Inburgered (Integrated)

Open Call Selection

Omid Kheirabadi is an Iranian artist and theater maker based in Rotterdam. He will present his piece Inburgered (Integrated), a performance that strives for opening a discussion with the audience.

Inburgered (Integrated) is a performance about the struggles of outsiders who try to integrate as “Dutch” citizens. Humorously rooted in his first-hand experiences and questions of global disparity in economics and legal status, labor, and discrimination, Omid turns his focus toward Dutch society from his perspective of living in the Netherlands as an artist, performer, and researcher based in Rotterdam in this performance. 

Language: English

Get an insight into the project with our interview below!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your artistic practice?
I am Omid and I live in Rotterdam. It is more than three years now that I am in Rotterdam, and that is actually relevant to the performance I am producing for MOMO. When people ask me where I am from, I say “from Rotterdam” and then I see that they do not believe me. It could be a conversation in Dutch or in English and they go “But where are you really from?”  So I go “Oh do you mean which neighborhood? From the Noord.” I was born and raised in Iran and then I came to the Netherlands six years ago to study. I am an artist and a researcher. I studied architecture and worked as an architect but at some point decided to study Master of Artistic Research at the Royal Academy in The Hague. I express myself best with performance art next to installations, video works, and writings.

Regarding my art practice, as an artist and an architect, I see that there is always this structural thinking about art and society in my work. “What is the structure of this society that we move within with our bodies and how limited that can become?” These are architectural questions but also artistic ones. What kind of measures, spaces, and institutions gives us freedom or limitations? Questions of disparities in economics and legal status, Western (European) hegemony, immigration, labor, and injustices are a few matters that guide my artistic practice. 

How did you first hear about MOMO and what made you decide to apply for this open call?
That is actually funny. I studied in Maastricht and then I moved to Rotterdam three years ago. I think the first time I saw a MOMO poster was in 2022. I was curious what Motel Mozaique was. I was delivering food back then with my bike and I looked it up while waiting for the people to get their pizza. I found out it was a festival and I thought it was cool but I could not even afford to go to a festival back then so I forgot about it. Last year, I attended the festival for the first time. I saw many interesting acts, performances, and music and I thought that it would be cool if I participated one day. I did not know how, nor did I know about the open call. This year I saw the open call, and thought I should apply and here I am now! 

Can you give us a sneak peek into what you are working on for MOMO? 
Inburgered is a solo theatrical performance with live music made with a modular synthesizer based on the Dutch national anthem. Siamak Misheni has made these samples based on the national anthem of the Netherlands with an Iranian instrument, Santur, and Davide Ghelli Santuliana, will be playing on the stage next to me based on those. It is a half an hour piece about the struggles of someone who has lived here and is now going through the integration exam. This is an exam you need to take in order to become a Dutch citizen. You do a language test and besides that, you also take this exam that tests your knowledge of Dutch culture and lifestyle. In my performance, this exam is the starting point to look at Dutch society. How is it designed and for whom? What is the concept of integration anyways? This is a very problematic exam on many levels. There are many questions in the exam that come with certain assumptions about foreigners. Foreigners are already assumed to be homophobes, ignorant, or against freedom of expression or other values that exist in Dutch society. There are very weird questions, for example, “You see people on the street that dress in sexy clothes. What do you do?” and they always use names like Ali, Hassan, and Fatma. There are many other foreigners who take this exam and maybe a quarter of them could be Ali, Hassan, or Fatma! The assumptions that are in the exam are already in Dutch society as well. That’s what my performance is about. You might get a Dutch passport, and you might become Dutch on paper but are you really Dutch? What does that even mean? 

What inspired you to create this performance about the struggles of an outsider trying to integrate into Dutch society? 
This performance is called Inburgered but the translation of the word integrated in Dutch is ingeburgerd so the made-up word inburgered is grammatically wrong! We wanted to keep it because I am living here, I speak Dutch, I work here and I studied here but there is still something wrong.  It is basically my daily reality. I cannot really say that I saw something that influenced me to make this performance or I sat down and thought about what I could do and come up with this performance because it is something that I am living with every day and I am trying to learn how to deal with this. For example, when someone speaks English to me without me saying anything, is that racism, is it discrimination, or is it from naivety? These are real questions that I have and some of them will be part of this work but also my other works. 

The theme of the open call this year was identity. Can you talk about the relevance of the notion of identity in your project, and how you explore it through your performance? 
I think identity is not fixed as a concrete thing. Omid now vs. Omid 5,10,20 years ago has different identities. It is changing every day based on the environment, your friends, the resources you have access to, things you read and watch, and basically every encounter. For me, identity is something that is transforming. I find the difference between identity and beliefs important. What is my belief and when does that become part of my identity? You might believe in something but that does not become necessarily your identity, I feel these two frequently get confused and that’s why people sometimes have difficulty understanding each other. For example, it is not anyone’s identity to hate foreigners or to eat meat! It is just something that people think or feel based on their understanding of reality and all the implicit biases we are charged with. Certain things come from the position of not knowing, not asking, or not having the willingness to expose yourself to “the unknown ”. 

This performance is an exploration to understand my identity at this current moment, as someone who is willing to stay and make his life in Rotterdam. It’s also a sonic experiment from my collaborators who are both going through similar experiences of “trying to fit in”. To accept being far away from where I was born, my family, and everything back home and create a new home here but also question what that means for me as an artist, as a maker, and as an individual. As I am writing about it and doing research, I see that it’s a lot about my identity. And it is not an identity of an Iranian person, an artist, an architect, or a Dutch person, I am a mix of all these things and not any of those at the same time. That’s the beauty of it. That we don’t have to be something very fixed and concrete. Identity is fluid; If people looked at it like this, I think there would be less disagreement about so many things. We need to move away from these fixed understandings of the world and people. It is about becoming something, not about being a fixed thing.

There was a reference to the Dutch golden age of slavery in your application. How do you explore this dark chapter in Dutch history, and why is it important in the context of your performance? 
There is an ongoing discourse about colonialism in the Netherlands as if colonialism happened in the past and is finished. I do not think anything is finished. It is about how you look at history. History always has its continuation, you see the consequences of history in reality. What happened to those who were brought into slavery? What happened to their lands? Who made factories and plantations on those lands and established multinational companies? Where did that wealth go? What made the city of Amsterdam and the whole Netherlands so beautiful? The golden age. It is a golden age for people who lived here but it meant poverty and exploitation in other parts of the world. All these companies and all the accumulated wealth that people hold did not disappear. They still exist, they just transformed into another form. I see a direct link between the colonialist mindset in the past and the capitalist mindset that exists today. In the art world, there are some efforts to give space to talk about (de)colonialism but how about in the mainstream media or in everyday life, in realities that people live in? In the context of the play, that is mentioned in relation to the systems that we have today. For example, if someone has a Dutch passport, they get much more freedom and benefits in so many ways compared to people who do not have a Dutch passport. It’s actually reminiscent of those years. Colonialism did not end. It never stops, it just changes into a neocolonial relationship with the same countries. 

What do you hope your audience will take away from your performance, and what impact do you hope it will have on them?
I hope it makes people think about what they see and hear. It’s always my hope that people will have this moment of reflection during or after the performance, thinking “Oh maybe there is a point in this joke.” This society is built on the inheritances of slavery and all the historical pain that exists. If you are born with a Dutch passport and get the privileges that come with it, you are responsible to do something with that. We have a saying in Farsi “If someone is pretending to sleep, you cannot wake them up.” I think if someone wants to get a message from this, they will take that away but they can also see this as just another funny criticism of the system. I am making this work and will put it out there but what happens afterward is not in my control really. 

What do you hope to gain or learn from participating at the MOMO Festival? 
It is my first time participating in a festival at this scale so it’s already been a learning experience. Also creating work in such a short time is teaching me a lot and that was only possible with the help of a few people who are supporting me nonstop, besides my music team, Katerina Malamat as my production manager, and Merel Smitt as my artistic advisor. I don’t know how I could have made this work without them honestly! There’s also going to be a wider and different audience than I am used to and I am excited about this opportunity. This is a new work and it might eventually grow into something bigger and be shown at different places but MOMO has encouraged me to create this work. 

What are you looking forward to at the festival? 
On the posters, it says “MOMO makes you wonder” and I am so ready to be surprised. As I am also making something, I didn’t really have time to figure out what I am going to see this year so I am just going to surprise myself by visiting different venues. So many things are happening at MOMO, so many artists, performances, and bands, and I like this element of surprise and I am looking forward to that. After my performance, I am going to explore everything until 6 am!

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