A message from Gregory Maqoma

Posted in Uncategorized | December 18, 2009 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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The US tour of Beautiful Me was a great experience for me and the musicians in that since 2007 we have been performing the work to mostly European audiences with a very small black audience representation. The US tour allowed the work to reach a more diverse audience that questioned, discussed and became curious not only of the continent of Africa but also of the African aesthetic that is cross-cultural in the work. This curiousness helped me to further understand the idea of displacement as Africans living in other parts of the world. This displacement connects us as Africans in these countries as we are longing for some representation and reflection of a place we call home. And when we reflect we become critical of ourselves, of our leadership and cultural givens and perceptions. Hence the after talks were a critical point of the performances as they allowed the audience to understand something that is even deeper about the work, to understand my connections with my continent, other cultures and the world.

We received, everywhere we went, a human gesture of love and care. Technical teams were sensitive to the technical demands of the work and gave their time and dedication in making sure that the technical aspects of the work are of the highest standard. Theatre directors gave their time and often came more than once to witness the work. I believe we have built a following in the US and it is something that is very important for us as a company to know that people are talking still about the work. I still receive e-mails from people who came to see the work, talking of their fulfilling experience.

Connecting with students at Bates and other places was for us also an important part of opening a window to the understanding of contemporary African dance but also a window to the possibility of embracing other cultures to inform about our history, but also to tell the present and predict the future. I value the professional handling of the tour from the time we started to the end. I thank MAPP and the Africa Consortium for believing in the work and I hope we have lived to the promise of delivering a world class performance.

Art, Artists and Human Rights Policy

Posted in Uncategorized | December 17, 2009 | by emilyharney | (1) Comment

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, during her Remarks on the Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall yesterday, responded to a question about “creative practice accompanying and amplifying policy:”

I think the arts and artists are one of our most effective tools in reaching beyond and through repressive regimes, in giving hope to people… artists can bright to light in a gripping, dramatic way some of the challenges we face. You mentioned the play about women in the Congo. I remember some years ago seeing a play about women in Bosnia during the conflict there. It was so gripping. I still see the faces of those women who were pulled from their homes, separated from their husbands, often raped and left just as garbage on the side of the road. So I think that artists both individually and through their works can illustrate better than any speech I can give or any government policy we can promulgate that the spirit that lives within each of us, the right to think and dream and expand our boundaries, is not confined, no matter how hard they try, by any regime anywhere in the world. There is no way that you can deprive people from feeling those stirrings inside their soul. And artists can give voice to that. They can give shape and movement to it. And it is so important in places where people feel forgotten and marginalized and depressed and hopeless to have that glimmer that there is a better future, that there is a better way that they just have to hold onto.

We applaud the sincerity and passion which comes across so clearly in this statement. And, there are so many ways to expand on her point: that it is not just the glimmer of hope in hearts and minds that makes the arts important, but also job creation, economic opportunity, and the engagement in civic life that comes with arts participation and creation in societies under repressive regimes and, more broadly, in cultures all over the globe in which people “feel forgotten and marginalized;”  and that it is not only about “outreach” and export of American culture abroad, but about creating an environment in which individuals and communities can develop sustained relationships through art and artists which leads to increased understanding– and hope– on all sides.

Congo Trip Notes: Leaving Kinshasa

Posted in Uncategorized | December 10, 2009 | by cathyz | Leave a Comment

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Leaving Kinshasa, I’m renewed in my conviction that artists are critical thinkers, provocateurs and primary thought leaders possessing the skills and rigor needed to create pathways for understanding and social change. I feel a purposeful connection to what Faustin and Virginie are doing that could not have been possible without my sharing, even briefly, their life in Kisangani.  I’m sobered by the challenges they face and worry about the artists and people I’ve come to know and have now left behind. At the same time, I see that even the smallest act of genuine interest can have profound impact. I understand Faustin’s art and work more profoundly. The structure, ideas, ambiance and context of his work is Congolese; the craft and imagination is the artist, Faustin.

It is also very clear to me that The Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium’s commitment to engage in this way is no small thing and it comes with responsibility. We must take the appropriate next steps to build on these trips.

Three weeks later…

In a quiet moment three weeks after my return from my visit with Faustin and Virginie, travel notes and financial reports complete, the rhythms of Kisangani waft through my senses.

The enfolding green of the forest which is embraced by two beautiful flowing rivers. The red clay of the earth that connects the people so intimately to their land. The people who are bound by community and whose daily lives are lived mostly in plain sight walking, riding bikes, and carrying food and other goods. The buildings, beautiful and sad in their detritus, oozing with a powerful sense of place a complex history and a precarious future yet to unfold.  I recall the many young artists I met, the urgency of their endeavors and the sincerity of their interactions with me.

Congo Trip Notes: Last days in Kinshasa

Posted in Uncategorized | December 9, 2009 | by cathyz | (1) Comment

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It does feel that Kinshasa is striving toward modernity. In certain neighborhood quarters there are new apartment buildings going up. The Chinese are investing in Congo and their efforts are noticeable as they are building a big modern hospital and a soccer stadium. I was told there are plans for Chinese investment towards infrastructure and road building, etc. There are neighborhoods of gigantic mansions with barbed wire atop high stone fences. In these neighborhoods, where expats and wealthy Congolese live, there are paved streets and yards. Unfortunately, according to people I spoke to, very few of these advances have any impact on the daily life of most Congolese and corruption continues at all levels.

My last full day in Kinshasa, I had a tour of the city led by Paul Kerstens of KVS/Brussels. KVS has been working to develop artistic projects in Congo since 2005. They have supported and presented Faustin’s work (Festival of Lies, The Dialogue Series: iii Dinozord and more more more…future) and Jan Goossens (KVS’ Artistic Director) has visited Kisangani three times. Paul, the director of the Congo project, spends approximately six months a year there and pretty much knows the scene.

Most recently KVS organized – in partnership with Françoise Gardies, director of the Halle de la Gombe at CCF – the first festival of contemporary dance in Kinshasa. It lasted six days and, in addition to Alain Platel’s work Pitié!, there were workshops and presentations of work by performers from the Congo, Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda and Mozambique.

With Paul, who hired a driver so we could travel through the various “quarters” of the city where artists live and work, I visited two visual artists’ work spaces/homes/compounds; and Les Béjarts, a socio-cultural organization for young people where I was treated to an excerpted performance of a play they’re developing about everyday life in Kinshasa.  I also visited the Zoo Theatre (because it’s next to what used to be a zoo).   At one time it was a beautiful and busy theatre but now it’s decrepit and used mostly for rehearsals and community gatherings.

At the end of the day, Paul and I spoke about building on our two organization’s efforts in Africa through knowledge and resource sharing to create an international network that includes the U.S., Europe and Africa.  Stay tuned…

Congo Trip Notes: Kinshasa Performances

Posted in Uncategorized | December 7, 2009 | by cathyz | (1) Comment

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I traveled from Kisangani to Kinshasa with Faustin and his family. It’s the 10th Anniversary of the French Cultural Center (CCF) and Faustin has been invited to teach workshops and perform as part of the 4-day program of festivities. Over a period of three days, he will work with five men and one woman who will be incorporated into his performance.


They rehearse and perform in a covered outdoor space. The floor is cement, blanketed with construction dust and dirt from the outdoors. There are framed windows without glass and scattered debris all around the space. During rehearsals there is the noise of hammering and mowing and construction workers constantly walk through the space.

Faustin does not teach technique – he wants to impart a method of thinking about performance that the dancers can develop and use in other work. His focus is to imprint the notion of context, spatial awareness and purpose/intention of movement. He’s rigorous in his work with them and very tough but the artists know and respect him and are hungry to learn.

Faustin put together an hour- long performance consisting of excerpts of his work going back 10 years in honor of the CCF’s long support. He introduced the evening by quoting Pina Bausch who once said that dance didn’t really interest her. What interested her was why people dance. Faustin explained that with this performance, he was attempting to distill the why of his dance-making over the past 10 years.

Faustin transformed and revealed the space through the simple use of light from a projector which he manipulated to frame the action. The clearly articulated spatial relationships created between performers and between the performers and the space they occupied, provided context for the viewer and supported the emotional terrain of the piece. The movement vocabulary, created through a series of theme-based improvisations, was unique according to the capabilities of each performer– the woman was especially engaging in that her movement and presence was so different from the male dancers. They were all wonderful—comfortable in their skins and deeply committed to the extremely difficult work they were doing—and it was hard to imagine that all this had been accomplished in only three days. They rolled, dropped from window heights to the floor, cart-wheeled and repeatedly jumped on the hard and dirty cement floor. There wasn’t a single part of their bodies that wasn’t covered in dust and dirt and I can’t imagine any dancer I know in the U.S. consenting to work under these conditions, nor should they. For Congolese artists, there’s no choice in the matter and I couldn’t help but be moved by their courage.