In Conversation with Naghmeh Manavi

Naghmeh is a performer, director, and writer.
Born, living and locked down in Tehran, Iran

‘I feel the world showed me this: ‘Hey look how cool and calming and meaningful life can be… .(Two months later) ‘But not yours, yours is just shitty, deal with it’ :)))’

I met Naghmeh around 2,5 years ago in Tbilisi and we did a project together. One of the most amiable, kind and cheerful person I know, she has a special place in my life as a figure in our story of coming together with Cansu, my wife.
Naghmeh studied Theater at University of Art in Tehran and worked as a peformer, director and writer in the Tehran scene. Her interest ranges across a wide spectrum of forms, working with objects, storytelling, movement and documentary, while particularly focusing on the lecture performance with a curiosity towards power structures in human relations. She performed her solo lecture performance The Possible in İstanbul around this time last year.
Her good will, courage and childlike humor fills me with new inspiration every time I read our correspondence.

This email correspondence took place between Fatih Gençkal and Naghmeh Manavi from April 29 to May 29, 2020.

From: Fatih Genckal
Sent: Wednesday April 29, 2020 13:29
To: Naghmeh Manavi

Dear Naghmeh,
I want to start an interview experiment. I will ask you one question everyday and you will have 24 hours to respond to it. Then I will ask the next question based on your answers or my curiosities. You can also ask me questions in your answers and interview me in a way. It will be like a conversation.
If you answer quickly, I can ask the next question right away, so we don’t have to wait 24 hours. It can turn into texting each other too. Or not.
Please feel free to write as you are speaking.  Follow the spark the question starts in you.
So here is the first question:
What do you see happening with you and around you since the beginning of home confinement?

Naghmeh Manavi 4 May 2020 08:21
Dear Fatih
Sorry for my late answer.
I’m willing and excited to do this…
For the first question:
There are two different states,
And they are both in personal and social level….
First I’m surprised by all the things I’m not missing from social life, feeling so secure and comforted in home and realizing more and more each day which people are the ones that I’m actually related to…
And the other state is panicking which for me is mostly financially and not knowing when can we work again and also in social level I’m panicking thinking of the poor people not having enough to eat…
In a wider prespective it seems to me like Mother Nature is punishing the human kind for not behaving right:))) saying go to your room and think about what you did:))
So I kinda take it positively to rethink about so many things.
Ok now I feel I said too much and didn’t even answer your question,
What’s happening with me and around me is going back and forth between the state of consciousness and realizing what life really is about and panicking of how each individual could survive…
Looking forward to the next one.

Fatih Gençkal 4 May 2020 14:55
Do you think this panic and consciousness can give birth to a new state of affairs? Can the urgent issue of survival, combined with the consciousness of what life is really about bring about new ways to organize ourselves and find subsistence? On a personal and/or social level?

Naghmeh Manavi 5 May 2020 15:40
That is the hope,
I’m usually a hopeless person but this situation and the fact that it could really change so many things in a short time, brought me back the hope that change is actually possible….
I can’t say for sure that the world would not be the same, or now everyone is convinced that capitalism is not working so it would definitely change after this, or so many of our dreams will come true… but the surreal situation has made us think about our dreams again, about how would we like it to change after this. And that for sure I find positive …
Both on personal and social level…

Fatih Gençkal 5 May 2020 16:40
Iran has undergone a lot in the recent few months. How do you think the country is being affected? What is the general feeling and how does confinement affect it do you think?

Naghmeh Manavi 5 May 2020 19:03
I believe it has made everyone rethink about what they want and what they’re actually capable of, for example not working for two months was thought as a huge threat to everyone but now so many people see that they don’t die if they don’t work for two months or go on a strike for example…
Of course the poor gets more poor and people are dying from hunger, but do you see what I mean? In terms of taking actions and dealing with the consequences….
But again to answer your question I can’t be sure of how any changes would go or on what process… I think this answer can apply to so many questions of yours cause what I see is that the general theme of this era is not knowing what’s coming next…
The good thing about it is that this could widen our imagination about future and it’s possibilities but if only the horror of death and the panic of incalculable future and uncertainty would let us see…

Fatih Gençkal 6 May 2020 11:19
Do you realize anything new with yourself or the way you see things? Any realizations or surprises?

Naghmeh Manavi 6 May 2020 11:47
Many many surprises
Of all the things that I’m not missing,
Of things that truly effect me,
Of (as an often too socially animal ) not wanting to go back to previous normal and social life…
And All the products that I’m using or not using any more :)))

Fatih Gençkal 6 May 2020 11:53
What products are you not using anymore? 🙂

Naghmeh Manavi 7 May 2020 08:52
I’m thinking more about artworks which I always call them products too,
I use much less main stream arts, the ones that we use to feel like we’re keeping up and catching up with our society….
I’m more into considering what I really need to read, to see, to listen to, to eat, to use,…
I’m concentrating on my needs as a being more than my needs to figure what’s going on in the outside world….

Fatih Gençkal 7 May 2020 15:02
I see. I also feel this necessity to simplify and be selective about the things we consume, art and other things. I really am curious to find fresh perspectives and to understand what I am really interested in. What kind of works do you find inspiring in this process? Or what topics, styles etc? Where are your needs taking you?

Naghmeh Manavi 7 May 2020 15:50
Yes, I find it really exciting when I realize what I really like to do,
the most important change in my perspective is how I perceive time, and how do I use it, which also effects my choices for what I consume. For instance I’m reading long old novels that I never thought I would be that kind of person to do so (I’m reading ” in search of lost time” for crying out loud…)
Or I use my time in a more efficient way and I have a different understanding of the time pass during my days….
One of the things I just love about this is not knowing the dates or what day of the week we are in or even what time is it, I don’t put on reminders and alarms for the first time in my life and I’m actually more organized in my own way. It’s like living like an animal or as a child, not knowing and not thinking about the time passing and now I realize how it eats my energy and concentration to always live in a fragmented linear perception of time. and we only do that just to keep up with the society.
I used to read lots of theory books about politics, society and performing arts, news and tons of essays just to know about my era in time and constantly figuring out how to live inside this contemporary world, always running and never resting from it.
Now I actually found the chance to read more novels and through them live in other time eras, not so much reading the news ( it helps with the panic actually and decreases the sense of ineffectiveness which I think is a strong feeling in the contemporary time), And this chance of time traveling is a bless for me,
While experiencing all this positive matters (and while writing them for you) I always have this sense of guilt because the situation is caused by a disaster and people are dying of sickness and hunger, And this transforms my pleasure into  guilty pleasure… but I also think there have always been people suffering through so many political stupidity and wars and that we just got used to it. But still, quarantine for me is a guilty pleasure that I feel alone and embarrassed by it….

Fatih Gençkal 7 May 2020 19:13
I think it’s all ok. I feel that guilt is usually an integral part of whatever we do in our privileged positions. We feel we should do something about everything. I really appreciate that you are taking the time to do what you are doing.
I am curious about this shifting perception of time for you. What was the process for you to settle into this new time signature where you find your own inner time?

Naghmeh Manavi 10 May 2020 11:47
My dear,
sorry for my late answer,
two nights ago at 1 am when I was going to sleep, an 5.1 Richter earthquake shook me up and changed my last two days,
i went out to friends house cause my home is not that much safe and they said there is possibilities for more.
That was my excuse for being late, hope it works :)))
The process of finding new time perception for me happened when I prohibited my phone because it was making me nervous and thinking instead of me and even in some cases made my decisions…
So not only I locked my self down alone in my home, but i also cut out virtual relationships, cause I figured maybe its the only time that I can experience and examine to live in a cave with not much consequences. So for me it became like a planned, directed state that I could do improvisations on how do I think and what do I do if I live outside the society… (something I always wanted to see)
Through that experience ( which lasted just about 50 days) I realized I am a different person when I’m not thinking about time, about other people and not always picturing my place in the society (which I think make us constantly work on that and remake and remake it and we never realize there are lots of other states to live in as a being..).
Of course I’m not saying we should never think as a society and as you can see I’m back and working again, but having the chance to practice some other perceptions is something I always drive for….

Fatih Gençkal 11 May 2020 00:16
I heard about the earthquake. I hope everything is all right now. Are you back home?
What you did sounds like a great experiment, I envy that:) How are you taking these discoveries and ways with you as you are back and working again? Can you find a balance or bring this new aspect into your life?

Naghmeh Manavi 12 May 2020 07:23
Yes I’m back home and safe,
Thanks my dear.
I’m still watching and studying myself but I have much less urge for doing things I always did, it’s like I have experienced a higher dosage of life quality that make me question lots of things.
I still enjoy my communications very much but I feel it’s more clear now that I really do have choice to be in any position or not.
I’m constantly learning everyday how to make a balance, it’s an ongoing effort that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t,
But I feel my social fears much less…

Fatih Gençkal 12 May 2020 17:15
Have you had an epiphany moment during this time? Or any specific moment that you would like to tell the story of?

Naghmeh Manavi 16 May 2020 11:49
I actually had many epiphany moments, like the moments that I realized how transformative my feelings can be, the moment I found myself not actually wanting to out and meet friends and people that I always like to meet, not feeling the need to do things that I always thought I could never live without (and how vast this list of things can get), realizing how my feelings for someone that pisses me off can turn into affection and vice versa…

Fatih Gençkal 16 May 2020 17:29
Is there something you are missing during this time?

Naghmeh Manavi 17 May 2020 14:55
Yes, making money:))))
But aside that, I don’t feel I’m missing something right now but maybe it’s too soon to tell, after six months I’ll know what I miss…

Fatih Gençkal 17 May 2020 17:06
How were you making money and how are you doing financially at this time and for the foreseeable future?

Naghmeh Manavi 17 May 2020 20:40
I’m actually in serious Financial danger,
I worked all year to make a piece and to sell it in summer in some festivals to make money for the year so that I could work again,
I’m now jobless, hopeless and broke:))
I don’t see theater will come back to life soon and even if it does, I don’t know if we’ll be the same people to use the previous artworks….
I’m actually getting some help from parents, I couldn’t live without their help, and it freaks me out to think that all my job opportunities this year got cancelled…
This is the hard part of the story for me which I still don’t know what to do with it,
I’m open to any suggestions:)))

Fatih Gençkal 19 May 2020 13:54
Are there any opportunities for online work for you? Teaching?
Currently there is so-called normalization process going on in Turkey. Some places are opening up with limitations -like barbers, galleries etc. It looks like from June on, more places will be open for business. If things go well, I guess. Are there normalization plans/schedules in Iran? What are the arts institutions in Tehran doing in this period and planning for the future?

Naghmeh Manavi 25 May 2020 17:11
Sorry for my late answer, I was being away in the nature, I send you photos as apology:))))

It’s more or less the same in iran (and I guess everywhere) with different qualities of course,
There are online opportunities ( I had a lecture/talk last month in an online festival) but they’re all free and not making any money. And I didn’t have another job besides performing to put online. And bringing performance in online platforms I believe requires expertise in online arts studies which I don’t have and I don’t want to put staged performances online, I don’t think it’s the right way of consuming them….

Fatih Gençkal 26 May 2020 14:03
Thank you dear, the pictures are lovely. Where did you go?
It’s been almost a month since my first email. How was this time for you and did our conversation affect you in any way?

Naghmeh Manavi 27 May 2020 13:44
It was a mountaintop about four hours from Tehran…,,
Actually this last month the social life started to begin step by step, I’m feeling down because I feel the life anxiety again, I can’t concentrate as much as before, I’m constantly checking the news and I feel my life is ruined.
It’s like letting a kid have just a lick of a lollipop and then take it away,
I feel the world showed me this: ‘Hey look how cool and calming and meaningful life can be… .(Two months later) ‘But not yours, yours is just shitty, deal with it’ :)))
Our conversation was nice to feel you and also Cansu around (I always imagined both of you reading my emails), and of course it helped me to think more concrete in a different language about what I’m thinking these days…

Fatih Gençkal 27 May 2020 16:10
I know what you mean. I have the similar feelings but I think that is the challenge with life. You know, there is this Zen ox herding story: you go through stages to enlightenment and the very last stage is not when you are enlightened and retreated from society but you actually come back to the ordinary world and live there simply with your new existence and share it. =)
Well then, on that note, here is my last question to you: What is your hope and intention for the next few months?

Naghmeh Manavi 28 May 2020 16:44
My hope (actually my wish) is for an economical makeover (I know it sounds so impossible but I feel like I can wish so)
And I still don’t have a clue for next few months which now is kind of terrifying, I wish for a job opportunity out of the blue too, thanks :))))

Fatih Gençkal 28 May 2020 17:37
Thank you my dear for sharing this process. I wish you all the best!

Naghmeh Manavi 29 May 2020 16:09
You’re welcome dear
It was a pleasure, I was missing your company.

Conversations is produced by A Corner in the World, 2020
It is realized with the support of The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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