irrational self-protection and constantly denying that people want the best for you.”
“I think a lot of people can connect to that”, I said. “Well, I do… and perhaps this is the reason we meet today.” “Really?” Mona asked. “I feel like I am currently in such a state” I continued. “I feel like I have this hole inside and I am wondering who can actually fill it. Searching inside myself I realize that it’s only me who can fill it. No one can take this off me.” “Absolutely”, Mona nodded and added:
“But I think it is totally fair to think that someone else could fill what you call ‘hole’ for you. I tended to beat myself down, thinking: wait, you have never been so weak; you have always been so independent, what’s going on? But there’s nothing wrong with that. Other people can teach you how to love yourself, too. But in order to accept that, to allow that, there needs to be a certain level of trust that you already carry within yourself. I don’t know what had happened but I had really lost that. We always tell ourselves that we have to run behind all these ideals. And that’s where the second level of ‘chains falling down’ comes in:
I wanted to dig a bit deeper and see where the chains of self-protection are actually coming from. I realized that I was running behind ideals I thought I was standing above: wanting to have a secure job one day, wanting to have excellent grades because you want to have that perfect certificate from university, not allowing yourself to make mistakes and at the same time you are always emotionally available for your friends and the people around you because you feel like you are this big sister. So you play this role and you take on this role, but – and here I come back to where I started from: sometimes you forget yourself in the process. The chains sold to you as gold, for instance the sweet taste of success, can end up being more haunting than any other form of self-harm.”
“The story takes place in a space of power, the Bode Museum” Mona explained. “A space that was reclaimed by the act of becoming a subject. If you really want to portray the image of self-liberation, of emancipating yourself from all the things that are holding you back, you need to face your fears. It’s not that the Bode museum is a place I fear, but it’s this idea of growing out of what we’re used to and growing into spaces that are foreign to you. With these spaces comes a certain understanding of power and for me very symbolic of these spaces of power is a museum. When I think of the Bode museum or the whole museum island, I know it is UNESCO World Cultural Heritage and I appreciate it for the culture. (The Bode museum, opened in 1904, is one of the museums on the Museum Island in Berlin, Germany. It is home of a collection of sculptures, Byzantine art, and coins and medals.) I am happy to look at all the art and be inspired, but when I come out, I feel empty. Because I don’t see myself in these museums; I feel out of place. So the idea was to take that space and make it ours. And funnily enough, in the end the Bode museum turned out to be our playground for the day. I’ve never felt that way in a museum.
We tried to create an image of space and protagonist where neither was dominant, but where both were interacting in harmony. The walls of power are not breaking the individual, who remains the centre of attention, while also being aware of her surroundings. Poliana Baumgarten, who is the videographer of this project, did an excellent job in capturing this idea. And during the whole shooting, the museum was open for the public. So at some point I felt almost like we were part of the art exhibit. The statue behind me in the space where I dance, I don’t know what she actually is, but she is a dancer to me. And she is stuck. So the moment I move, I actually bring her to life. And maybe, the person watching me will be moved as well – at least that’s what I hope to achieve.
Find the video here:https://bit.ly/2PW6nnc
Find Mona on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/monapour_/