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Exploring the anthropogenic alterations of the material world in the context of contemporary Iranian theatre

Exploring the anthropogenic alterations of the material world in the context of contemporary Iranian theatre

Mohebat Ahmadi

This July, Dr. Mohebat Ahmadi, starts her one-year visiting scholarship at York and EUC Research Assistant, Igor Lutay, interviews her on her plan of research and engagement in the Faculty.

Q. What made you decide to pursue a visiting scholarship at York University?

A. I have been living in Toronto since 2017. I met Professor Sandilands in the first year of living here. I am excited about this opportunity to join the intensive research environment of EUC at York under the guidance of Professor Sandilands because her research work in ecocriticism and cultural politics of environmental change contribute greatly to my planned research. The Faculty has a lot of expertise in relation to interdisciplinary approach in the environmental studies and sustainability issues. There is an outstanding number of resources in EUC and York that would help me build connections with scholars working in environmental humanities, environmental performance studies and arts-based approaches to Iranian politics. My research also aligns with EUC's research team's mission of mobilizing the arts for change as well as building just and sustainable global relations. It is a privilege to advance my own research agenda and allow my research to enrich cultural diversity and interdisciplinary humanities research work at EUC by developing a transnational frame of environmental humanities research. This a unique opportunity to support greater future sustainability goals.

Q. What can you tell me about your current research? Are there any challenges you have encountered during your research work?

A. The current research project that departs from my recent book, Towards an Ecocritical Theatre, and I am extremely interested to focus on for this appointment at York is to explore the anthropogenic alterations of the material world in the context of contemporary Iranian Theatre and Performance. His study provides a foundation for further scholarship on the necessity of an interdisciplinary environment for rethinking Iranian culture in the framework of Anthropocene events. We know that many recent works in American and Anglophone literature consider the role of the humanities in communicating the challenges of human engagement with the physical world, but there is still much to be done in other languages and cultural regions, especially when considering broad-scale and shared challenges like climate change and mass extinction. My research both builds on the study of ecodramaturgy and ecocriticism and turns my attention urgently and personally to Iran – a country facing the complex intersections of multiple revolutions: religious, feminist, economic and ecological. This work both responds to revolutionary situations and hopes to find in them a sense of a new revolutionary praxis while considering the past, present and possible future of Iranian culture and environmental history through the lens of ecocriticism. Also, it offers a step away from the Anglophone literary ecologies that have tended to limit the development of environmental thinking in North American ecocritical circles. To be more specific, my work focuses on examining the role of theater and performance in re-imagining our relationship with crude oil and the planet as well as discussing environmental, social and cultural implications of extractive industries through studying regions like Iran, which is portrayed as a site where crude oil is used as a means of developing new relations in connection with climate change. The main challenge is that there is scant number of theatrical works written and performed with focus on the question of oil. The theatrical works that I have selected take oil and its material, social and political implications as a focal point of discussion and represent the geopolitics of petrocultures and more specifically what I would like to call petrodramaturgy. My research shows how oil acts as a vital and agential force in defining a new era in the history of Iranian nation and global history. It describes the ways in which oil mediates our relationship to other humans and to other non-human life, non-human world and to other things present in our world. In my research, I work on contemporary Iranian theatrical works that are produced as a result of geopolitical relations with crude oil while raising questions on ethical, racial and gender politics. While I focus on the vital materiality of crude oil, I consider how it can theorize, aestheticize, and narrate or express the entanglement of our present geopolitical and geological relations, and how this materiality can disrupt this tradition of aesthetic theory that places the human at the center of perception and decision making.

Q. What kind of impact do you anticipate your work will have in your field of research?

A. Examination of theatrical and performative works in which justice, society and politics interact with stories of environment history, decision-making and climate forces show that theatre can convert the silent voices of suffering lands and their people into stories of liberation by making a link between the ecology of this country and the global ecology of ideas and matter. This project is not simply about Iran as it investigates how this work reframes human action within local and eco-cosmopolitan scales and engages with the ethical, philosophical and political challenges raised by the complex global environmental changes. My work raises the important question of how a revolution of values, priorities, perceptions, and storytelling makes us alert to devastating ecological events and help us imagine alternative possibilities that might yet materialize. The project thus examines the cultural and physical dimensions of Iran to shape our contemporary sustainable imagination, environmental sensitivity and responsibility, and social forms of cognitive justice.

Q. What topics are you most passionate about researching in the future?

One of the research areas that I am interested to focus in the future is the relationship between digital and environmental humanities in the context of theatre and live performance. This research highlights the complexities of global environmental change and the necessity of an interdisciplinary environment for their exploration. I am interested in researching future emerging technologies of virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality in live performance that could provide potential to change the traditional boundaries of theatrical storytelling and world building. This research will contribute to exploration of multi-scalar and multi-agential perspectives of the material world by outlining a digitally expanded notion of ecological theatre which shows the ways in which integration of the theatrical apparatus and digital communication tools contribute to effective communication around future human behaviors.

Gate of all nations in Persepolis, Iran.

A. What are some of the things you are passionate about outside of your research?

I am a board member of the Centre for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA). As a member of CSPA my activities include discussing financial statements and updates, co-organizing strategic consulting proposals for sustainable arts practices including Creative Green Tools Canada. Previous to this work I have been engaged in the field of postsecondary teaching. 

Q. In your PhD thesis, you conducted research investigating contemporary theatre through the lens of Anthropocene-oriented ecocriticism. What made you choose that topic? Were you always interested in this topic?

A. In 2010, I presented at the Environmental Change-Cultural Change conference by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) in England. I met brilliant scholars who have greatly influenced the direction of my studies in the field of ecocriticism. I was very interested to work in this field at the time given that humanistic perspectives in environmental issues are central to reframing our relationships to the natural world in the current time of rapid change. Further, considering the potential of a theatrical work as an ecocritical practice, I focused to show how we can address cultural, intellectual and environmental challenge facing the contemporary world by questioning and experimenting with tradition of anthropocentric representations of dramatic forms. Despite the importance of reconsidering theatre in the frame of the anthropocentric events, the number of dramatic works about global warming has been scarce so I was motivated to show what an ecocritical reading of Anthropocene writing has to offer when analyzing these often-overlooked aspects of theatre studies. In my PhD thesis, I aimed to make a timely intervention in theatre studies by addressing theatre’s humanist bias and devising conceptual and aesthetic principles that relate to the Anthropocene. The research considers how Anthropocene thinking engages different modes of theatrical representation, as well as how the theatrical apparatus can rise to the representational challenges of changing interactions between humans and the nonhuman world.


Dr. Mohebat Ahmadi is a visiting scholar at EUC under the supervision of Professor Cate Sandilands. She holds a PhD in English and Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne and an MA and BA in English language and literature. Her main interests of research are theatrical studies, ecocriticism, and digital and environmental humanities. She is the author of Towards an Ecocritical Theatre: Playing the Anthropocene, published by Routledge in its Environmental Humanities series in April 2022. Thumbnail photo credit: Naghali narration by Yasaman Bagherpour in Visit Our Iran.