This innovative project facilitates research, debate and encourages the dissemination of creative practice produced by female creative practitioners living in Africa. It aims to place African-authored theories and practices related to gender, sexualities and identities at the centre of the study by asking African women what issues need discussion, analysis and creative expression. Funded by an AHRC network grant, the project has developed a mobile application and uses this, alongside other social media, to build a virtual community consisting of female creative practitioners involved in poetry, play writing, and theatre making both professionally and in community projects, with researchers and other interested parties engaged with literary or gender-based research in any part of the world. These forums are facilitating multiple levels of engagement, enabling users to interact with one another and to compare methodologies, aesthetic choices and their impact on various communities, particularly around issues of gendered citizenship and the terms and parameters of African and feminism.
For details on work with specific African playwrights, see http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/news/unsigned_female_talent/
By end of February 2017 we had 115 registered users between the ages of 17 and 69 from 16 countries. There have been 6126 cumulative unique visitors to the site.
Who You Think We Are at the Tate Exchange (14 March 2017)
JC Niala, Yvette Hutchison and Tim White, who connected through this network, had their proposal for the performance Who you think we are accepted by the Tate Exchange for the festival Who Are We?, designed as a week of engagement, dialogue, debate and lively disruption, asking what it means to belong – across and within borders.
Audiences responded enthusiastically, suggesting that the performance was excellent and enjoyable, 'It changed my sense of how I relate to others. I realised that I am much more sensitive to facial and bodily postures while 'deciding' about someone, even when it comes to their characteristics such as honesty, compassion, etc.', 'Makes me rethink nature of group identity and imperfect nature of any veto on membership by others', 'Made me more aware of pre-judgement and assumptions I make about people based on how they look, without knowing someone first', 'It has made me think about trying harder to be non-judgmental when meeting people for the first time & to listen to what they say rather than judging appearance.'
Breaking Boundaries: African Women Writing on the Edges of Race, Gender and Identity
This AWPN sympoiusm was hosted by Arts Admin Collective, Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa, 4 & 5 February 2017 - with 55 artists from 9 countries shared work and collectively workshopped how to develop writing, key challenges artists are facing and how they can strategize these, how to create safe spaces in relation to the artist herself, her processes and also in relation to engaging publics with disturbing material. The session ‘Who can speak, about what?’ raised issues of how to engage with the ethics of telling other peoples’ stories, about form and affect. Through experimenting practically artists began to understand the impact of different strategies of telling other peoples’ stories. Finally, we discuss how women can access festivals, and how these fora can affect the perception of women and their roles in society.
Two plays were staged - a new play by Sara Sawaari, Niqabi Ninja, one of those to be publised in the new Methuen play collection. The play was amazing, and facilitated really excited discussion about how form assists engaging audiences with issues related to gendered issues, while also challenging stereotypical approaches to topics like Islamic women. The play allowed us to discuss whether an artist should propose solutions, or utopias, what were their social responsibilities? It also allowed discussion of how context affects the conception and reception of work – so how this play works differently in the UK and in SA.
The second play, Mama Ruby was created and performed by a youth group from McGregor, an offshoot of Mothertongue Project's Langeberg Youth Arts Project which aims to develop creative expression, leadership and entrepreneurial skills amongst young men and women in the region. Thsi show explored the complexities of the socio-economic and personal issues youths from this rural area of the western Cape experience. Afterwards the youths shared their own stories of their personal and creative growth, and the participants of the symposium engaged them in our discussions around issues of gender and violence.
When asked: What is the one thing you have learnt from this symposium that you didn’t know /were unaware of, going in?
Responses included: 'How to work on taboo topics, networking with other women in the arts. And above all I realised women artists go through same thing no matter the race, country or cultural background.' 'How festivals in other countries are funded and supported.' 'How the app works, could work.' 'That safe spaces need to be constantly created. And that we can't rely on an experience to represent a vision.' 'Sharing of Privileges.' 'How to be a support system for others, and how to trust others for our safe space. I also learnt a lot about collaboration and most especially that to fail is not a crime. It's a stepping stone to knowledge.' 'About different spaces for artist that are available throughout Africa.' 'I learned a lot about making theatre in South Africa and in a South African context, which I found really fascinating.'
For more responses on the symposium and shows, see awpn.org, https://www.facebook.com/African-Women-Playwrights-Network-837218766368787/, and SA Director Megan Furniss' blog, http://www.meganshead.co.za/awpn-niqabi-ninja-new-stories/
Methuen to publish Contemporary Plays by African Women
These seven new works were identified and developed via the network, and the collection will be edited and introduced by Yvette Hutchison and Amy Jephta. The plays are: Sara Sawaari - Niqabi Ninja (Egypt), Tosin Tume - Not that Woman (Nigeria), Sophia Mempuh - Bonganyi (Cameroon), JC Niala - Unsettled (Kenya), Adong, Judith - Silent Voices (Uganda), Thembelihle Moyo - I Want To Fly (Zimbabwe), Koleka Putuma - Mbuzemi (South Africa)
Playwrights Guild of Canada Womens’ Caucus – are collaborating with AWPN to access southern African playwrights for an artist’s residency, see CASA Project, https://www.facebook.com/thecasaproject/
Equity in Theatre, http://eit.playwrightsguild.ca/
The Mothertongue Project, Cape Town, http://mothertongue.co.za
Arts Admin Collective, http://theatreartsadmincollective.weebly.com/
Playwright’s Guild of Canada - Women’s Caucus
Vavasati international Women’s Festival, State Theatre, Johannesburg