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Making international artistic cooperation impossible. Is this what we want?

| 19 January 2019
The NTGent management was forced to cancel the premiere of 'Histoire du Théâtre II'. Despite all our efforts, the borders remain closed for three Congolese dancers.

In the whole Western world, including Belgium, the debate about (de)colonisation, Western and other identities is raging. Just a few weeks ago, a renewed Africa Museum opened near Brussels, which meant that the discussion about our western view on the African continent, and Congo in particular, was omnipresent  for weeks on the public forum.

Cultural institutions, festivals and makers are by no means absent in this discussion. On the contrary, art is the ideal place to think about this matter with an open mind, averse to diplomatic and other blockades, and this results in artistic processes with strong social involvement. Of course, therefore, it is indispensable for artists from Europe to be able to work together with African artists in their home country or in the diaspora.  The latter is precisely what has become increasingly difficult lately.

It is indispensable for artists from Europe to be able to work together with African artists in their home country or in the diaspora

Recently, we are increasingly confronted by the fact that rehearsal processes, performances and tours with artists from different disciplines and from different African countries have to be cancelled in extremis because of the failure to issue the necessary visas. This not only has a financial and artistic impact on the institutions and artists in question, but  is also a loss of face for the countries concerned.

The premiere of a new creation by the Congolese choreographer/director Faustin Linyekula, acclaimed by the world press, should have taken place in NTGent on 21 February, as part of the festival Same Same but different. Histoire(s) du Théâtre II aims to investigate how and why African countries borrowed Western codes just after their independence and continued to use them to put themselves on the artistic map. By e.g. founding a "Ballet national du Zaïre". Avignon, Vienna, Amsterdam: these are just a few of the cities to which Histoire(s) du Théâtre was invited.

On 16 January 2019 the NTGent management had to decide to cancel the premiere. Despite all our efforts, the borders remain closed for three Congolese dancers. The Vooruit Arts centre (also in Ghent) is doing what it can to try and get a South-African artist and curator into Belgium in time for his participation in the festival Women and Children first.

Now is the time, however, to turn that respect into a constructive, supported and functioning system in which the sometimes much-needed diplomatic and political discussions do not stand in the way of the work of independent creative minds.

We cannot help feeling that the Belgian authorities are not going all out to find creative solutions for this problem. We know that many people, including in the world of politics, have deep respect for  the arts and for international cultural cooperation.

Now is the time, however, to turn that respect into a constructive, supported and functioning system in which the sometimes much-needed diplomatic and political discussions do not stand in the way of the work of independent creative minds. If this does not happen, it will only lead to an impoverishment of the offer in our festivals and on our stages.

Kristof Blom, artistic director Campo
Franky Devos, general coordinator Vooruit
Faustin Linyekula, choreographer/dancer/director
Olivier Py, director Festival d’Avignon
Milo Rau, artistic director NTGent 
Christophe Slagmuylder, artistic director Wiener Festwochen