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Rwanda: African arts festival pushes against barriers

KIGALI, Rwanda

Africa’s premier arts show opened to screaming crowds with performances at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

The fifth annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival features theatrical performances seeking to answer the question: “What if the walls you built for others today, became your own downfall tomorrow?”

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Described as Africa’s premier performing arts gathering for social change, this year’s festival features artists and performance groups from 16 countries including from host Rwanda, Austria, Burundi, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Kenya, Malawi and Turkey.

South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Tanzania, the U.K. and U.S. are also represented.

With its name meaning “humanity” in the Kinyarwanda language, this year’s “Ubumuntu” theme is: “When the Walls Come Down — Truth”.

The festival typically incorporates performances ranging from theater to poetry and dance to movement and acrobatics.

Audiences will also be able to indulge in side events that include workshops, panel discussions, and genocide memorial tours.

The opening night on Friday featured performances from artists from Rwanda, Uganda, the U.S., Austria, Turkey, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The night’s highlights included a dance piece entitled Bound Alone, performed by MindLeaps Rwanda. The performance explored how people help each other during hardships, and how individuals endure their own problems while part of a team.

However, the first day’s standing ovation was reserved for the Street Dancers Company from the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose dance piece titled “Blood the Audience” remained a talking point long after the show.

“The opening was really interesting. These performances address real-life affairs people go through,” one onlooker, Pacifique Rukundo, told Anadolu Agency.

At the festival’s opening news conference at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Peace School, Hope Azeda, the festival’s curator underlined that geographical borders were fast becoming more visible as lines that “separate countries, regions, and people.”

“Consequently, our lives are increasingly marked and divided by these borders and boundaries. These borders influence, shape, and limit our lives,” added Azeda.

She noted that whether historical, structural or emotional, these boundaries that exist in people’s minds hold them back from connecting with the world.

This year’s festival seeks to tackle these issues, she said.

Azeda is the founder and artistic director of Rwanda’s leading theater troupe Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company.

Since it held its first festival in July 2015, Ubumuntu has focuse on three core themes: Humanity, creativity, and collaboration.

The festival is woven into national and international commemoration activities, coinciding with the end of the 100-day 1994 genocide commemoration period in Rwanda.

While it runs, participants and audiences exchange ideas on how to become champions of humanity and voices of positive change in their respective communities.

The Ubumuntu Arts Festival was a result of a project proposal Azeda submitted to the Africa Leadership Project in 2014 which concewntrates heavily on the important role of the arts and theater in Rwanda’s post-genocide recovery, with a view to helping solve similar challenges faced in other countries.

The event is due to close on Sunday July 12.

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