To write this two-hander, you visited each other’s birthplaces and interviewed a list of important people. What was the goal of this journey?

Gurshad Shaheman: First, we rented an apartment in Sarajevo in 2022 to establish the basic premises of the project and tell each other our life stories. We looked for a city neither of us knew, where we didn’t speak the language. Sarajevo had the advantage of being located at the intersection of West and East, with mosques standing alongside churches, although it’s also a place marked by war. The goal of our stay there was to put together a list of names and places that the other person could use to find threads to follow and approaches to take, because 40 years of life is a long time. The mission that we set ourselves was to sketch the other’s portrait but also to address what is unresolved in his life. The list was made up of family members, lovers, and friends, as well as the dead. It was a real mission rooted in a specific geographic area, but it was also poetic, oneiric, and spiritual. In June 2023, Dany left to pursue his mission in France and Turkey, while I began a pilgrimage to Montreal and Lac Saint-Jean.

Dany Boudreault: For my part, I went to Turkey and travelled as far as Mount Ararat on the Iranian border. I wasn’t able to enter Iran for diplomatic reasons. It was a time of unrest, with the protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini. The Iranian Embassy in Ottawa has been closed since 2013. The impossibility of entering Iran forced me to take the story in a different direction than I had intended. I met Gurshad’s uncle in Istanbul as well as Iranian refugees trapped in Turkey to give me an insight into the reality of an LGBTQ+ person on the other side of that border I wasn’t allowed to cross. In France, I met Gurshad’s aunts, grandmother, and the rest of his family, his friends, and his lovers. And I met his father, who still lives in Iran, via Zoom.


Does handing over the keys of your own life to the other person call for absolute trust in him? Does the process take you out of your comfort zone?

D.B.: It’s certainly uncomfortable. It’s an act of giving up control. You’re used to telling your life based on an organized account of events that you’ve created yourself. Entrusting it to someone else reveals how you construct an identity for yourself and which encounters make you who you are. You don’t say exactly the same things to a third party. My friends revealed things to Gurshad that they would never have told me. This triangulation, this shift of focus, this way of making others talk about you, is where it gets interesting.

G.S.: We felt that we could go far thanks to the trust between us, but what’s crazy is the trust of the people that we met. Very quickly, these people spoke about themselves, confided about intimate details, divorces, illnesses. We developed a special relationship with them, becoming a sounding board for their private lives. During the investigation, the more people spoke to me about Dany, the more distant his image became. As childhood friends told me about relationships with Dany that formed at a certain time of his life, the figure of him in my mind multiplied and diffracted. There are things you know without expressing them, but when you hear them in a story, it takes you by surprise. It’s very emotional. It’s extremely confounding and unsettling, like when my sister recounted the day she passed alone with my mother on the day that I came out, which happened rather abruptly. She had never spoken to me about it. Of course, there’s an element of personal feeling, but it’s also a literary emotion.


Is Sur tes traces inspired by your encountering the culture of another continent and the shock of otherness?

D.B.: We try to finds links between our sufferings and joys. For example, between my somewhat violent childhood growing up on a country road in Lac St-Jean and that of someone who was born in the same year as the Iranian Revolution. These experiences have nothing to do with each other, but we try to create a dialogue between our stories in the spirit of recognizing the other. Personally, I’m interested in his relationship to silence and speaking, to what was left unsaid and what was revealed within Gurshad’s family. I also try to understand the importance of his father, who is physically absent but symbolically omnipresent.


How are the notions of identity and borders, which are so important to your work, expressed here?

G.S.: Once again, at the heart of this project, you’ll find the notion of the border, the search for identity, and the coming-of-age journey. What does it mean to cross, enter, or exit a country? Assuming you’re lucky enough to be allowed to do so. At what point am I a foreigner, French, Iranian, Azerbaijani, or a francophone? How do I project myself onto the other, and how does the other define himself? All these are present in this project: questions about limits, belonging, forming an identity, freedom of movement. There’s great beauty to be found in a work composed by two people, collaborative writing that comes with the risks inherent in any encounter.

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