Waking Up Iranian American

five one-to-one performances, a dance and performance lecture 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 performances create a space where people are invited to participate in discussions and actions 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 

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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 our new relationship.

To Be Seen & Unseen 

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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 to the place of our departure separately on opposite sides of the path.  


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In Letter to My Father Franz Kafka uses parricide (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 hand written on the walls of the men’s restrooms and exhibited as an installation.

Learning Farsi on Teheran ro (테헤란로)

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Traces of a love story will be under a bowl of sugar next to a cup of tea. This love story requires multiple endings. Would you like to write, in any language, the final chapter of Learning Farsi on Teheran ro (테헤란로)? Napkins and tea will be provided.

How Do We Dress for the Weather?~ a dance (work-in-progress)

The climate is changing. Regimes are changing.  Borders are changing, and so must modes of 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.

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Dancing through the Diaspora ~ (work-in-progress)

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 performed by members of the ethnically diverse community of the Iranian diaspora in Southern California. Participants will be invited to move with a performer as she recalls  the 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. 

On the screen, I see myself there where I was, once in a physical space that opened up a place inside; I am there and here. What is worse than loneliness? There is light behind us and there is light in front of us. Now that you are with me, our shadows guide us through where we may travel. –adapted from Michel Foucault’s Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias


Every Four Years ~ a performance lecture (work-in-progress) 

From July 4 to August 11 a video artwork from Every Four Years will be screened in, Parallel Screens, a group exhibition at 1805 Gallery.

To what extent has fear impacted the way you move? What constitutes movement enforcing fear? What denotes fearless movements? Every Four Years considers how cultures of fear (re)enforce values that form identity through embodiment. It is a performative mediation, analyzing ways one (re)inhabits ‘self’ through other cultures at different times, and in several places. In this performance, place is virtual, physical and psychological.

Every Four Years considers to what extent is mimesis subversion or reiteration. I analyze parallels and discontinuities between embodying both aggressor and martyr, arguing that this hybridization consolidates fear and fearlessness, therefore, creating another presence or performance quality. Drawing upon practice-based research and autoethnographic methodologies I embody an image of a martyr to subvert ideological manipulation by withdrawing the image of spectating death, but supplying sound, minimal text and movement without emotion to create a situation where the spectator can be objective. The goal is to prove objectivity subversive in this context because the repeatability of these (re)inhabitations and the repetition of trauma (changing the action from passivity to activity) can transform an iconic event.


  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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