Storytelling Zoom Event - 24 June 2021
Our first zoom event focused on storytelling. Our discussion centred on themes of identity and belonging and shared the artistic languages we are using to explore Anne Wood's story: music and song, visual art and spoken word. We invited two special guests to explore identity and belonging in their work: award winning poet Alycia Pirmohammed, and Mashal Peerzada, CEO and founder of Yellow Brick Creative Development, Pakistan.
Host Niloo-Far Khan introduced her role as co-director and her connection to the piece:
NILOO: I was so delighted to be approached by Kath to be part of When Mountains Meet, because not only is this a story and a blended style of music for theatre that I haven’t really come across before, but it was also an excuse for me to do some of the soul searching I needed to connect back to my Pakistani roots.
Kath Burlinson on her own journey of identity and how she came to be involved in the project:
KATH: "I've always been interested in questions of identity - not just cultural, ethnic or religious identity, but how our subjectivity is created and the notion that it is forever shifting. Personally, I lived in the USA, UK and Australia all before I was six years old, so perhaps that contributed to my sense of identity as unstable. Many years later, my PhD thesis explored 'Indeterminate Identities' in C19th poetry, and more recently two solo theatre shows explored redefining ideas of the self in the face of ageing, death and our own seasonality of being.
When I met Anne at one of my Authentic Artist workshops, I was captivated by her story and her search. I urged her to make the piece and offered to help in any way I could. Meeting Niloo, John and Mashal has enriched the journey so far and I'm so excited about all the ways we are approaching the project."
NILOO: I chose my identity before I can even remember. My first language was Italian from my mum, my dad spoke to me in Urdu and I only answered in English (which I learned off the telly). I remember at nursery being told I had a very strange accent. Where I lived in Leith in the 90s, Asian’s weren’t so welcome, and a period before that either were Italians! The one thing that connected me, my mum and dad was listening to music. My dad’s love for Bollywood music videos and maybe the American film Grease is what got me hooked into performing. With hindsight, I think if my dad could go back in time, he would make us all watch Casualty or the equivalent of Grey’s Anatomy non-stop, with hopes of me becoming a doctor.
During the early stages of research for When Mountains Meet, Kath and I used Anne’s journals to pull together the beginnings of the story. As I started to contribute my own story into the mix, I was taken back to a Self Portrait Poetry workshop hosted by Alycia Pirmohammed.
We then heard from Alycia Pirmohamed who read from her own work as well as reading Kazim Ali's poem, Origin Story. Alycia is the author of the pamphlets Hinge (Ignitionpress), Faces that Fled the Wind (BOAAT Press), and Second Memory (Guillemot Press and Baseline Press), a collaborative essay co-authored with Pratyusha. Alycia's debut collection, Another Way to Split Water, is forthcoming with YesYes Books and Polygon Books in 2022. She is the co-founder of the Scottish BAME Writers Network and a postdoctoral Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Liverpool, where she is working with the Ledbury Poetry Critics programme. In 2020, Alycia won the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. You can find more of Alycia's work here.
NILOO: Something I took away from Alycia’s words is that ‘our face carries our history, our expressions, our existence, our recognisability, it is an interpretive document’.
These lines remind me of some of the lines in When Mountains Meet where Isla (our fictional version of Anne) is thinking about her father, who doesn’t even know she exists:
‘Do I look like him?
Will his eyes reflect me?
I hope he will be proud of me.'
NILOO: Kazim Ali's poem, Origin Story addresses the issue of ‘where we are from’. It’s a question everyone is asked at some point in life, but what’s strange is when it keeps getting asked in the place that you think you belong? It’s almost a jolt at times to be asked ‘where are you from?’, because what I want to answer is, ‘I’m from here’ but it puts my head into a spin, 'do I really belong 'here'? Both characters in our story are asked where are they from and ask themselves who they are where they are.
Here was my personal response to Ali's poem.
In all honesty I don’t know where I am from,
but right now I live beside the Portobello prom.
My background is complex, like a box of unsolved mysteries.
All I know is my second generation history.
But an easier question I can answer is – where do I belong?
For me that’s easy, it’s with the people I want to carry along.
Niloo handed over to Anne, who spoke about her own identity and her relationship with her father:
ANNE: This project is based on my experience of tracing and getting to know my Dad in the late 1980s when I was in my mid 20s. I’d grown up in Edinburgh with my Mum. My Dad was in Karachi, head of his own large family, completely unaware that I had been born. Our journey of getting to know one another was often tumultuous. There’s no guidebook on how to be an illegitimate daughter in Pakistan…..seeking belonging…wondering about identity …..and the nature of family. (What is a blood relative? Who can I claim as family? And…do they even know who I am?
WHO AM I HERE?
But there was no blueprint for him either – how to take on this bolshy Western daughter who has no way of fitting into his life…and didn’t want to do as she was told! Sometimes I felt like I didn’t fit his expectation of how a daughter should be. I went to Pakistan aged 28, fully independent and found myself restricted in all sorts of ways. Being a musician didn’t seem to fit either. All decisions were made for me without consultation which led to some fiery exchanges….and although my situation was taboo, I received such a warm welcome in Pakistan, formed many wonderful friendships and really connected with the place. I loved it. My father died about ten years ago and at that point I realised I had actually known him for half my life (just not the first half!). I wanted to make a piece of work to celebrate his life and also somehow mark the extraordinary experience we’d had together over the past 25 years. The exhilarating highs of being his daughter – he really was a larger than life character! A lot of fun. Every moment with him was an adventure...but also struggles we had, the trial and error of finding ways of being father and daughter, complete strangers from different worlds - and yet so familiar. The first time I met him I felt like I had always known him, there was this intangible connection….and it took me a long time to realise ….that looking at him was like looking in a mirror. And that being with him was a bit like being with myself - we did drive each other crazy at times…sometimes it felt like we were on different planets, we really clashed. But we found our ways with each other…there was a generosity of spirit that saw us through that ensured we had a lasting loving relationship, which had a lot of meaning and mutual respect.
With the music I wanted to explore our history in geology as a backdrop to the human stories.
I wanted to have a presence of the land, and more specifically the mountain landscapes of Scotland and Pakistan….I’m really connected to the North West Highlands and have been inspired by the geology of the place learning about how the landscape was formed.
It may seem ridiculous to speak of the great mountain ranges in Pakistan in the same breath as the Scottish hills, but there’s an interesting comparison to be made –
I learned from geologists that the Scottish hills used to be as tall as the Himalaya and Karakorum mountains – they’re just much older and at a different point in the geological scheme of things.
I like what this perspective of geological time does to a story about the differences between people.
John McGeoch is the final member of our team a visual artist creating the visual world of the piece. John and Anne provided us a feast of music and moving images from the work we had began in Scourie. You can read more about that part of our development here: I had asked John about his identity and he came up with a very interesting reflection:
Tricky identity is!
A tapestry through time reflected through the eyes of others. Identity through lifestyle, through habits, through creativity, through practises, through social circles, through dreams of a better world. And this from a fish mostly in water. For fishes out of water all this and more…
Our final special guest was Mashal Peerzada CEO and founder of Yellow Brick Creative Development. A screenwriter and director for theatre, film and television, trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and a graduate of the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, California. She has recently been a guest speaker at TEDx conferences around Pakistan, where she spoke about tolerance and the power of questions, knowledge, compassion and the human mind, as well as innovations in education through media and the arts.
Mashal introduced us to a previous project, Unsent Letters. Mashal is sharing this idea with the When Mountains Meet team which you can read here. All are invited to share their stories about food through unsent letters which will be read at our third zoom event in September. Check out more about Mashal’s and Yellow Brick’s work here.
We were delighted with the attendance at our first zoom event and with the feedback offered by our audience.
Our next event is on the 22nd July, where we will be delving more into the music of When Mountains Meet and getting to know the artists involved. These include the well-known and much loved Pakistani musician, Rakae Jamil and Pakistani British actor-musician, Afnan Iftikhar also known as Afnan Prince from the band Future Humans.