Muhanad Rasheed: "I am Iraqi, but I still struggle with what this means"

January 2009 -

"My sense of identity during war is not an issue, because then I am totally Iraqi", explains 24-year old Muhanad Rasheed, who dances and choreographed Iraqi Bodies' recent production, Crying of My Mother. "When I left, I realized I don't feel a sense of 'place' anymore. Coming into contact with other societies and cultures there is fraction with identity."


Iraqi Bodies in Amsterdam

Two and a half years ago the Baghdad-native fled to Jordan, then to Syria before settling in Amsterdam last year. He came to Europe to perform with fellow dancers, Duarid Abaas and Ammar Muraje. The trio won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Theatre Festival in Jordan. They use a mélange of experimental movements to depict the violence on the streets in Iraq. In every show 'something new and something special' is evoked. This year, Iraqi Bodies will embark on a tour throughout Europe and then back to the Middle East. In addition, the dancers are the subject of an upcoming documentary slated for completion in September 2009.

Filmmaker Hayder Helo was inspired to document the 'human level' of the dance troupe. He wanted to capture their respect for the body, especially coming from a place that disrespects and tortures it. "I want the world to know Iraqi culture is not stopped by war", affirms Helo. "This is exactly what the group is doing by performing in different places. I am trying to stop time...Art has a major role in defining identity…(and ours) was built and saved by civilians and artists."

For Rasheed, he admits since being in Europe his life is different. He believes art production, and thinking about the arts outside the Arab world is a new experience. The technical aspects and teaching methods in Europe differ from how he learned and adapted his training from theatre to dance. Today, he tries to find the balance between these two worlds.

"Here I'm learning the European way", he says. "But art is always related to my life. My challenge now is between my Iraqi personality and this new European world. I don’t want to be exotic here, but how to transform these feelings into my art?"