This Story Doesn’t Begin with Me

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.

 

My Iranian heritage and status as a dual citizen of both the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran has been used to justify state surveillance and it is this form of discrimination and exposure that my non-Iranian friends and family do not share. For this reason being asked, “Where are you from?” or “What is the origin of your name?” created unease throughout my life. To offer participants a sense of my experience, I staged the first one-to-one performance in the privacy of my bedroom. People are invited into my dimly-lit room and asked to use a flashlight to shine a light on me and the installation surrounding us. This particular situation creates a sense of ease, hospitality and intimacy that is conducive to discussing personal history.

As the performance evolves we talk about whose lives matter and how these lives are counted as valuable in order to go beyond forms of identification that are linked to nationhood and the justification of endless wars. By making connections to forms of sacrifice that pervade our understanding of values, collaborators are invited to construct their own identity cards that trace a specific line of family history, on han-ji, traditional Korean Rice Paper. The performance ends with forming a way to say goodbye that also acknowledges the value of feelings exchanged during the encounter.

The project was finalized during an artist residency commissioned by Mare Culturale Urbano in Milan, Italy.