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Nora Amin: A chameleon artist

Nora Amin is a writer, actress, dancer, and translator. Her latest performance, "Stories from the Edge," was hosted by the British Council in honor of International Women’s Day. In this 25-minute one-woman show, Amin presents the testimonies of two Sudanese women, Mounira and Aisha, both witnesses to the horrors of war.

Al-Masry Al-Youm sat with the artist to learn more about her career and her most recent show.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: In what context did you meet these Sudanese women?

Nora Amin: In 2007 I participated in a workshop organized by a network of feminist NGOs scattered throughout the Horn of Africa. The one-week workshop took place in Sudan where we met women victims of war. The act of reminiscing–putting into words those terrible memories of their experiences–had deep psychological impact on these women and brought back painful emotions.

Al-Masry: On stage you present the testimonies of only two such women. Why did you choose them in particular?

Amin: The stories of Mounira and Aisha were the most tragic that I’ve heard. In spite of all the cruelty and horror they endured, these women managed to survive and positively tranform their lives. They have lived through the challenge of surviving.

Al-Masry: You mentioned in a previous interview that among all the arts you practice, writing is the most important. Can you elaborate?

Amin: Writing is the only art where I control every aspect from beginning to the end. It is as a writer that I had my first success with the publishing of Halaat el Taa’tuf (An Empty Pink Shirt). In my writing I experiment with autobiographical elements. I was heavily influenced by the French writer Marguerite Duras. I find her writing liberating, as the space of freedom her literature offers is immense. I was the first to translate the play L’Amante Anglaise by Duras into Arabic in 2000.

Al-Masry: You are often referred to as a feminist. Do you accept this title?

Amin: I don’t know whether I am a feminist or not, but I do care about women’s unique experiences and about the injustices they are subjected to in cultures that discriminate against them. I don’t think I can be more politically correct than that! (Laughs). In this country as soon as you are involved with women’s issues you become a feminist anyway.

Al-Masry: In 2000 you created an independent theater company called “La Musica.” What encouraged you to launch this project?

Amin: After working for seven years as an actress, a dancer and a writer I felt it was time to gather all my experiences and create something new. "La Musica" focuses on developing a very realistic acting style and through mime and movements we explore other theatrical possibilities. My first production, The Box of our Lives, was performed at the Townhouse Contemporary Gallery and we made the audience sit very close to the stage. The play was highly poetic and dealt with a complicated mother/daughter relationship. It made me realize that I wanted to pursue this direction in my work, and at some point 25 people were members of the company.

Al-Masry: Would you say that Egyptian female artists have more influence today on the local arts scene?

Amin: I think Egyptian female artists are more numerous than before. My sense is they have more freedom, face less hypocrisy and enjoy more opportunities to speak out. This space has been created in large part by the work of women artists from the previous generation, which is something to celebrate.

Al-Masry: Speaking of celebration, what does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Amin: A lot, actually. I have been celebrating 8 March since I was ten because this day meant a lot to my mother, a professor and a feminist. The fact that the British Council invited me to perform on this occasion is fantastic as I’ve been searching for an opportunity to share the testimonies of these Sudanese women.

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