A Portrait of the Artist as a Migrant: A Q & A with Mania Akbari

By | August 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm | No comments | Blog | Tags: , , , ,

A Q & A with Mania Akbari

The Iranian actor, director, painter and writer Mania Akbari is best known for her films “In My Country Men Have Breasts,” and “20 Fingers.” Her work has dealt provocatively with violence as sexuality and has often been censored in Iran. Akbari, who currently lives in London, is working on several films as well as a collection of short stories called “My Mother’s Black Chador.” She spoke with PEN Canada about her most recent stories, and what it’s like to live and work as an artist in exile. 

Mania Akbari

PEN: When and where did you make the decision to leave Iran? Do you ever see yourself going back?

Akbari: The artist is a migrant creature, and will surely find reasons for leaving and even for staying, but the factor which encapsulated my fear of staying in that environment was the loss of creativity in an atmosphere of fear, conservatism, and caution about inner expression. I cannot accurately predict the future, but it’s certainly among my wishes to produce freely in those geographies.

PEN: How has being an exiled writer/filmmaker affected your art?

Akbari: Each new environment brings new meanings and concepts. The environment in which you find yourself—where you walk, think, eat, sleep—is extremely influential to the forms that take shape in an artists mind. Existing in new circumstances certainly nurtures a new form of expression, an important aspect of this is that you must apply the mental reserves from your past environment and merge them with these new realms.

PEN: In ‘My Mother’s Black Chador,’ you deal with a lot of controversial and difficult themes such as sex, violence, and trauma; has living in exile liberated you to talk about these subjects?

Existing in new circumstances certainly nurtures a new form of expression …  you must apply the mental reserves from your past and merge them with new realms

Akbari: I express a set of my mental experiences and those of others in [Iranian] society, which manifest in various forms. This was a period when my new reality and circumstance in London intermingled with the dramatic stories and narratives I was working on. With the creation of distance from Iran and being far from the restrictive conditions of that community, my mind began a projection of the pain and human experiences of a traditional religious society whose ideology dominates in its own particular way.

My aim was not the writing of a political perspective, and isn’t, for politics is a science in need of its own literature. My aim has been to present a painful portrait of the suffering of a woman enslaved by the preoccupations of the whitewashed, far from humane behaviors which have harmed her. She’s a sensitive and fragile human being, with a poetic universe in her mind. My characters are damaged creatures wavering between drama and the reality of living, between dreams and reality, between being and not being. It’s an abstract narrative and to an extent they create an abstract human wasteland.

My characters are damaged creatures wavering between drama and the reality of living, between dreams and reality, between being and not being 

PEN: Your films often involve a blend of reality and fiction; do you ever worry that the story might get lost in political messages?

Akbari: My films do not contain political messages of any kind – nor hidden – but a kind of human support to soothe people who do not know even the ABC of politics. Ironically, it is their lack of knowledge in the game of politics that has landed them with political troubles and made political figures of them. Basically, I seek to inject reality into the drama of cinema; in other words I try to enslave cinema with living, but I despise the imposition of cinema on life.

PEN: How do you think the election of Hassan Rouhani, widely perceived as a moderate, will affect censorship in Iran?

Akbari: For me nothing is in any way predictable in that land. It is a great illusion to think otherwise for a country like Iran.

“My Mother’s Black Chador” is published by Nogaam,  an organisation that publishes and freely distributes the work of censored Iranian authors online. Nogaam will give away three printed copies of the book at random to people who join its mailing list.

Photo credit: Bright lights Film, Resonance FM.

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