Indispensable ritual | Mokhallad Rasem

I was born in Bagdad, nicknamed “city of peace”,
even though it has known little of it.
When I was very small,
my innocent daily ritual was to play.
Playing with other children, with my brother and sister.
When I got older, it became my daily ritual
to listen to a story before bedtime,
told by my father or mother.
Later, the ritual changed and I read books myself.
When the war between Iran and Iraq broke out,
it was a daily ritual
to hide in the bunker during the bomb alarm.
This ritual lasted for eight years.
The biggest part of my childhood.
As I got older
I developed the ritual
to escape from daily reality,
by plunging into my fantasy.
That way, I forgot the fear
and the power the dictator wielded over us,
which in itself was some kind of ritual.
Also during the first Gulf War
I held on to this ritual of fear and caution.
Afterwards I started my theatre studies,
which again changed my ritual.
My daily reality was different
now that I associated it with art.
When the last war, the one between Iraq and the U.S. was over,
I realised that my reality was far from normal.
This realisation breached my daily rituals.
I then decided to leave my reality,
and look for another reality
where I could build new daily rituals.
One of those new daily rituals
is the retrieval of memories,
thinking about my family.
I remember the tea flavoured with cardamom
that my mother made for me in the morning.
I remember the bread that was baked in the clay oven.
I remember the dates we picked in the garden.

My daily ritual as an artist is imagination
and observing reality.
Watering the plants.
Listening to classical music.
Thinking about what’s going on in the world.
Reading poetry.
Drinking tea with cardamom.

I have lost a lot in my life. I lost old rituals.
I lost my daily reality.
I lost my home.
I lost my country.
I lost my language.
I lost my friends.
I lost my dreams.
I lost my dog.
I lost my feeling.
I thought I lost everything.
But in my new reality,
with my new daily rituals,
I found everything back at the theatre.
Theatre has taught me to be myself.
Has taught me life.
Taught love.
It taught me to be open.
It taught me to read.
And to discover small details.
It taught me to draw lines.
Triangles and squares.
I have learned to confront myself with my own personality.
I have learned to have fun.
To divide my energy.
It made me discover a new time and a new space.
I feel that the stage is my home.
My country.
I feel free there.

The basis of theatre is imagination.
Only people have imagination.
We can imagine things that are not present
and even things that don’t exist in reality.
Theatre touches us, connects us with ourselves
and with the world around us.
It provides communication.
Communication that generates warmth between us.
It can give people insights and alert people.
It helps us explore reality
and read it in a different way.
Theatre provides access to greater awareness.
Helps to express the unspeakable.
Theatre allows us to imagine other worlds,
making us think about existential questions.
Through theatre we can search the truth
that has disappeared in our society,
in the mechanical political system.
Theatre can develop a new generation,
and make sure people don’t settle.
Theatre can offer democracy in a country without democracy.
Theatre is catharsis.
It washes our brains and can re-programme them.
It is healing, in two directions
both for the audience and for the artists.
Through theatre we dare to describe our feelings.
Art is the pulse of life, and gives life meaning.
The world of today needs this perspective
more than ever.

Mokhallad Rasem is an actor and director who was born and trained in Bagdad. The war in Iraq changed the course of his life, and since 2005 he has been living and working in Belgium. Whereas at first he mostly concentrated on classical European repertory, over the course of time he has taken a more documentary approach.