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October 23, 2014

Performing gendered violence: some musings

How do you create performance that attempts to deconstruct violence rather than replicating it? How do we 'safely' comment on and represent trauma without potentially re-traumatising?

These are some of the questions that arose in our discussion with Yvette last Monday (13th) that focused on the aesthetic of embodied activism in contemporary South African women. We touched upon the problematic nature of touring for companies who produce this style of work in the region, considering a reliance on the use of symbol and ritual which act as clear signifiers for the local community but not beyond. And yet these issues are universality grappled with and experienced.

The use of the term 'safely' alerts me to our continued taboo when we encounter gendered violence. There is often a keen tendency to maintain our distance. I myself am reluctant to admit I am engaging with discussions regarding rape or sexual assault simply because such etymology continues to carry that sense of shame; words that feel almost illegal when spoken aloud (I am reminded of a novel I have recently been reading by J M Coetzee, 'Disgrace' which I recommend to everyone) Ideas that if in doubt, we shouldn't be discussing at all.

And yet discussion is exactly what should be happening. As shown through some of the performances we examined, from Yael Farber's 'MoLoRa' to Mothertongue's 'Walk: South Africa', theatre can act as an outlet for therapeutic discussion and help in implementing a 'it's good to talk about it' attitude towards gendered violence. However the potential problem of recreating traumatic experience still flags itself up as an issue, even more enhanced when the director or creator of the piece is not home-grown. So how much local awareness does an artist need to have to be considered able to enter into the debate? If they themselves have not experienced gendered violence directly, are they still liable to deconstruct it through the use of performance?

When we consider artists who, like Brett Bailey, who are attacked for having an orientalist lens (as with Exhibit B, which was recently 'boycotted' and closed at the Barbican Centre, London) - or like Peter Brook's famous Mahabharata, enacting ideas that are out of their depth - we reach examples that hit just too close to home, crossing the fine line that exists when representing violence in a performative setting. So where is that fine line and how can we avoid crossing it?

Ultimately, who is responsible and when are discussions around gendered violence ever 'safe'?

- just some of my (semi-incoherent) musings on this session, hope they spark some thoughts/discussion.

My best to all!


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