AfriQueer to shine a light on gender-based hatred at NAF

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As the world reels from the Orlando shootings and the African LGBTI community continues to face violent repression, the Drama for Life production AfriQueer promises to strike a timely and resonant note at this year’s National Arts Festival.

The cast of Afriqueer, a timeous highlight on the dance programme of the National Arts Festival 2016
The cast of Afriqueer, a timeous highlight on the dance programme of the National Arts Festival 2016

This powerful site-specific work will have two performances daily – at 4pm and 8pm – at the scenic Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown, from 30 June to 3 July 2016.

Co-created and directed by Warren Nebe, who heads up the Drama for Life programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, AfriQueer is an evocative journey into the heart of LGBTI Africa.

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It features male performers in a series of riveting solo performances relaying their own intimate stories and experiences of how lives are – often violently – affected by social prejudice and religion on a continent that shuns “the other”.

The piece interrogates conventional notions of masculinity, as well as public versus private sex and sexuality. The performers in the play all identify in different ways in terms of their gender and sexuality, including as heterosexual.

13423712_10154078558111208_5662179199514870938_nAfriQueer ties in with the Drama for Life programme’s ongoing mission to create and use art for social transformation. This professional Drama for Life Africa project features performers from across the continent, and has already been performed during a retreat at choreographer-activist PJ Sabbagha’s rural Ebhudlweni base in Mpumalanga, as an installation at a gallery in Mozambique and in an open-air space in Botswana.

It is a fluid project, with players and stories varying according to setting and availability. The Grahamstown production will include players from South Africa, Zambia and Botswana, accompanied by indigenous dancers.

AfriQueer has been created thanks to three-year baseline funding from the Swiss Development Corporation, which is helping Drama for Life Africa “create work, innovate and talk about LGBTI, human rights and sexual health issues”, says Nebe.

At the Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown, audiences will experience an intimate open-air performance (but will be provided with blankets) that is sure to remain with them for long afterwards.

Expect stirring and poignant moments as the players remember those murdered in the “rage of violence against the LGBTI community”. Much of the work is non-verbal but makes vivid use of imagery, stripping away dialogue to its bare essentials.

AfriQueer is 75 minutes in duration and is recommended for audiences 15 and older. It features Tefo Paya, Hamish Neill, Sithembiso Khalishwayo, Bonginkosi Mnisi, Khothatso Mogwera, Thabang Molefe, Tlotlo Kefitlhile, Thapelo Kgatwane, Kgotlaetsile Malope, Songezo Mcilizeli and Kwanele Finch Thusi – all of whom also contributed to its creation.

“These are stories from their own personal archives, featuring their own artistic signatures,” Nebe explains. “My role is merely to curate. The cast is incredibly brave.”

Book for AfriQueer at the National Arts Festival by visiting www.nationalartsfestival.co.za or calling 0860 002 004. Alternatively, visit one of the box offices in Grahamstown or purchase tickets at the venue.

• Drama for Life, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, is a global centre dedicated to social transformation and healing. Visit www.dramaforlife.co.za.
• The Drama for Life Africa Project is a multimedia, interdisciplinary project that aims to foster a deeper understanding about sex, sexualities and sexual health with a human rights perspective across the Southern African Development Community. It is funded by the Swiss Development Corporation.

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