A performance on taboo, humanity, and self expression

Reza and Mandana will perform again this year in Montreal / Photos by Victoria Blanchette

Two Iranian protesters and their journey of performing across Montreal to spread awareness on issues regarding women, peace, and eliminating stigma

International Women’s Day on March 8 was extremely important this year. Many women around the world could not help but think of Iran and the thousands of women fighting for their freedom following the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022 for violating Iran’s strict rules on wearing the hijab. 

Born in Iran, Reza Azarpoor married a Spanish man, and dedicated his life to art, theater and performance. Mandana Zandi, also born in Iran, is a woman who has published multiple books and journalistic works. The two met at a performance a few months ago and have been performing together ever since.

Azarpoor and Zandi took to the streets of Montreal on March 8th to conduct a rather abnormal and intriguing performance, one that raised questions and made room for discussion. This piece did not focus solely on Iran or women specifically, but it was about the correlation between humanity and taboos when it comes to being ourselves. Neither of them spoke throughout the performance, but there was music playing in the background. The performance itself was a mix of dance, and theater. 

“It’s all about taboo and taboo has very deep roots in human history. I believe taboo should die,” said Azarpoor. “Taboo is a virus engraved in our society,” he added.

Throughout the performance, Azarpoor wore a dress and makeup, and brushed and cut his hair. He represented women not only in Iran but all around the world. He also represented shame, and the human in general. Zandi, on the other hand, was represented as a sort of “goddess,” which she explained was meant to portray mother nature. She held a mirror to him, and took care of him.

Their performance was significant because it reflected something new, something refreshing to us as a society. By combining art and passion, they were able to talk about taboo topics, societal pressure, gender roles, Iran, and much more purely through movement.

“The philosophy of the performance was about being a human being, not about being man or woman. Mandana was performing the inner human nature of every human being,”

Said Azarpoor. 

To him, gender roles and expectations are engraved so deeply in society that we forget who we are and forget the general meaning of humanity. 

He talked about being brave enough to exist in this world and stand up for who you are. Then, he abruptly looked towards the audience and showed feelings of sadness and failure.

“That was the pressure you feel from society. That society can be your brain at the same time if you let yourself be one of them,” explained Zandi. “Because he felt ashamed of wearing  makeup and a dress as a man, he didn’t let himself be happy. It’s not a matter that society accepts yours, it’s a matter that you make your own space in society,” said Azarpoor.

Azarpoor believes that, with these performances, he can give courage to at least a few people to do the same, or open their minds to a new concept.  “Like this, you give that courage and braveness to people who ever see you and you open a window in their brain maybe,” he said.

When you believe in yourself, as a lady, as a man, as a person, you can do everything because problems are always following us,” Mandana said. “When you understand a problem and how to deal with it, you will be victorious.” 

Silence was also largely reflected in the performance as they alluded to our responsibility as humans not to stay quiet. Azarpoor strongly believes that we need to fight for what we believe is right and help each other. 

“Your words have meanings and pressure and impact. Silence as well. You are responsible not only with what you say, you are responsible for your silence. If you are silent, you will be [a] victim,” said Azarpoor.
In one scene, he cut his hair in protest with Iran. “War will never stop,” said Mandana. We need to protest, as according to the pair, only as a united society will people open their minds and change their ideals.

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