By Dolapo Aina
The 2021 Ubumuntu Arts Festival held virtually from Friday 16th to Saturday 17th of July 2021. This year’s edition was titled. And the festival had in array circa twenty-nine performances from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Bosnia, Germany, USA, Sri Lanka to name a few. The performances got on to a flying start after the opening speech by America’s Ambassador to Rwanda, Ambassador Peter H. Vrooman. Performances ranged from Umunyinya from Burundi, Sri Lanka’s Stages Theatre Group, Spellcast and Gnawaband; Sahlah Anees and Jayampathi performed ‘Abused Product’ which highlights what women face when others dictate and police women’s bodies.
Umudugudu (Kinyarwanda word for village) was performed by Mashirika Performing Arts with Beat Freeks. Other performances were by Luciane Ramos-Silva e Coletividade, Keiga Foundation, Street Dance Company and some shared stories from Rwanda, Bosnia, Germany were on display virtually. The presentation from Bosnia had actors deliberate on the ineffectiveness of the international community during Bosnia’s turbulent times in the early 1990s. Rwanda’s Intore Dance performed by Nganzo Ngari.
A monologue cum presentation by Christopher Bailey discussing about visual challenges (eye impediment and going blind) during ‘The Vanishing Point’ was an eye opener on the daily travails of people with eye challenges. The Homeless panel discussion and ‘Make us feel at home’ poetry presentation by Art and Homelessness International was another stellar presentation. So, also was the Rwanda and Bosnia collaboration about two tormented Genocide perpetrators.
The 2020 edition of Ubumuntu Arts Festival was unarguably the first arts festival to go online due to the pandemic. And in 2021, every single performance was done virtually. As to what Ubumuntu Arts Festival achieved in 2021, the founder of the festival, Hope Azeda informed Dolapo Aina and quoting her verbatim; “What we have always aimed to have and one of the pillars of Ubumuntu Arts Festival is first of all, collaborations. We always want to push for residences (physical residences) whereby artists can come and meet in Rwanda, talk and create works across a given theme. But of course, that has been very difficult with covid since 2020. So, we wanted to give it a try this year 2021 and see how we can still encourage artists to create works together, collaborate and network. I think this came up well and it was very satisfactory. We had very beautiful works of collaborations and I think it was one of our best achievements because collaborations just don’t end with the first encounter. Collaborations grow and keep growing because people are networking, knowing each other and developing their works. Most of the works showcased in the festival this year were works in progress and hopefully in 2022, these artists can meet in the same space (Kigali Genocide Memorial) and they can physically do what they love doing most which is creating their works. So, one of the achievements was artists collaborating on works.”
On how was the seamless virtual festival made possible; Hope Azeda furthered stated that; “It was seamless because of the A team we had behind the scenes. We had an A team in terms of communications and technicians, Howlround were behind the livestream, they broadcast shows, live streaming on a daily basis. We are really glad that we came together and they connected and streamed our event. We also had an A team in terms of communications. It is one thing to have a seamless event but also people not knowing about it and just following the step by step making and behind the scenes, would not be enough. So, it was really good to have loads of pretty good coordinating team. We had a very good events team onboard and we also had a very good communications team onboard. But what actually made it seamless were the kind of works. Every work was just beautiful and it was humbling to see that regardless what artists are going through they managed to pull off such decent works in the name of excellence.”
On what was different about preparations for 2020 and 2021 editions, Hope Azeda revealed that; “In 2020, we were exploring a very unknown space and we were trying to make our real and original festival in the physical space at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, come to our audience in 2021 because we needed to keep it that way. We learnt and decided to keep things a bit different in 2021 by making things simple. For instance, instead of three hours of presentations, we made it two hours. And instead of three days, we went for two days. We knew better from our previous experience of 2020. So, this year 2021 was not as hectic as 2020. And in 2021, we became better at our game.”
On what should global arts enthusiasts expect in 2022, the founder of Ubumuntu Arts Festival, Hope Azeda, stated that; “For 2022, people should expect more better works and more resilient projects from artistes. Artistes have been the most hit community in terms of their industry and what they do in this space. So, artistes have realised that we are going to have one foot in the digital space and one foot in the real world. So, more resilience and spirit behind the works. Our theme for 2022 is “Go Forth” which is basically encouraging people to move forward. I think we are going to have more resilient works, more resilient spirits and more affirmations that are a must. Affirmations portrayed through different artistic portrayals. I expect and I am looking forward to 2022 and hopefully if things go well, we would be at our space which is the Kigali Genocide Memorial.”
Dolapo Aina writes from Kigali, Rwanda.