"The Bodies how they are, and how they are affected by time"
An interview with Amna Mawaz on the theme Body Territory - March 28, 2023
Amna Mawaz, an appointed choreographer from the Pakistan National Council of the Arts, author and performance director residing in Heidelberg South of Germany, discusses complex ideas about the Body and its transformation. From a fluid female perspective, a mother of a child with a rigorous education in Pakistan, Amna shows different perspectives through her body perception during pregnancy and thorough education in dance in her country of origin.
Image: Baqir Mehdi
What first thoughts come to your mind when you hear the words Body and Territory?
When you said body, somehow, I feel it inwards even though it seems outwards. So it is a possible place. It's because feeling is for me inside. I don't know what that means. But when I think of the body, I am thinking of body in space, directly in my body, and I have a lot of anxiety about my body because I gave birth to a child; the body blows my mind. And I like it. But I'm still, on one level, very insecure about my body. And so, inside am comfortable, and outside in the territory, it´s funny, it gives me anxiety but at the same time gives me security.
For territory, I think it means more bodies in space. So there are lots of bodies, even non-human bodies. So things like plants, machines, all bodies. And I think that makes something territorial for me, I guess. Territory, somehow, I know there's a feeling of control and power when it comes to this idea of territory. I think somehow, in this day and age, we think of it as property. But I do think there's a different way of it. There's an alternative way of settling a territory such as a shared space, something like a communal space.
The author Lonhurst inscribed women's pregnant bodies as "modes of seepage". These bodies lack boundaries and are described as "ugly and abject" in society. I remember you have a child. How was your experience? Can you tell us about your body's transformations?
So basically, it was not a planned pregnancy. It was something that took its shape, and I noticed that it was also hidden, it was a lot of drama. But once that I gave birth, of course, the belly was huge. And also, my colour kept changing. My skin colour was changing in different places, I guess, because of the hormones. But it's a very strange thing that happens. I don't know. I've not heard of many people who have it, but I had different colours on my body. And then basically after giving birth, they got huge, everything was very tight and big.
And then the next day, after having the baby, I see my [… ]. I looked down, and my belly button had become this big. It was huge. And everything was just sagging. And I was saying, what happened? And then, of course, when the milk flows, there's something called like a clogged milk duct. I don't know if it's too much for you... [Amna wasn´t sure if the interviewer was comfortable to hear about liquid spilling out of her breast].
But then, when there's a milk stoppage, it becomes hard and painful. There is a lot of pain and transformation linked to pain. Then after, two years, somehow things got back to how they were. Now I have huge stretch marks in all of the places; then they were kind of, expanded and then contracted. I like stretch marks in theory. I find them really beautiful, but somehow I'm unable to own it for myself. You know what I mean? It's very strange. It's like I understand that it's also stretch marks have such a beautiful thing to them. They're literally like a river flowing and they have it's their own cause then. But somehow I'm very insecure about them.
I am not, somehow not comfortable in them. I mean, I like them. But I still think it takes some time, maybe, to get used to them. Maybe that's it's just being two years now. So, it is also age, of course. I think it's age and through time it has a connection to space. So the body and territory how they are, and how they are affected by time. It's also so interesting.
I propose you return to your memories. Can you reconnect with past experiences and share how these experiences triggered your body and if they are connected with your work today?
Yeah. And that's an important thing for me because, in Pakistan, where it's mostly like when you're growing up as a man or woman, it's very policed. So, in public have to be conscious of your body. And, that took me a long time to recognize myself because I was always here my whole life.
Even though I was training in dance form that is classical. Even in that classical form, because it was so policed in terms of lines line, you know, everything is geometric, the neck, everything has to stay tight and there can be no curves, you know.
The training I had was very triggering for how to move my body. I started training at around 11 years old and then I continued under the same teacher till I was maybe 23 or something. So my whole puberty, let´s say, it was shaped with a lot of hard lines.
But what affected me was I played a role in this film two years ago, and the role was of a woman who a community of transgender people had brought up. Have you heard of due to the fact that the South Asian kind of transgender community“Khawaja sira”?
So basically, it was an interesting film because it was like a guerilla shooting. So I was pretty much in drag. I was playing, and it was supposed to be a woman who has to hide that she's a woman by acting like a transwoman. It was not on a stage; it was on the road. So people who were in the every day were also like. It took me some days or so to change how I walk. And also did it in a fine tune. And so it transformed me inside, like how I felt, and my gender went all over the place. I think that felt liberating because I always thought gender was fluid, but I never embodied it. I never embodied it with my mannerisms, and then I guess my work and dance were also affected. Because right after that, I moved to Germany. And somehow, I didn't perform much in Germany, but the time I have at the studio that sometimes, when I move, I'm somehow broken from this previously stylized movement. And also very gendered. And then I try and be conscious that I went through a phase where I had that opportunity and was utterly someone else in another body. So that affected me, I think.
Thinking of the body as an active, territorial agent, how would you perceive your body as a territory? I.e. who is more present and comfortable in a space, Amna the performer or Amna in daily life?
Well, I think as an artist and also, when I'm here, the kind of political work I do. I also believe it's not the same as a performance, but it is a performance because you're in a space, at least for me. After all, I come from this kind of upper-middle-class background. And when I go into a space of, for example, a working-class background, like an area, an environment where there's none of this, and somehow I have to perform that. I would not be showing my arms in a non-conservative way, like the same kind of aesthetic. So it's very performative.
And in a way, it's frustrating. But at the same time, it's also very liberating because you can break away from certain performativity one does it. And, you know, like high society, like bourgeois, it's also you kind of break that, l the aesthetic is also broken. And I think it took me a long time also. I believe that a lot of, for example, the non-artist me, I have just because of my family situation and all they come back here. But other than that, my life is very different. My embodiment of who I am has changed a lot because of the political journey. And, additionally, the artist me, for example, I'm in costume, right?
Really in costume, I'm very conscious that that I'm representing something in a society where it's seen as really bad. So then I make it a point to be very conscious about my intention, especially when I'm performing publicly and when I'm not non not in that role I am very free. I kind of forget sometimes that the body and the mind are two different things. But the problem then is if you're in a public space, then again, that thing about controlling how you look, because people will look at me – Oh, she's not there and she's not got her head covered, so she must be available, you know, so it's almost always a performance.
Maybe I do feel that. I feel like I'm in an essence or so when I'm in this mode. I don't dance because I get really awkward also, like what you especially when I'm performing, I get super weird, but I also enjoy the awkwardness. It's like I'm conscious that is okay, I fuck up, but if I just like, how do I use the fucked upness and create something with it? And often that's been said about my work is that it´s not strictly classical, it's like this. I feel like there needs to be this space where it's awkward. It should be awkward. I like the awkwardness. I like that uneasiness. And yet also it's performed and I like to sift through these weird territories where it's not sure, but it looks sure.
Amna describes her pregnant body changes concerning texture, elasticity, and colour. It is to be noticed that these biological changes are viewed as uncomfortable and abject. The choreographer also reveals how movement oppression during her adolescence in Pakistan impacted her life. A female body is constantly policed about how it moves in the streets and is eventually restricted to a specific movement performance. In this interview, it is possible to see that these experiences are inhabited in Amna´s body till today, which also plays a role in how she perceives other bodies around her, either in a social context living in Germany or how she performs. I leave this interview questioning provocatively: how does the environment play an essential piece of sensory information in the body and differentiate concepts of perception and reality about the body?
Longhurst, Toby. Bodies Exploring Fluid Boundaries. Routlege, 2001.
Echeverri, J. A. Territory as body and territory as nature: Intercultural dialogue? In A. Surrallés & P. García-Hierro (Eds.), The Land Within: Indigenous territory and the perception of environment, Copenhagen: IWGIA, 2005.
Sara Smith, Nathan W Swanson and Banu Gökarıksel. Territory, bodies and borders. Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3220, USA, 2015.