A performance on taboo, humanity, and self expression

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.


“Where are you from?” is a bad question

How growing up with an international background altered my perspective on identity

Growing up internationally is hard. Although there is no place I could call home apart from physical places, like my room in my apartment or my parent’s house, growing up internationally changed my life forever. It completely altered my perception of the world, exposed me to multiple cultures and provided me with the open-mindedness I have today. 

So why does a simple question like “Where are you from?” have such a negative impact on me? 

Like many others, I was born in a different country than the one on my Canadian passport. I was born in Belgium, and moved to two different cities in Switzerland before experiencing the culture shock that was New York City and Boston. Growing up, I found myself adjusting to a new country or community so frequently that it became part of a rhythm in my life. 

Sometimes it was pretty rough to adjust, like when I moved from a small town in Switzerland to NYC. I had to adjust to the number of people around me, a new language, new habits, and the NYC subway. I felt so overwhelmed at first, with the amount of people everywhere all the time, and words people used that I had never learned in my English classes before. 

The plus side of moving was that I always gained the same things: familiarity to new cultural elements, and being exposed to new people and languages, all of which has helped shape who I am today. 

Transitioning between schools and cities in different countries frequently made me feel as though I was a stranger, always the “new kid.” 

“Where are you from?” reinforced the feelings of not belonging I have felt each time I moved. 

When I finally arrived in Canada nine months ago for university, saying I was Canadian became easier, it meant more than just a document I held. But imposter syndrome was still very much present. How could I be more Canadian after living in other countries for years? It’s simply not possible. 

Humans crave validation and in turn crave to belong. I sometimes also wish I had a set nationality that I could be so proud of. 

Often I look at my Balkan father and the way he talks about his country, the people, the food, and the culture. I admire the way he can always scope out a community of Bosnians and feel pride in his country. I know, however, that I will never feel so attached to one country. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one. Maybe you, too, feel like you don’t fit in where you were born, or where your family comes from. Maybe you feel like you’re not “enough” to truly be accepted. 

We should change the meaning behind the term “home” and the idea that we should fiercely represent one country or culture, or consider our home to be the country printed on our documents. We should be able to argue that our home is in multiple places without turning heads. 

In a way, having an answer when asked about our nationality takes weight off our shoulders and allows us to belong to a “club” or a community — a cheat code to having a particular identity. 

The catch is, in the midst of globalization, I believe there is no way to identify with only one place, or belong in only one community. In fact, I strongly believe that seeing yourself as coming from one definite place immensely restricts your experiences and potential future connections. After all, you’re the sum of the many segments of your life. 

Should we not be more concerned about where we could go than with where we have been in the past? Should we not focus on how we could shape who we are by learning from others and exploring new faces in this world we live in? 

In a world where we are so interconnected, a question like “Where are you from?” should never hold as much weight as it does today, nor should the answer ever contribute to who we are. 

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