What films were you inspired by for this project and the “Shapeshifter” music video?
During quarantine, I fell into this self-directed film study where I started watching a lot of experimental Middle Eastern films from all over the region, but specifically Iranian cinema. The most striking for me was this film called Gabbeh of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, then also the work of [Sergei] Parajanov, this Georgian Armenian filmmaker.[In these films,] there is not always a linear narrative where there is a lesson. Some shots looked like photos or stills, which allowed the story to be told without the need for movement. It was really abstract and poetic, and I was into the way these filmmakers used objects, props, and iconography to tell the story. I think that’s seen in western cinema as tacky or garish or not part of cinematic tradition.
In the same way, these filmmakers use props as a form of storytelling, [I asked myself with the “Shapeshifter” video,] “How can I do this, but with character development?” Because I didn’t want to write dialogue, or put too much pressure on myself to involve multiple subjects. So I’m thinking of going back to my artistic practice of making sculpture [props] or portable things seemed like a really good anchor on how to explore each character and give them a connection to each other.
Why is fantasy important for exploring identity and, in particular, your intersecting identities of being non-binary and a diasporic Arab person?
I started thinking about making video and sound, [as creating] this other realm or space. Borrowing from different narrative worlds like cinema or poetry is part of creating this fantasy world for myself. My music and work is not escapism in the sense that I’m not present, but through fantasy I give myself a space or another example, and it can be something that doesn’t seem possible in this realm .
With my own gender, I didn’t have that classic feeling of, “I was raised this kind and I always felt like that kind.” It’s not that simple for me. Maybe instead of fixating on that, I’m just trying to create more exciting spaces, where I can actually be more of myself, and not feel like I have to be too judgmental or stuck at because of American or Western ideas about gender.
Ultimately there’s how you identify yourself, but there’s also how you exist in the world and how you actually move through space, and I think those two things can have realities different. The spaces that I can access in my everyday life won’t always be where I can be fully myself, which is why it’s really important to me to make art that honors that, but doesn’t doesn’t either. symbolize me. I think that’s why I move away from direct reference to my culture, because I can create my own visual and sound language.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
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