“The main reason why this festival takes place here at the Kigali Genocide Memorial is because this place is a symbol of lack of humanity, where more than 250,000 victims of the 1994 Genocide are buried. When we are here we aren’t just remembering these innocent lost lives, but we are also here to receive a great lesson about what it means to be human, so that we don’t lose our humanity again, here, or anywhere else in the world”.
Freddy Mutanguha, the Regional Director, Aegis Trust, the organisation that runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial, made the remarks at a press conference to launch this year’s edition of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival.
His sentiments reflected those of Hope Azeda, the festival curator when she put together the inaugural Ubumuntu festival in April last year.
At the time, she revealed that the Kigali Genocide Memorial was chosen as the venue because of the special place it holds in the country’s post-genocide dispensation, a place that nobody wanted to talk about on account of the horrific past that it embodies.
By choosing such a serious venue for the festival, therefore, she wanted to make an equally powerful statement about the art medium that is theater, and its role and impact in post-conflict situations.
“This festival comes in as a remedy to the myth that art is nothing more than entertainment,” she said then.
The idea was to create a platform where people from different walks of life could come together and speak to each other in the language of art, and to act as a bridge over nations and provide an avenue where people from different countries can come together to learn from each other and be empowered to spearhead the healing process in their countries.
When the curtains eventually fell on this year’s festival on the night of Sunday, July 17, one thing was obvious; that the founding vision of the festival is being realized and that the festival just got better in its second year running.
So much so that it’s aptly chosen venue, the Kigali Genocide Memorial may soon not be able to hold the festival’s growing portfolio.
“The festival is growing, and it’s also growing too big for our original space because people want to do more but the space may not allow that, so we’re weighing the options –either do three days instead of four, or scout for another venue,” said Azeda.
She describes the memorial as the womb from which the child called Ubumuntu Arts Festival was born.
“For us this concept has been cooking and shaping from the memorial, so I think it’s time we got a better space where this child can grow, walk and run, which may not be possible in the space where it was born. The memorial is a very symbolic space for us, but we could carry this thing to some other place. I don’t know where yet, perhaps we may have to contain it and have it grow from there, or maybe shift it to another place.”
Most noticeable about the festival this year was the multiplication in numbers of participating theater troupes, as well the level of storytelling which was a cut above last year’s.
“What I liked most about this festival was the new forms of art on board. As human beings, as we grow we also have new technology coming into place. I saw technology grace the stage and bring out new forms of art.”
One such piece was Body Revolution from Iraq, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival. Yet it was just projection and technology and at the end of it all, one line –“We apologize to our children”.
The inclusion of such new technology was clearly aimed at engaging young people, who together with women enjoyed a special spotlight at the festival, which wasn’t the case last year.
“Sometimes we look at young people and we think they have no issues, but with the emergence of social media they also belong to another world. So one foot is in the real world while another foot is into this virtual world, and we never know what is going on in this other world. You don’t know the fears that they are facing, and they may not be able to communicate to us on a daily basis,” Azeda further explained.
Another unique thing about this year’s festival was the number of collaborations between visiting countries and local participants, which is very critical for skills development.
All in all, some of the best collaborations were; Movement for Humanity, between Belgium, the Netherlands, UK and Rwanda. It’s a dance piece centered around the refugee crisis in Europe and it was only possible after three week of intense collaborative work.
Another collaboration that really stood out was Safe.umudendezo.aman, which was directed by an Iraqi film director currently based in Belgium. This play’s major uniqueness is its text-less format, with only word –safety uttered throughout the entire play.
The piece attempts to address the issue of violence and fear that reside within our lives.
The other collaboration came by way of a dance piece titled Friendship, by children from the MindLeaps dance program in Nyamirambo in partnership with two choreographers from the US and one from the UK.”
Explaining the extended number of days for the festival Azeda said:
“It was a big challenge. We wanted to challenge ourselves and we were challenged indeed. Running the festival for two days last year was in itself too big for us, adding two extra days made it even bigger in terms of logistics and budget, everything grew. So it was about challenging ourselves,
Otherwise what’s the point of doing something that you’re so comfortable with? Growth is about challenge, and we embrace these challenges.
It was also to show that young people need platforms for artistic expression, that is why our day one was basically dedicated to theater by and/or for young people and it was really one of the most energetic days we had.
Then day two was dedicated to women, and you could see the role of women in shaping and empowering communities socially.”