ADDRESS BY LLIANE LOOTS - Artistic Director of the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience and lecturer in UKZN’s Drama and Performance Studies Programme at the opening of the 18th edition of the festival.
The 18th JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (College of Humanities) and its Centre for Creative Arts opened last night (24 August 2016). Artistic Director of the festival and lecturer in UKZN’s Drama and Performance Studies Programme gave the opening address. Below follows an edited version of it:
This has been an historic year for South Africa. We have had local elections that have begun to pointedly shift our political landscape. We have the continued emergence of defiant youth who are demanding what a liberation struggle’s Freedom Charter promised them – that the doors of learning should be open. We are realising how hard it is to find a new public protector who is not tainted, we have a public broadcaster making contested paternal decisions for us about what is deemed appropriate for us watch ... and we also had four beautiful young women stand silently to remember Khwezi and to remind our nation, 22 years into democracy, of a legacy of gender violence that sees 1 in 3 women face violent sexual abuse.
And in the background, in the academy, in cultural communities, in the political left of left, and with the trendy new elites, I hear the phrase “decolonise” – a kind of catch-word of post-colonial struggles. Reading Ngûgî wa Thiong’o in the mid-1980s was for me a political turning point and so when I hear “decolonise” being thrown out by the various political and struggle elites I own to a certain nostalgia of remembering a time of clear right and wrong.
As an artist and cultural activist, I have begun to wonder what “decolonise” means to me, to dance and indeed to a festival like JOMBA! It is best, of course, to go back to Ngûgî himself whose book did not just speak about “decolonising” but more specifically about “decolonising the mind”.
Wa Thiong’o wrote about what he called the biggest ‘cultural weapon’ wielded and daily unleashed by imperialism against an artistic collective defiance. This cultural weapon of the imperialist – for want of a better explanation, those who seek to rule by creating dependency - is what he called the “cultural bomb”.
The after effect of this Imperialist “cultural bomb” is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their language, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities, and ultimately in themselves. This cultural bomb, once exploded, makes us see our past as a wasteland of non-achievement and it makes us want to distance ourselves from this history of what seems local and thus like nothing worthwhile – it makes us want to identify with that which is furthest removed from ourselves.
This “cultural bomb” is not a bomb that goes off loudly; it does not fall from the sky from a foreign plane; it is more a quiet, silent amorphous bomb that goes off in fits and starts from within until, one day we wake up and find that we no longer know who we are, we no longer know what to think or feel and so we allow the machinations of international corporate and globalised capital tells us how to look, think, feel and love. We no longer have real memory and history because the endlessly re-written political and cultural version of who we are, are sold to us like truth. Our minds have been colonised as we have been taught to dream only of owning and having and no longer do we seek the discipline of being and doing.
And as I tonight claim Kenya’s Ngûgî as one of my political and cultural ancestors, I hope that he would look favourably on me extending his thoughts beyond just the colonising of the African mind through the Imperialist cultural bomb, to another terrain.
As a dancer and choreographer, as the artistic director of this festival for the Centre for Creative Arts, I am aware that I work in one of the most contested territories on the planet – the body. That most race and gender oppressions sits on the visceral lived body takes my work out of the abstractions of academic discussions of oppressions into the embodied reality of race and gender that sits on the skin.
What more profound way to fight the effects of the cultural bomb than to make, live and support an art form that decolonises the oppressed, globalised, racialised and abused body? This is the work of the contemporary dancer, the choreographer and the arts administrator that makes space for this war against cellular forgetting. This festival makes a dedicated effort to invite and partner with organisation, artist and dance companies who are using the voice of their physical art form, to break down stereotypes, to address embodied histories and memory, who physically deconstruct socially and culturally defined ways of being inside one’s skin, and who also, sometimes, decolonise a theatre space by asking us to watch dance in another site.
And so tonight, on behalf of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, our College of Humanities, and the School of the Arts, and Centre for Creative Arts, I welcome you to the 18th edition of the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience - and reflect on the longevity of 18 magnificent years of embodied danced rebellion against the effects of the Imperialist cultural bomb.
We fight, through JOMBA!’s dedicated space of serious contemporary dance making, against being seduced into thinking dance is only reality competition shows on television that promises the winner fame and fortune.
We fight against being uninterested by the demands of contemporary art and dance because it asks us to think and feel and listen, - and sweat - we fight thus against participating in the slow death of critical arts; and with this, the death of our resistance.
I cannot thank you all enough for being here tonight and bodily sitting on a seat to support this space.
I want to end tonight with a jump back in history to a time when the very concept of Modern Dance was being born. I leave you tonight with the word of José Limon – the Mexican American immigrant who changed dance history forever. In 1956, he said;
“Never have the arts been so needed, nor so challenged, as in these times of mechanized bestiality, when the human species seems possessed by a suicidal frenzy. The Dance can remind us of the greatness of humanities spirit, and of her creativeness.
The Dance is many things. It is a Power. It can help stem the putrefaction and decay gnawing at the heart of human courage, and withstand the philosophies of doom and surrender. The dancer can use her voice to call for reason out of unreason, and order out of disorder. That has always been the high task of the artist.
The contemporary artist and dancer can do no less than dedicate the power of her spirit and the flame of her art to bring light to the dark places”.
JOMBA runs until September 4. For the full programme go to www.cca.ukzn.ac.za