Waking Up Iranian American

a series of one-to-one performances by Zoya Sardashti

Waking Up Iranian American is an autoethnographic work and series of performative interventions focused on the ways cultural exchange develops between a performer and a participant. These one-to-one performances create a space where people are invited to participate in discussions about being between cultures, nationalism, and Islamophobia, so that we might move beyond antiquated notions of free and oppressed. In this sense, the dialogical framework of the performances is a form of collaboration and, in its broadest sense, a key to changing power relationships between performers and participants. In Waking Up Iranian American, intimacy is used as a strategy to counteract the positioning cultures of fear intend to create.

This Story Doesn’t Begin With Me ~ participatory performance & installation

What if you could get to know a stranger by asking a question that elicits desire as a mode of self identification rather than a definition of location or ethnicity? Since our identities are subjected to trauma and systematic violence that nation-state projects through categorization, This Story Doesn’t Begin With Me, invites participants to consider what they long for or where they belong when introducing themselves. Through this exchange we will attempt to discover a more precise and relevant vocabulary, specific to the new relationship, in hopes this new form of expression helps us frame topics delicately when initiating dialogue with people from  different backgrounds.

To Be Seen & Unseen ~ public participatory performance & installation

What if you could be in the world without directly receiving the gaze of others? Through various modes of theatricality the performance confronts ideas of exposure, empowerment and in/visibility. You will be invited to take a journey with a performer. You will be invited to wear a costume, a traveler’s garment and a mask. Similar to masks worn in Venetian culture, this mask will free you from social codes and markers of identity. We will walk hand in hand wherever you wish. At certain points during our journey we might sit in silence, we might talk to other people, or we might just talk to each other. When we decide our journey has reached a midway point we will retrace our steps. We will walk back the place of our departure separately on opposite sides of the path. At the end of the journey you will be invited to write about your experience inside the garment. 


Parricida ~ public participatory performance & installation

In Letter to My Father Franz Kafka uses parricida (the killing of the father) as a concept to reflect on how actions by authoritarian governments manifest in the family unit. To confront this concept an attendant will offer a provocation in the women’s restroom while washing your hands. What if you inherited your mother’s family name rather than your father’s family name? How would it change the way you self-identify, interact with others and perceive the world? With the participant’s permission this experience will be documented, so it’s traces will be an audio recording installed in the men’s restrooms and exhibited as an installation.

Learning Farsi on Teheran-ro (테헤란로) ~ public participatory installation & video 

Traces of a love story will be under a bowl of sugar next to a cup of tea. This love story requires multiple endings. Participants will be invited to write, in any language, the final chapter of Learning Farsi on Teheran-ro (테헤란로). Napkins will be provided; please bring your own pen.


Dancing Through the Diaspora ~ participatory live art performance

 In honor of the Iranian New Year, Norouz, the first Persian Day parade in Los Angeles took place during March 2015. Videos and photographs of the parade will be projected onto a screen  showing various forms of traditional Persian dance and movements created by the ethnically diverse community of the Iranian diaspora in Southern California. Participants will be invited to dance with a performer as she recalls this experience. Somewhere between the sensual and the disembodied, Dancing Through the Diaspora, is a performative process of reorienting one’s self through and with another person. Formal dance training is not necessary. Participants will be guided through simple steps in a carefree atmosphere.


How Do We Dress For The Weather?

The climate will change. Regimes will change. Flags will change. Frames of viewing will change, and so must self expression and perception. How do we express agency in a world where one’s body has been framed in a particular racial discourse? How Do We Dress for the Weather? is an opportunity to inhabit one’s body through the interplay between learning new movement and language, so through alterity we might sense sameness.


How do we dress for the weather? Ma dar che havayi che lebasi mepoosheem?

How do we dress for the weather? Ma dar che havayi che lebasi mepoosheem?

Sharayete ma cheguneh hastand? What is our condition?

Sharayete ma cheguneh hastand? What is our condition?

What do you mean our condition? Manzoorat az sharyet cheest?

What do you mean our condition? Manzoorat az sharyet cheest?

Manzooram az sharayet mogheiyyatmost. By condition I mean our situation.

Manzooram az sharayet mogheiyyatmost. By condition I mean our situation.

I don’t know. Nemeedonam.

Manmedonam. I know.

The sun is shining. I can’t see the sun. I see the moon.

Khorshid miderakhshad.  I am freezing. 

I am burning. Man marah mebeenam.

Man daram yakh meezanam.

Every Four Years

A freshman Senator tweets an open letter to an Ayatollah threatening sanctions with a tap of his finger, evoking Uncle Sam’s iconic gesture, “I WANT YOU FOR … !”. In response a missile is released from the other side. It is a literal and symbolic reminder to Congress and the rest of the world of sovereignty. The Ayatollah’s gesture is an ascending thumb and index finger commanding, “His Divine Right”. Information in the virtual missives are disseminated throughout our environment generating fear and suspicion. The particles of the missile merge with our ecological atmosphere. Against our will we inhale, exhale, receive, process, and transmit the traces of this proxy war. It changes the way we move. It alters the way we relate to others. Violent exchanges are embodied. However, within this seemingly catastrophic mise-en-scène resides equilibrium. There is potential to create situations to exist in other places. We can use our bodies as vehicles of resistance.


Every Four Years considers to what extent is mimesis subversion or (re)iteration. By adopting notions of multi-centeredness, it performs parallels and discontinuities between embodying both aggressor and martyr, arguing that this hybridization consolidates fear and fearlessness, therefore, creating another presence or performance quality.



  1. I can relate to your identity crisis in many ways. I was born in Vietnam and adopted by an American family when I was two. I grew up in Pennsylvania and Florida acutely aware I was a) not Caucasian and b) a reminder of a war that Americans preferred to forget. Thank you for sharing your voice.

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