Monday, May 22, 2017

Blackness, and Faki Festival 2017, 23-27 May

***This writing platform is temporarily revived over the next week, for Faki Festival 2017***

In closing this writing platform last year, I partly acknowledged that my voice - and as this is largely a personal project, it is my voice - is not the best one to do the work that needs to be done. That situation has not changed, and poring over South African black rights activist Steve Biko's writings, part of this year's festival theme of 'Blackness', only reinforces this sense of doubt that my own position is of any value to public discourse at the moment. This quote, for example: "Nowhere is the arrogance of the liberal ideology demonstrated so well as in their insistence that the problems of the country can only be solved by a bilateral approach between black and white" affronts me with the impossibility of my own position -  in this case, invited to moderate discussion and interviews at Faki Festival 2017.

To put it in plain terms: Just how, following what I view as two major race-hate events in the United Kingdom and United States in 2016, am I able to lead discussion regarding a topic such as Blackness with any legitimacy? What possible answers can I discover? Is there even any productive position to find?

But let me (and I will let myself) get up off the floor, and attempt.

Statue of Steve Biko outside East London's City Hall, South Africa (Creative Commons)

Ironically, the controversy surrounding Faki Festival this year can be seen as a microcosm of where the world is at in terms of its economic and cultural pressures. Besieged by dramas, including the threatened closure by Zagreb City Council for not having 2 fire exits in every room (a specification almost none of the official buildings in Zagreb adhere to) and reeling under the departure of its long-term curator Irena Curik who planned much of the festival, not to mention tackling a difficult theme head-on in a country not known for its racial tolerance, it is clear that, whatever happens, Faki 2017 is going to take precarity to a whole new level.

A glance over the much-reduced program inevitably fills one with a sense of hope that only comes from a sense of shared humanity and human expression. Far from the lofty, 30+artist festivals of previous years, Faki 2017 will feature just 7 performances over its 5 day duration, many of them solo works. The handful of countries is equally symbolic - artists from France, Germany, Italy, the UK, USA and South Africa are represented at Faki this year - and as far as I can tell all but one of the groups will identify as Persons Of Colour.

Perhaps the most directly confrontational to current white supremacist ideologies comes from fellow Berliners, the Blackism collective, a loose collection of artists which presents two performances: Back To, an attempt to confront the construction of black through white eyes, and Nasheeka Nedsreal's (USA) solo dance project Obscure Noir. From the petite ville of Chambéry (via, it seems, Mexico) comes Naranjazul Theater Company's Mundo Lunaticus, a never-ending voyage of migration and forced displacement, perhaps with a dose of insanity. From Steve Biko's native South Africa comes a dance work from Sifiso Seleme, Extra Ordinary, currently under development - but probably exploring binaries in his home Soweto and the metropolis of Johannesburg. Two works from Italy round out the program - Azulteatro perform their unfaithful reworking of the Icarus myth Towards Freedom, whilst Lucia Falco and Marcello Serafino return to Faki with Hot-Dog, a work perhaps linked to the creation of human through the animalistic (and therefore, I imagine, only related to the theme in a cursory way).

If there's a common thread in the festival, it's the sheer diversity of its narratives in response to the theme. Two crucial initial points can be made from this -  the first is maybe obvious but it's worth restating: there is not one single 'Blackness'. This is a rich and diverse theme, encompassing a variety of subjectivities, political positions, and expressions. The second point is an important, perhaps, return to earth: everywhere in the festival, there are works demanding a narrative other than 'the United States President did something to these people' - as such, it represents a kind or resistance unto itself, and a hope for the future. The narrative may have changed - the material conditions of the world did not.

In my preparations to address the theme, I was the beneficiary of several artists directly involved with Blackness discourses and who identify as Persons Of Colour. Since I agreed, with some reluctance and conditions, to take this role, the problem of me being a citizen of a country born out of genocide of indigenous populations and land  dispossession has not been lost on me. Nor has the fact that I do not identify as a Person of Colour - and will yet be attempting to steer conversations regarding blackness in a context in which white supremacy and ethno-nationalism is gaining traction and something like 'white dominance' is globally reasserting itself - been easy to reconcile. Not to mention the role that Australia is playing globally - as a sort of strange mediator or middle-man itself, complete with claims of neutrality and a pocketing of the profits. It's been something of a boot camp for me, but I'm privileged to have people who have been generous with their time with emails, meetings, and readings that have allowed me to build the foundation for what I hope will be an enriching conversation over the 5 days of the festival.

So, as usual maybe: what can I do? Very little. What can we do together? Potentially, quite a lot.

Stay tuned for daily interview forum podcasts from Faki Festival 2017, taking place at 1730 CEST as well as, I imagine, a generous helping of written critical discourse.
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