Performance artist Sachli Gholamalizad has reason to talk


Antwerp-based performance artist Sachli Gholamalizad is touring with her award-winning play A Reason To Talk, the story of a family fleeing the Iranian Revolution

More than an immigrant story

When I meet Sachli Gholamalizad in a diner in Antwerp, one of the first things she tells me is that, although A Reason To Talk tells the story of a young Iranian family finding their way in a small town in Flanders after fleeing the Iranian Revolution, she doesn’t want to be pushed into that little box of “immigrant artist”.

Born in Iran, Gholamalizad (pictured) has been living in Belgium for more than 25 years. “I have Iranian roots, but that label is too restrictive,” she explains. For her, A Reason To Talk, which won the TAZ theatre festival’s Circuit X award this year for new playwrights, is much more than an immigrant story. Through video projections and text, a defiant Gholamalizad engages in a conversation with her mother on stage.

“I’m telling a universal story,” she explains. “It is the story of a mother and a daughter unable to communicate, unable to ask each other certain questions or to understand the answers they get.”

Although Gholamalizad and her mother were both born in Iran, they don’t share the same culture. “Growing up in Belgium, I couldn’t tell my mother I was in love with a boy or, god forbid, had sex with one. There were so many taboos that alienated us from one another.”  So she turned to the stage to confront her mother.

Her mother was not afraid to see her daughter’s play, making her antagonist and audience at the same time. “Call it a gesture of motherly love,” says Gholamalizad. “My mother hopes it helps me to get the answers I am looking for and to better understand the choices she made in life.”

The 32-year-old confesses that it sometimes makes her angry that she can’t get more out of her mother, get her to really share what she thinks. “I would like her to respond to my provocations with anger, but she won’t, which makes me even more rebellious.” 

It must be said that the gentle, soft-voiced Gholamalizad sitting in front of me sipping her tea is not at all like the hostile version she shows us on the stage.

Bridge to a new world

We take a little break. The puzzle Gholamalizad is trying to complete is still missing some pieces and reflecting on it still evokes emotions. She only slept for a couple of hours, she confides, as an excuse for her watery eyes.

As for me, I become a little emotional myself. It is a genuinely fragile and honest story she is sharing. Being a daughter and a mother myself, I can’t help but react. We laugh with our sniffing, and then she sets off again.  

My family was different, and I was different, but all I wanted was to fit in

- Sachli Gholamalizad

“I have some vague memories of our house in Anzali.” Gholamalizad was only five when she left Iran for Belgium. “First we spent some time at the Klein Kasteeltje in Brussels, where many asylum seekers go when they first arrive here. Then we went to live in Essen [northern Antwerp province]. That’s where my mother, my two older brothers and I had to start a new life.”

Her father was only able to join them a few years later. “Trying to settle down, we experienced some kind of shift in the traditional roles children and parents fulfil in the family,” Gholamalizad explains. “Suddenly, the children had to be responsible. We had to be the interpreters when going to the doctor, school or when dealing with administration. We had to be a kind of bridge between our home and this new world.”

It was a responsibility to which Gholamalizad responded with years of rebellion.

“Rebellion, yes! Against everything and by any means. Most of all I was rebellious against being so different than everyone else. My family was different; I was different, while all I wanted was to fit in. It took me a couple of years before I saw being different as an asset, a richness. It took a trip to Iran to truly find myself.” 

In Iran in her 20s, she met with what she calls her soul mates, giving her much pursued insights into who she was and where she was heading. “Spending time in Iran at that age and stage in life helped me to be more at peace with myself. Maybe I needed to take some distance in order to come closer to the person I really am. Anyway, it somehow set me free and gave me the confidence to start telling my story.”

Sachli Gholamalizad: A Reason To Talk (in Dutch)
21 November 20.00, Daarkom, Brussels
29 November 20.00, Theater Zuidpool, Antwerp

More performances this week

Augustus ergens op de vlakte (August: Osage County)
Toneelhuis, KVS & NTGent
The Weston family lives in rural Oklahoma. The family is a group of intelligent and sensitive people who end up coming together because of the sudden disappearance of the father in August. Being united, they appear to have the strange ability to make each other’s lives miserable. A translation of the 2007 play August: Osage County by American playwright Tracy Letts, the play is peopled with top Flemish actors. Gilda De Bal, in particular, is praised for her performance, both humble and hilarious in turns (in Dutch). Until 20 December across Flanders and in Brussels

The Dog Days Are Over
Jan Martens
Touring Flanders for more than six months now, The Dog Days Are Over has proven incredibly popular. Through mathematically complex choreography, the piece reveals the person behind the dancer. The piece is so demanding that, despite their dedication and discipline, the eight dancers on stage are bound to ultimately fail in their strive for perfection. This is a dance performance with a philosophical touch. 20 November, CC De Werft, Geel; 3-4 December, Campo Gent. Tours other cities from February to April

De koning van de paprikachips (The King of the Paprika Crisps)
After 16 years, the Brussels children's and youth theatre Bronks has decided to revive its legendary play De koning van de paprikachips, in which Flemish actor Pascale Platel enters the jungle to encounter a bizarre combination of creatures. Recommended for children aged seven and up (in Dutch). Until 21 December, across Flanders