Ubumuntu Arts Festival Brings the World to Rwanda

The artistic Amphitheatre which will host Ubumuntu Arts Festival performances
The artistic Amphitheatre which will host Ubumuntu Arts Festival performances

Echoes of Rwandan voices for humanism-Ubumuntu to the nations are resonating from a hill where life was the most threatened 22 years ago.

“I am because You are, You are because I am” is the chorus of the second edition of Ubumuntu Art Festival which features different discussions, plays and dramas all aimed at showcasing humanity and inhumanity.

The festival’s second edition  starts July 14-17 at Kigali Genocide memorial where 250,000 victims of the genocide against Tutsi are buried. The site is located in Gasabo district.

For all this four-day period, the site which previously evoked sorrow, pity and pain of losing loved ones in a genocide against Tutsi, now hosts the annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival since 2015.

Hope Azeda, an Artistic and founder of Mashirika Theatre Rwanda and the brain behind the Ubumuntu Arts Festival thought about the need to involve the world to think about Genocide tragedies and agree with Rwandans that humanity deserves respect.

“It is our (Rwandans) responsibility to heal the wounds of societies recovering from crises, and to remind others going through crises, that life is precious and justice should prevail to protect it,” said Azeda.

It’s from this idea that Ubumuntu Arts Festival was born, it’s an annual event attracting artists who understood this theme.

Artists bring an experience of humanism from their own context. Amongst them, is Schaal Kaneza, New York based artist with Rwandan background.

Born to an American mother and a Rwandan father, Kaneza heard about Ubumuntu arts festival last year, when she was visiting her relatives in Kigali.

Organizers who knew her cultural attachment and her zeal to advocate for human rights invited her for the second edition.

“I understood I was given an opportunity to tell the world the resolve Rwanda, a country I call home has taken to strive for justice, peace and good neighbourhood,” she told KT Press.

Her play ‘Go Forth’, is a performance that considers how we make space in our lives for the presence of the absent, imagined, and longed for. It reinforces the philosophy that Death is another beginning.

“Performing Go Forth at the Genocide Memorial where thousands of innocent souls are laid to rest is an honor and it is also a way of paying respect to them in another perspective,” Kaneza said.

Understanding The Amphitheatre

One may not pretend to have said it all, if he forgets the captivating component of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival Amphitheatre.

The Amphitheatre designer, Matt Deely gave a spherical shape portraying Rwandan traditional hut significant in the history of Rwanda. The same shape shows a sense of a cave, which is also among the historical features of Rwanda.

The theatre is decorated in white bamboos instead of any other material because of his appreciation of nature; in some way matching the theme of the festival “Ubumuntu”.

“Last year, I used black and white bamboos, but I have now changed to the just white. It looks neat and it creates even greater background,” Deely told KT Press.

Surprisingly, artists from different backgrounds have an interpretation of the theater which matches their experiences. However, their interpretation does not differ from the sense the author gave it.

Mokhallad Rasem, a Belgium based theatre director and actor from Iraq who is also a participant says bamboo sticks were the first thing to catch his attention because communities in Southern Iraq where he hails from use bamboos as main construction material.

“Houses especially community huts for story telling purposes are all built from bamboo trees. Residents use them to preserve culture,” Rasem narrates.

“When I saw the theatre stage, it struck my mind because bamboo in my country needs fertile soils to grow,” he adds. Bamboo trees dried up after Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime built a water dam in the bamboo growing areas.

“I see the theatre stage as fertile soil where new life grows. When new life grows, positive change is the result,” he explains.

The fact that the stage will be used by different people of different nationalities, symbolizes oneness and unity, he said.

Rasem explains the shape of the Amphitheatre as an “egg” or “womb of the earth” from which life comes.

At the festival, Rasem will present “Body Revolution”, a play that shows how the body reacts to violence and fear, and Umudendezo Aman which calls for safeguarding yourself from falling victim of power influence.

Ubumuntu Arts Festival is a beautiful idea I would love for Iraq to do, but it’s impossible because of endless wars,” he said.

“Wars are still going on and young generation are afraid to dream big. I don’t know if Iraq will learn from Rwanda in future.”

This artist said that from Rwanda, he learns that forgiveness is a weapon Rwandans used to create a beautiful nation after genocide.

Rasem was trained as a director and actor in Bagdad, where he also made his first performances.

The war in Iraq changed the course of his life; for the last eight years he has been living and working in Belgium.

According to organisers, the festival will host performances including; dance, songs depicting genocide and other themes like violence, conflict. All this is aimed at promoting dialogue in communities and preventing crimes against humanity.




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