Seven years ago, Mehrshad Tajfar (30) fled from Iran after being sentenced to death by stoning simply for being homosexual. As a refugee he arrived in Amsterdam and quickly became an important figure and contributor to the queer community and nightlife by connecting queers to the scene to create more diversity. Through his efforts as door host of De School he nurtured a door policy which strived to protect and strengthen sacred spaces of expression. It’s been a year since leaving De School and now he’s back with a new multidisciplinary platform: Movement in Motion (MIM).
‘’MIM is a creative multi-disciplinary movement, striving for freedom of expression by creating bridges between different cultures and subcultures, through the experience and exchange of music, art and love.’’
The first event – a queer fundraiser to celebrate refugees and support them with their education – took place on the 18th of May, at Westergastheater. Today we sit together to talk about Amsterdam’s creative scene, its nightlife and what’s missing, on being a refugee, and what inspired him to set up Movement in Motion.
You mentioned that you feel there is something missing in Amsterdam’s scene?
You know, I’m not sure if ‘missing’ is the right word to use. To me it can often feel like Amsterdam is looking at other cities to draw their inspiration instead of pushing for their own unique identity. Amsterdam doesn’t lack diversity, but it can improve on bridging gaps between different communities to create something new and exciting again.
The techno crowd shares the same space and stage with people from the national opera and ballet, to drag queens and everything in between. Every scene and generation has their bubble and we’re looking to provide a space where all generations and communities can coexist and exchange ideas and energy.
You want to create a space like the time when Roxy existed, a place where there was creative diversity?
Roxy, was relevant and necessary in its time and now there is a need for something new and relevant for this time. As clubs and events become more commercial a certain sense of freedom and ownership is lost. People go, pay their entrance, have their night and leave. We are visiting other people’s spaces and not our own.
It should be a give and take relationship and not just take. In the case of Roxy the community itself ran the show, from organizing performances to pioneering door policies, the community felt like it was theirs but also gave something back. Or in the case of Bassiani, when the government tried to take their spaces, the scene gave back everything they had, and won a major battle of an on-going war, which unfortunately is not limited to Georgia. The common thread connecting us all is connection itself, and these connections thrive through giving back.
MIM’s first event was a queer techno fundraiser. Why did you think this was the perfect channel to raise money for refugees?
This was another aspect of me wanting to change people’s perspectives to how a fundraiser should be. I think charity events usually like to victimize. It’s so sad, people sitting at fancy tables, listening to sad stories of refugees and then they donate some money. They are there to show off. There are different aspects in charity events of course. Not all have questionable intentions. Many, unfortunately, are bidding on a glass of champagne and good favour to compete with each other.
Then I thought, this needs to be done differently. We should celebrate them and not victimize them. Then I combined this new perspective to a fundraiser with giving something back to UAF (The foundation for refugee students), which of course adds a very personal touch.
Is that something you experienced a lot when you came here, being victimized?
I came as a refugee myself and I hated to be victimized. It requires a lot of mental strength to cope with to be honest. I hated it. It was more sad than it was painful, but this is not the way it should be. We should aim to be in an environment where helping others comes from the heart and not through guilt trips. We didn’t do any of this out of sadness but out of excitement to help provide opportunities to those who deserve it, whether it’s through the education of refugees or by supporting gifted artists whose recognition is long overdue.
This is why your event was a good channel, because of the queer scene and the dance floor – it’s a place where everyone’s equal – it’s about celebrating each other, together, and not being victimized or misrepresented
Personally, I experienced more integration on the dance floor than these integration course classes. Nightlife showed me I’m not being treated as a victim, I’m not an outsider, I’m an equal. No one cares about my background, religion or my income when we all move to the same beat. It’s a universal unity that’s so primal and pure. It’s so sad to see that so many people don’t see the potential of what this community on the dancefloor can turn in to.
This is also what I used as input for the club I worked for. I wanted other refugees to integrate the way that I did, so I made an arrangement which gave all refugees a discount at De School. Because the ones who get it, will be integrated the same way.
Back in Iran you were an activist who stood up for gay rights. In Amsterdam you’re also sort of an activist in nightlife – standing up for a community and wanting to boost the collaboration in Amsterdam’s creative nightlife. Have you always had this activist part inside of you?
Yes but I don’t like to call it activism, I don’t believe in isms. I’m pushing to create something out of the box. And any ism at the end is yet another box, and limitation won’t promote growth beyond itself. I like to think of myself as a catalyst. It begins with a spark. I’m just a channel in between it all. It’s a collection of movements and motions that everyone takes a part in, with love, that makes it all happen.
Back in Iran, according to the rule, I wasn’t supposed to dress with any colours. Pink, purple, forbidden. You can’t ban people from choices. At that point in time I didn’t have the tools to change that rule, I couldn’t do it. But now that I’m here I see potential for change, an opportunity, and I have some tools to do it.
In Amsterdam queers are still a minority. So when I got this job at De School, we came up with a door policy to blend the right crowd by bridging the queer community that was present at Trouw, along with more that weren’t, and connecting them to De School, when I was organizing the pink Sundays, to start a new generation.
It’s interesting to see that an event grew out of a combination of two aspects that contributed a lot to who you are today, being a refugee and nightlife.
Definitely, and in general I think that the dance floors are not only to dance, it’s a place of cultural liberation and expression. There are so many things that we still struggle with every day. Discrimination, racism, misunderstandings and so on.
In a way we liberate ourselves from our pasts in order to be in the moment and express this new culture, one of equality, freedom and open mindedness, where we are all connected through the beat. It promotes a specific mind set of not being attached to all sorts of labels. This mindset should grow with the people who visit and move even further than the clubs and into schools and the streets.
If we are going to build a future and make the cities better, it’s only going to be by communicating. By opening the dialogue, exchanging and understanding each other we can give space to each other to grow. I really see the potential in it. With MIM, I hope I can do it, that’s my goal. To bring it out as a lifestyle, a culture.
Do you believe that this is what makes MIM distinctive from other events in Amsterdam?
Definitely. And I think it goes so much deeper because it has so many layers and to be honest even sometimes I can be surprised by all of the layers.
What I aim for at our party is not just to have a good time and dance, but that people walk out feeling inspired to give back, with a different mentality or different perspectives on things. In a way it’s educational because it’s about making people think when they leave.
You definitely try to introduce people to a new form of a party experience, as you integrated opera, ballet, performance, music, raving and art at MIM’s first event. How did you think of putting all of these art forms together in one party?
Basically when I was creating MIM I was creating a utopia, it’s sort of inspired by how I look at the world, and in that world – anything is possible. The focus lies on collaboration. There are so many people who are in different creative scenes but don’t get the chance to come together. We’re all familiar with these disciplines on their own, but when they unite it creates a new and unique atmosphere where something like techno and opera both support and strengthen each other in ways not seen before such a connection.
We had Heleen Blanken, a big artist, exhibiting her work. Beside her work was a student showing her work from Rietveld Academy. Music wise, we had an opera singer, who was dressed in a sculpture which was made by a student who was in the last year of studies in Rietveld Academy, it was a chance for him to experience how the professional world works. I really don’t care if the person is in the industry for 10 years, or for a year, if it’s good, it’s good. Everyone is equal on this platform.
What did people think about your idea to put all of these art forms together?
When I told my team I wanted an opera singer in the event they said ‘You must be crazy.’ But they trusted me and said ‘Let’s do this.’
I feel very humble to be honest – I do feel proud, because everyone supported me, and the team and I worked hard for it and I believe I did the right thing.
It’s funny, looking back on my childhood, I did the same kind of thing. I would play a roleplaying game with my friends and I’d give everyone an assigned role or character without explaining the game, and then the game would shape itself. This is also what I did with my concept, I had the core values and layers, I explained this to my team, and they helped me shaped it and make it happen.
So can you give us a little hint on what’s next?
Basically it’s a story! And in terms of the event, the next edition will be soon, but what I can say, is that so many things are going to happen and so much will change. When I started out MIM, I wrote it the way it was going to be a surprise for its visitors.
You can follow MIM here, and find out about their next event.
Pictures by Anton Shebetko & Joy Bomer