Interview with Nancy Naous

On Revolutions and Migration

Sarma 27 Jan 2021English

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Contextual note
This interview is part of the bilingual (English/Arabic) collection and publication series 'Cairography', which was initiated by HaRaKa (Egypt) and supported by Sarma (Belgium). It features in Cairography #2, also referred to as the 'Emergency Edition' (January 2021), edited by Adham Hafez, Ismail Fayed and Myriam Van Imschoot, and supported by Moussem Nomadic Arts Center in response to a year of losses, between a deadly pandemic and a series of political catastrophes. The interview was conducted in Arabic on 13 November 2021 and is available as an audio-file. It was transcribed and translated to English by HaRaKa Platform.

Adham Hafez: Nancy Naous, how are you?

Nancy Naous: I am good, Adham, how are you?

Adham Hafez: I am good, I am still in New York, since several months, since the pandemic started. You’re in Paris?

Nancy: Yes, since the pandemic started. The last trip was to New York, then I came back, then Covid started, and I stayed. I was supposed to go to Lebanon, in April, but it was delayed. Then delayed to the summer, then delayed again. Now I was thinking of going but not sure.

Adham: I wanted to talk with you about the state of affairs in Lebanon, politically and economically, but through a personal point of view, since last year when the revolution started and what people thought about in terms of what kind of change could come about politically and artistically, and how this impacted artists and cultural workers, and then the crisis afterwards economically and politically. If you can share your experience with us. Does it make you see your work differently, or politically and economically, what do you think is happening?

Nancy: Generally, when I work, I think all my work has to do with Lebanon or the Arab region in general, but Lebanon in particular. When the revolution started, I felt like: why am I not there? I wanted to go, but it’s not that I couldn’t go, but there was something that was stopping me from going. I was in this confusion, of whether I need to be there or not. The feeling of I am going to be on the street with all these people, friends and my family. Yet at the same time it was the first time I felt like, wow there is a lot of hope, from what I saw on social media and the photos and videos and what my friends said. Because generally I am a very optimistic person. But there was something inside me saying nothing will change. So maybe this is what made me wait, before going there. This state of desire and need to be there whenever something is happening and to be able to help and be part of what’s happening, but then there is something inside me that is saying nothing will change. This started in 2006. When I came to France in 2002, I came here to finish my studies and then return to Lebanon. I went back to Lebanon actually in 2005, with love, and hope and dreams and projects. Then 2006 happened. Since then something has changed in me. I feel that nothing will change. Even if I have that hope, and I see people and I get excited, something inside me keeps saying nothing will change, not socially, something is just shut down. I don’t know if this is generational, and then later it will be fixed or what.

I had that feeling that time, and the same again when the explosion happened, with the financial collapse, people can’t pull money out of the banks, and Covid, and then with the explosion my first feeling was one of guilt. How something like this could happen and I am not there. Especially with the fact that with all the horrible events that happened in Lebanon from wars to assassinations to bombings I was always there. Even when I would want to just go visit Lebanon, I would go and then this would happen, and I live it there, then I would go back to Paris. So the first feeling I had this time was that of guilt, how am I not there when this is happening?

Then, I felt that no, I decided to come back to France after 2006. I came back to Paris, and I had decided to live in Paris in order for me to take care of my life as a person, as an individual, to be able also as an artist to have projects and be able to realize them. And to realize them unfortunately I had to do so in another place. And I get jealous and I feel happy at the same time also when I see all these artistic initiatives back in Lebanon, of people creating and working. But I get jealous, because I feel that I could not do that. I left and I couldn’t.

I think of that, and what happened, and then when you see the whole civic society out on the street, and their courage, they are the ones that cleaned, and helped, and I feel I should have been there doing the same thing with them. But I didn't do it. This is very strange. It’s the first time I say this loudly. I never do, I just usually think about it. I don’t know if it is laziness, or me saying: that’s it, this is how it is. But also there is something else, for the Lebanese people in the diaspora, me personally for instance, I feel so attached as if I still am in Lebanon. But because I am far, I feel that something was broken perhaps.

On a personal level, that’s what I feel always, and in my work, it’s like doing splits, I went there, I went here, and I am in between, and I don’t know where to settle. After many years of being here in France, I say have I been here all this long? My life is here, my house is here, so it’s not just a station on the way, like I thought before. But then I keep thinking it is just a station, and I will return, I will return. I don’t know.

As for work, when I started working, the first project had so much to do with everything I lived in Lebanon. How does the body live the violence of war? The state of emergency? How does the body behave under such conditions? Bit by bit, I thought I would just make that thing, create it, present it, and then I would be done with it. Then everything I could possibly think of when I want to think of a new work, and think of Lebanon, where maybe at first I used to be more direct about these issues... what am I saying now? Did I mess it up?

Adham: No, not at all. Since the explosion this year, there have been several initiatives in France to help Lebanon, as well as initiatives in Lebanon, and internationally too. Did this make you feel a certain sense of alienation.

Nancy: Adham, it’s cutting off, can you repeat please?

Adham: Since the explosion this year, there have been several initiatives in France to help Lebanon, and in Lebanon, and internationally too. Did this make you feel a certain sense of alienation? Do you still feel that France is a station, and that you will return? Or that this was it? The event of the explosion itself made you wonder what’s happening in Beirut. Did your relation to Beirut and living in the diaspora change?

Nancy: No, it didn’t change. I feel that I need to go to Beirut to see the city with my own eyes now. This is the thing I felt the most. The thing I felt the most, to go see the city with my own eyes, and not the photos I saw, or what people said, but to be there, and see with my own eyes. I don’t want to go and to stay. But I still feel that Paris is just a station for me. Previously, I felt that I might one day return to Beirut, then something strange happened. The time when I left Beirut to Paris, I was 25 years old. This was on the 2nd of October 2002. Oh god, now they will know how old I am!

So, the whole time I used to think I lived 25 years in Lebanon, and I will not live 25 years in Paris, I must return back to Beirut before then. That was the idea rather than just a feeling, or it was rather an aim. I know someone is running and fleeing, but then I think of my family here. If I were alone, maybe I would have gone back. Maybe I’d have returned, and stayed somewhere else. Or the best thing that I used to be able to do, is to go several times a year, staying for long periods each time. Now, that’s in relation to your question. But I thought you would ask me if I did something from France to support Lebanon. 

I did nothing at all. Not even go to the vigils or street actions. And I read about what they were doing, and sending packages to Beirut, and medicine. I did none of this. The only thing that I do is that I feel that if I help my parents in Beirut, that is the only thing that I am actually capable of doing now. I can’t do more than this. During the revolution I went down to the protests in Paris twice, not more. But then from there, I felt that even though there should be solidarity, I felt there is no need for it to happen from here. Either I should be in the heart of the event itself, or nothing at all. No need, and I just could not do it, period. 


Nancy Naous is a Lebanese choreographer, dancer and dance researcher based in Paris. She investigates gender in performance, masculinity and nationhood, among other of her ongoing artistic and research projects.