The eminent author, actress and stage director leaves Sabin Muzaffar entranced with her thought provoking ponderings on identity, belonging and not fitting into any box.
Born in 1965 in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, Myriam Tadessé has lived in Paris since 1978. She studied theatre, philosophy, dance, music and internal martial arts. An actress and stage director, she has taught theatre and dance to children and adults who did not have access to it, written and directed documentaries and published a narrative titled L’instant d’un regard about her experience as a child of the ethiopian revolution. Since 2017 she decided to devote herself to writing and has published a book at Seagull books, Blind spot, a memoir exploring the realities of being a biracial French citizen. In relation to her exploration of the intimate, she is pursuing training as an analytical therapist.
Do you think there is a connection between socio-political ideologies of a country and how works of literature, and those who create or produce it, are perceived due to such belief systems?
Of course, for the simple reason that everything is linked! Now once you say that, you haven’t said much. There are several components in your question, that of the literary production, on the side of the authors, that of the publication and the diffusion of these literary productions, on the side of the publishers, and finally the reception, in other words, the public. Each one has his share of responsibility in this story, which is a co-creation of three. So rather than connection, I prefer to speak of inter-connection. Now the socio-political is an important data, but it is not the only one. It is a context, not the intimacy of the person. And it is to her that the literature is addressed, the one that interests me at least, and can contribute to give her back her dignity. As closed, locked as a system may be, making it difficult to receive a literary work, we must not forget that if someone was able to write it, it is also because someone else somewhere felt the need to read it.
From being a child of the Ethiopian revolution to experiencing realities of being a bi-racial French citizen, how does that influence your creative process and creativity?
As I tell it in my book Blind spot, the fact of being mixed race was never a subject for me, it became so only in the glance of the other, thereafter in France and more specifically, as an actress, in the world of theater and the audiovisual. Until then I was the child of my parents whom I did not look at as white or black but as mother and father, just as at school and in my family I was not looked at as mixed race but simply Myriam. As for the experience of the revolution, it was for me that of the rupture in a world, which, while being varied, and crossed by tensions, was nevertheless coherent, united. It was brutally split into camps, into blocks that confronted each other, switching from one and the other to on or the other. In France, as an actress, I was asked to be this or that, white or black. All of this undoubtedly gave me the desire to understand what was behind these divisions, in other words the human being. To create, that is to say to respond, to open possibilities rather than to be submitted to, was a way of giving myself or at least of seeking a space of integrity.
Can you share your thoughts about the issues of identity and belonging when it comes to gender, especially with women being the face of displacement, dislocation and migration?
Identity and belonging cannot be theoretical answers, but a quest. They are a living experience, therefore moving. It is a relationship. With myself, others, different cultures, different sensibilities, the living world. Your question, it seems to me, deals with essentially political and anthropological aspects that are too complex to be discussed in a few lines. The problems we face today are about the very survival of our humanity. It is not a question of gender but of energy. There is an obvious imbalance between the feminine and masculine energies and the challenge that is addressed to each and every one of us is to move from a logic of confrontation to cooperation. What in psycho-spiritual terms is called moving from the hierarchy of power to that of competence. This shift cannot be made from the “top” but by each of us. Women, as the ones who give life (which I do not limit to the biological sense) and take care of it, have an enormous and magnificent responsibility in this evolution. Recognize themselves in their power of life, for life. Isn’t the first exile, from which all the others flow, to be disconnected from its source, which is love?
Looking at a woman’s journey through the intersections of gender, migration and marginalization, how does it transmute into her lived experience and that of a patriarchal society?
To begin with, the patriarchal system is not, and has never been, my reference, it is Life. Probably because I come from a family on my father’s and mother’s side where women were very strong, maybe too much so… I did not feel constrained by a patriarchal system, but rather by the mothers’ almighty power.
The difficulties I encountered in finding a place in society led me to look inside for what I was looking for “outside”. Question this matter of belonging, of place, of identity. What do I really want, what is the nature of the recognition I aspire to? For whom and from whom? Do I really want to be part of this system? Is it about fighting it or transforming it? And how can this transformation take place if not first within oneself? What am I nourishing, which way am I looking? I am part of this society, and as such I am also responsible for it in the way I live, think and interact.
As the singer Alfred Deller said : music is not about the notes, it’s what’s between the notes. In this way, the data, the elements of my story, are never more than notes from which it is up to me to make a song. What raised my desire for this song was the love for my daughters. They stimulated me, pushed me to cross my limitations because that is not what I wanted to pass on to them. Wanting them to be free, responsible, creative pushed me to take responsibility for my own existence. I’m not saying it’s easy, and that it was, but it’s what inspired and guided me. Finally I saw as an opportunity the fact that I didn’t fit into any box, an invitation to create, to join the much larger and more exhilarating flow of life. And I feel deeply grateful because it has always supported me. It’s a constant process and I don’t claim to have achieved it, far from it. The difference now when I feel like I’m drowning, that I find myself stuck, is that I know it’s just a passing, not a condemnation. And that when this happens it is often because I have forgotten that something in me knows how to swim.
While women are being published, their lived as well as imagined experiences are being highlighted – to some extent – censorship is one socio-political notion that impacts women more than anyone and it further amplifies with race and color. Talking about the literary and creative landscapes, do you think gender and race-based censorship is more pervasive than organized suppression or are they different names of the same oppression?
Yes, from my point of view they are all part of the same oppression called fear. Which is ignorance and forgetfulness of love.
Lastly, we are so excited about your participation at Ananke’s Women in Literature Festival. Do you think events like these can create impact and trigger meaningful dialogue?
Yes, I believe this simply because as beings of language we need conversation to learn about ourselves in relation to others, to be inspired and celebrate our lives!