Sassy Souls Ep 4: Bethany Burgoyne & Dr Maiada Aboud
Endurance artist and theatre director, Dr Maiada Aboud has been using their voice and body to depict honest and provocative conversations about gender and societal shame. Through art, Maiada is addressing topics that are often considered taboo. Having been commissioned by institutions and galleries around Europe and the SWANA regions, Maiada's latest project 'Ascension' brought light to the experiences of menstruating people.
In this episode of Sassy Souls, we hear Bethany Burgoyne interview Maiada Aboud about the mentality behind their art. Discussing the unifying and healing results performance can lead to. As well as tapping into the triad of anger, rebellion, and endurance art as a form of self-expression.
Having grown up in Haifa, Occupied Palestine, Maiada Aboud's journey into performance has been a cycle of reclaiming their voice and rebelling against repressive expectations. Nudity, apples, and repetitive acts such as cutting and sewing often form the basis of Maiada's work, depicting scenes from the bible.
You can lock a woman in a room,
You can place a citizen under arrest,
You can trap a body behind bars
But sound is unstoppable,
Freely carried by the air
No matter how hard life was or might become,
This was the definition I would only accept
by Maiada Aboud
It was 18 years ago while Maiada was studying painting, that the performance art teacher noticed a different potential in them."When he met me he instantly clicked,'You have some energy that doesn't belong to painting. Why not come to my seminars and see how you feel'". During this time, Maiada was going through a divorce, and explains how, "I had loads of anger and negative energy - loads of power to scream and shout. So I went there and it led me to perform my first ever piece, 'The Bell'". Holding the bell as a phallus, the performance shows Maiada shouting and symbolically masturbating; actively and theatrically rebelling against cultural and religious norms.
I like to see myself as a voice, and it's very important to state that it's a voice I wasn't born to have. So it was a status I had to claim for myself
After moving to England, Maiada did their MA in art followed by a Doctorate in Performance Art. Continually tapping into new ways to use ones voice, Maiada sees their performances and endurance art as an act against the norms of what women are told they are not allowed to do. "Endurance art allows you to dive deep into your core and depict all those symptoms and things you've not been allowed to do. You take them out on stage and work around those taboos, gender issues, cultural codes, restrictions, and taboos. It's therapeutic in a way". Maiada often depicts Christian symbols from the bible, creating scenes that combine laborious tasks with the physical body. In one of their performances, Maiada constructs an apple installation, peeling and serving the fruit to represent the six days of creation before gluing the apple peel onto their body to hide their breasts and vagina. They then ring a bell, symbolising the seventh day of creation. Maiada describes the performance as "a statement about...not wanting to be put in a box. I don't want the way I sound and look to be formed by culture and expectations".
This desire to push out of a box leads Maiada to discuss their most recent project 'Ascension - Intimate bodies, forbidden stories'. Focusing on the prohibition of discussing menstruation and the painful memories related to it. Maiada began by interviewing 12 menstruating people, sharing their stories that often linked to violence, abuse, and harm. Maiada reflects on how "It made me realise the common ground where most women come from - that we can have different backgrounds but at the end of the day the pain is really mutual and we share similar aspects." The unifying experience of societal shame and repression across all religions and social circles is something that stood out to Maiada. Explaining how "We share similar taboos and limitations. Upbringing follows certain patterns of what you should and shouldn't do". This led to them asking questions such as "Why is something we have to deal with, on a daily basis, so forbidden to talk about? You're always giving "too much information". No one wants to hear about those topics and I really find this annoying at times.". In a statement to this silence, Maiada directed four performers depictions of this struggle through endurance art. From livers being sewn together, eggs being dropped, and nails being repetitively painted, Maiada describes how "The whole journey of Ascension, from beginning to end, was really special and an eye-opening experience".
It made me realise the common ground where most women come from - that we can have different backgrounds but at the end of the day the pain is really mutual.
When asking Maiada about what endurance art means for them, they explain how it allows for confrontation to occur, from the inside out. Through repetitive movement performed on repeat, called a monotonic act, a meditative-like trance is created. However, with this technique, Maiada explains how the emotional drive is very different. "When you sit and meditate you reflect on your inner self. [Whereas] Endurance art is on the other side of the spectrum. Instead of depicting your peaceful parts, you depict the devil inside of you - you depict the anger, the traumatised parts of yourself and you use that on stage, in order to eventually empty this load." The route to release is something which Maiada explains as aiming for the same outcome but coming from a different angle.
After such an intense experience, Maiada explains the feeling as being"similar to giving birth or having a tattoo but more intensified. You feel like you had loads of energy and now you're out of air, like a balloon." Such an emotional response seems to signify the rawness of endurance art and the impact it has on the performer themself. Trust, therefore, is something that Maiada explains as being an essential part to the process. As a director, Maiada nurtures space for these honest emotions to be expressed. 'Ascension' was a clear example of this, where the narrative was informed by real-life stories of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, mutilation, and personal pain. Maiada describes how each interview was coated in sadness "but the more you work on the projects, you see the cleansing and therapeutic aspect of the entire journey from beginning to end." It's significant to witness the healing qualities Maiada prioritises in their own work. Bringing this to each person they work with, Maiada is directly encouraging individuals to express themselves freely.
Learning about Maiada's Sassy side leads us back to their childhood, revealing how joyfully bold they have always been in everyday life. Maiada tells us how"I think I was born sassy! I've always had my identity written on my forehead. I've always dictated how people should treat me, always laughed loudly, giving my identity away... You can call it wild, it's just me!" Maiada felt from a young age how the social code of behaviour was something they weren't going to prescribe to. Reflecting on how "I've never struggled defining my identity, the problem was people accepting it or not. " Maiada grew up with two male cousins, close in age, which made it easy to recognise the difference in expectation. "I was always the tomboy, the only female in the group so you face these questions. Why am I not allowed to play football and run outside? Why am I not allowed to come back late in the evening?... and then you just get angry!" The more they reflected, the more frustrated Maiada became. This led them to push against the norms, escaping the environment but having to deal with the consequences.
I think I was born sassy! I've always dictated how people should treat me, always laughed loudly, giving my identity away... You can call it wild, it's just me
One of these moments came when Maiada chose to have a divorce. At the time, it was very rare for a woman to divorce her husband, especially if, like Maiada, it was due to a lack of attraction. They explain how "My ex-husband never abused me, never betrayed me. He was a completely decent good man. I just had the courage to say I didn't have feelings for him. And where I come from.. you can't say that and have no excuse. You have to have something very solid and strong to claim your freedom" This led to Maiada experiencing verbal and physical abuse which she responded to by relentlessly retaliating until the other person gives in. This takes a huge amount of determination, but they explain "You can't recommend other women to have the courage to do what I did because you can never tell what strength this person has, to counter-attack in case of emergency. " With consequences being unpredictable, we see this being a vicious cycle of fear, forcing many women to stay trapped in abusive relationships.
We take stock of Maiada's story, in awe of their self-determination and fearlessness to do exactly as they need."I am someone who has always performed and got what they wanted. I think I was born with bigger balls than I thought I had because I got my divorce where it w