Drama for Life is taking its site-specific performance project AfriQueer, created by the Drama for Life AFRICA Project, written by Tlotlego Gaogakwe and directed by Warren Nebe, on tour.
The acclaimed project, which celebrates LGBTIQ human rights and is based on an ancient creation myth of how the stars were made, will initially tour South Africa, before heading to The Netherlands, Ghana and Mozambique.
AfriQueer opens up a space for reflection, compassion and understanding of and for queer identities, and adds to the already sounded clarion call for a human rights and social justice based approach to LGBTIQ.
In collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, the iterations in Ghana and Mozambique will see local performance artists in those countries collaborating with AfriQueers Company to create site-specific performances that witness and celebrate the endurance of the human spirit.
Walk through the sleepy village of Liati Wote to Mount Afadja. There you are certain to encounter a man standing at the base of the verdant mountain. Stillness is in the air not even the birds sound their usual call.
He stands without any robes, you can see all his being; the ribbon veins of his taut, naked muscle pulse-wrap his entire coal body. He is a man from many men. What is it that he looks to?
Should you be brave enough to reach out and touch him, perhaps to shake him or yourself from this seeming dream, you will feel the sturdiness of his body and the call to live, free.
His unmoving eyes look up to the peak of the mountain, longing for something you are not able to see. A morning wind rustles the trees. He remains silent, motionless like the mountain he stands before.
His feet dig deeper into the red clay mud as he waits to hear the trumpeting of the bones of his ancestors call and reach for him from the peak. And you, you will remain there beside him, a silent witness to the revival of the ancient, forgotten magic of bone and clay. This is AfriQueer.
Launched two years ago the project has been performed iterations in Mozambique, Botswana and in South Africa at the National Arts Festival where the work was awarded the Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights in 2016.
AfriQueer invites audiences to embark on a ritualistic journey with the performers through a natural space/environment. The audience will encounter evocative images, physical theatre, traditional healing dances, mystical characters and a poetic and enigmatic wolf-like narrator who evokes memories of love, passion and grief.
These theatrical moments are devised to elicit a sensory experience, an emotional trajectory, and a subtle questioning of what it is/not to be a so-called man. More importantly, the work speaks back to the redeeming possibilities of love.
The performers, directed by Warren Nebe, include Tefo Paya, Songezo Mcilizeli, Kwanele Finch Thusi, Hamish Neill, Sthe Khali, and Bonginkosi Mnisi.
“We are incredibly excited to be doing this work in and across Africa,” says Sthe Khali. “It’s time men were brave enough to contemplate what it means to be a man and what it means to love another man.”
Writer Tlotlego Gaogakwe adds: “AfriQueer is a memorial to the suffering of Queer men, particularly African men living on this continent and those who have had to flee to other continents in order to survive.”
Warren Nebe says that the work has been a powerful drawing together of men at a time when men have needed to reflect on their own complicity in the cycles of violence perpetuated by men; men of culture and tradition, men of the church, men of the body politic, and men of history/ies. “Our unnatural fear of queer is our unconscious acceptance of what we have inherited from our fathers and the fathers who came before them,” he says.
AfriQueer includes performances on the 21st and 22nd September, as part of the Drama for Life Sex Actually Festival, at Zoo Lake in Johannesburg from 8.30 pm. Audiences will meet at the entrance of Moyos.
The company will then perform in the Netherlands as part of the main AfroVibes Festival from 27th September to 9th October in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The production will then be based in Maputo, Mozambique from 3rd to the 10th November.
AfriQueer will then move to Accra, Ghana from 26th November where a new version of How the Stars Were Made will be created and performed as a collaboration between the original company and artists from Ghana. The tour iterations in Ghana and Mozambique are organized in partnership with the Goethe-Institut.