Introducing season 2019-2020: The Family of Man| 21 May 2019
Whether we like it or not, humanity is a community with a common destiny: challenges such as climate change, migration, unequal distribution and data flows don’t stop at borders or stay within cultures. Or is ‘family’ more of a straitjacket by which the wealthy – we Europeans – can determine which stories are told and which are not?
This was the criticism of one of the most famous exhibitions of the 20th century: The Family of Man – the title is also the motto for our new season – showed photographs of people from all continents, skin colours and cultures. The exhibition opened at New York’s MoMA in 1955 and toured the world. While more than 10 million visitors looked at the images of birth, work and death from 70 countries, the intellectuals discussed the meaning of it all. Anyone who saw this exhibition would see ‘the future differently, more forcefully and more diversely,’ wrote the German philosopher Max Horkheimer. The French theorist Roland Barthes, on the other hand, criticized ‘the sentimental myth about the equality of all people.’ Those who see people as a family underestimate the power of cultural differences. In fact, they ultimately ignore history itself and therefore also the freedom of the individual, quoting Barthes.
How can a theatre include all voices equally?
This new season in NTGent is about a similar question: how can a theatre include all voices equally? Last season, we opened with The Ghent Altarpiece, a play in which children appear next to well-known actors; people with Rwandan, Afghan, Flemish and German roots play the characters portrayed on the famous altarpiece by the brothers Van Eyck. The result was an evening about listening and about solidarity. About the city of Ghent as a community. It fueled the discussion about the concept called ‘family’: do we need to strengthen this concept, even if only on an imaginary level? What could be a new myth of kinship and solidarity? Especially in an era of media and capitalist networks that promote social standardization on the one hand, but also lead to isolation and loneliness of so many people on the other hand?
What could the new myth of kinship and solidarity be?
This second season, inspired by The Family of Man as an idea, addresses this question in all its aspects.
Who is the stepmother, who is the adopted child?
The world comes to Ghent, and Ghent goes out into the world. The photographs in our brochure, made by Michiel Devijver, show our theatre, the ensemble, the staff, the visitors ... All in the style of the photo exhibition The Family of Man, which, more than 60 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, showed all cultures, ages, jobs as one ‘family’, people at the mercy of the same laws of love, life and work – and yet, each and every one of them looking completely different. What about today? In the 21st century, a time of mass migration and climate change, who belongs in this family? Who doesn’t? Or, if everyone belongs, who plays what? Who is the stepmother, who is the outcast, who is the adopted child?
You are welcome to see all the performances, during the weekends but also on weekdays. And to eat in our café, which is open every day. To do yoga in the morning with Luk Perceval. But above all, we would like to welcome you to our debates and discussions. Because being in a ‘family’ doesn’t only mean telling each other stories, but also – as Roland Barthes once demanded – making history together. Theatre is a celebration, but it can also mean quarrels and confrontations.
So, bring it on, the friction too. It happens in the best of families.