Yara Bou Nassar
The Adventures of a Hypothetical Self, the project you are developing at the Cité International des arts, takes your parents’ experiences in Paris and their decision to return to Beirut as a starting part for examining themes of identity and choice. What were your intentions in creating the piece?
I am interested in how our surroundings have a role in shaping us and how encounters and the cities we inhabit are a big part of who we become. I often tend to start from an intimate angle to approach a bigger topic. My family’s story is a starting point to interrogate questions of identity and belonging, but also to interrogate timing and circumstances in a decision-making process. I am interested in re-examining the idea of choices. Sometimes we make a conscious choice and other times we don’t have the privilege to make one. Sometimes coincidences lead to a series of events and we try to deal with it the best we can. I am intrigued by the infinity of coincidences in relation to encounters, where we happen to be, where we choose to go, or we are forced to go. It is important to say that this performance is not about romanticising missed opportunities or speculating that what could have happened would have been better or worse.
How have you merged fact and fiction in the piece?
Through the interviews I conducted for the performance, I am merely transmitting a series of events as I perceive them and as my parents remember them. In the writing process they are “characters” with different narratives. One part of the text has a documentary quality to it. It follows the story of 3 members of my family. One of them is no longer alive to give a testimony. This automatically presents the nuance of absence and reconstructing a story based on memories of stories I have heard before and what stays suspended between the reality and the imagined. Another part of the text presents speculations, impressions, and moments of fiction. Blurring the lines between facts and fiction is something I often do in my work.
Paris is constantly romanticised in film and literature. How did the city compare to your impressions of it when you were finally able to visit in 2018?
My impression of Paris has been definitely connected to culture and language in general, but I never really romanticised it. My family had strong connections to Paris, so I heard many stories from them. When I went there I had a visual association in relation to those stories. My favourite way to experience a city is having a daily life in it which is how I got to know Paris.
As part of your research during the residency you retraced your parents’ footsteps in Paris, visiting areas that were important to them. Did this give you a deeper understanding of Paris, and if so, in what way?
My objective is not to understand Paris deeper. It is about imagining the characters of my story at a different time and what Paris meant to them. It is their story in relation to the city. I also took photos and wrote down notes based on situations I encountered during my walks. I am using this material as inspiration to write different fictional texts.
Having spent more time in Paris recently how do you think growing up there, rather than in Lebanon, might have affected your own sense of identity?
One can never know. What I know is that my sense of belonging is in constant motion. I belong to different places at different times. I think wherever we grow up, we develop urgent questions regarding our identity and sense of belonging. These questions differ based on our perspectives, our privileges, our traumas. I cannot know what those questions might have been if I grew up elsewhere, but I am sure there would have been plenty. Where we grow up shapes us a lot, but it is important to not only be seen in relation to where we come from.
Your relationship to Beirut and your desire to stay there despite the troubled societal and political situation seems to be a theme throughout your work. Did your research help you understand your choices?
My relation to the city in general and to people around me is a recurrent theme in my work rather than the desire of staying in Beirut. I am interested in physical behaviour in the public sphere and in one’s private space. Our physicality is connected to what we experience in a city. It marks us. I am not looking for answers in the process. So far, I am opening up more questions, not only about me but about people around me whose questions intersect with mine.
The complex situation of women in Lebanon and its surrounding territories is clearly something you feel passionately about. How do local audiences and critics respond to your work exploring these issues?
I often approach complex topics through intimate storylines, through the body, through deconstructing daily details. Through details we create strong connections. For me, details are political. When my work triggers conversation, I am happy. I believe that issues related to gender equality, sexism, racism, violence, or censorship are issues I approach on a daily basis, in how I choose to live my life or in how I choose to confront certain situations. This automatically becomes part of my work in a way. For me, my work and my daily life are an extension of one another.
Exploring identity is integral to your work. In what direction will this take you next?
Since the beginning of 2019, I have been developing a theatre performance titled Tomorrow is the Best Day of my Life (premiere Fall 2021). The performance embodies fragments of fragility and resistance in a private moment. It is a dissection of habits, memories, and obsessions connected to family dynamics, trauma, and relationships. It exposes intimate impulses carried from childhood, while questioning the legitimacy of preserving memory through image and the metamorphosis of the private space in wartime. That work started from a very movement-based angle then the text emerged. In the project I am developing during my residency at La Cité Internationale des arts, the text is the point of departure. I am curious about the difference in the form of these two projects despite the intersection of the themes.
Yara Bou Nassar is in residency in Paris, at the Cité internationale des arts, to work on Adventures of a Hypothetical Self.
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