My Body Is My Home

The performance “My Body is My Home” works with the concept of clothing as one’s home, and also as a form of resistance to the way in which the pressures of modern life and its inherent consumerism bear down in people’s life – particularly women. I have also taken inspiration from a colleague’s work with the homeless in performance and theatre. In 2014, during a performance workshop in a homeless shelter in Austin, Texas, I asked one of the homeless participants “What does neighborhood mean to you?” He replied: “My body is my home, and wherever I go my surrounding is my neighborhood”. In this performance piece, I perform for 15 minutes and then leave the space for others to experience. The participant stands in from of a wall, which has a contour drawing shaped like a dress. The shape of the dress is based on the historical clothing worn by Safavid kings, in particular the clothes they wore to battle, with verses from the Koran, as a form of protection from the dangers of war. Through a camera and video projection, the participant sees their own image inside of the frame of the dress. A projector is connected to a camera, and the camera points to the performer and the projector points to the opposite wall. Once in that space, whatever movements the participants perform, they will see on the opposite wall in front of themselves, framed by the outline of a dress shape. The only rule is for the participant to try to have their movements restricted by the frame of the clothes. I also develop an electronic system that uses computer vision software that tracks the person’s movement and triggers a signal if the participant crosses the boundary of the dress shape on the projection. If they cross the line restricting them, an electronic signal will trigger a discomforting combination of sounds and color distortions on the video projection of themselves.

Behind the black veil

The performance took place on The University of Texas at Austin’s campus, and it was my first performance in a public space. I wore a black veil and a mask that covered my body and face completely. While being completely covered, I walked around with a video camera, following people on campus and recording them. A photographer was also following me with a still camera. The performance captured the mirroring effect of people’s gaze. Often people are looking at women whose dress is completely different, but now she is the person not only looking at them but also recording their images. So the function of the camera is to gaze back at the viewers. The woman has the power to see people, but no one can see her facial expressions. The initial idea began with a dark box or room. By that I wanted to make a space to limit people’s bodily movements and create a confined space to make them uncomfortable. The black veil plays the role of the dark box as well. It is the moment people feel unsafe to see the eyes observe them without knowing her identity. I see the piece challenging me as an observer and people being observed.

Being/with others

Being/with others is a collaborative and interdisciplinary dance-theatre work that explores the experiences and connections between a diverse group of people. This project provides a space for emerging artists of various disciplines to develop contemporary and avant-garde performance works inspired by the body, memory, and experience while also touching on issues of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and ability. These individual performance works are combined and structured together to create an evening-length show which highlights the intersections between the different artists and their various creative mediums.

Being/with others as part of the University of Texas at Austin LAB Theater Series and was performed in April 2013. 

 The Void

There are two locations in the performance of The Void. One is outside in a courtyard and the other is inside of a dark room. There are headscarves on a table next to the door outside of the dark room. On the table, there is a box with a two-sided mirror in the front and four steps of instructions, how put on a headscarf. There is a camera inside of the box, behind the mirror, that the participant cannot see. The camera recorded and documented the people’s reactions to puting on and wearing the headscarves. In the darkroom, there is a still camera and a video camera with night vision set up. I was behind the still camera in the dark room during the performance. I placed myself in the roll of the observer who has the authority to see people, even though they cannot see me. People were asked to wear the headscarf before entering the room. They are asked to enter one by one. When they entered the dark room, a woman’s voice asked them to go to the center of the room and find a chair. When they found the chair and sat on it, I shot their photo and they were shocked by the flash of light. After that, the voice, which was very direct, asked them to leave the room. 

I had a general expectation of people’s reactions of the performance, but people’s responses to the piece were different. Many of them couldn’t find the chair, the part of the idea of the performance that was supposed to shock them, the flash of the camera in the dark room, did not happen, and some of them refused to wear the headscarf and they couldn’t participate in the piece. My main idea making the piece was to put people under control to experiment interrogation. For this purpose, I made the space outside of the room available so that they can have time to play with the headscarf in front of the mirror. Because of the lack of vision, they had to follow the rules dictated in the dark room. This was the moment I became the authoritative figure. I minimized the options for people in the darkness and dictated to them what to do. When they came out of the room, I wanted them to feel a sense of release and freedom.  

©2020 by Sara Madandar