Conversation with Dorothée Munyaneza & Bruce Clarke
Interview by Mélanie Jouen
Mélanie Jouen: Dorothée, after many music and choreographic projects, you created Samedi Détente in 2014. Unwanted is your second personal project. Can you tell us more about the journey from wanting to bear witness to the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, and now to the use of rape as a weapon of war?
Dorothée Munyaneza - Throughout my artistic quest, I have confronted my memories to those of my country, the surviving Tutsis. I also have a special interest in the female body, especially when mistreated, abused, physically and mentally, in times of war. This work on the female body could only take root in my country, with those victims of the genocide. The figures aren’t precise, but one should know that in Rwanda, between April and July 1994, some 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped during the 100-day massacre, which altogether killed 800,000 people.
Human Rights Watch’s figures show 2,000 to 5,000 children were born from those rapes. What happened 22 years ago to those mothers and children inevitably scared me. I want to take a step back from my story to convey theirs now.
In 2008, rape was recognised as constitutive of the crime of genocide by the UN. Victims and their children are rarely given a voice. Is it the first time that those testimonies are heard on stage?
Dorothée Munyaneza - Indeed, I believe this is the first time these voices are heard. It’s only very recent, since the 20th anniversary, that those ‘unwanted’ children have started talking about their past and being heard. Two documentaries were made recently: Rwanda, la vie après – paroles de mèresd’André Versaille and Benoît Dervaux(2014, Arte France) or Mauvais souvenirde Marine Courtade and Christophe Busché (2015, Spicee). There’s also the photographic work of Jonathan Torgovnik, Intended Consequences (2009, Aperture).
Bruce Clarke - And Jean Hatzfeld’s book, Un papa de sang(2015, Gallimard).
Who are the women and children you met?
Dorothée Munyaneza - As I was doing my research I came across Godeliève Mukasarasi’s name several times.
In 1994 she founded Sevota. A charity that helps Tutsi women victims of rape and sexual violence during the genocide. She introduced me to these women who bore their torturer’s child and decided not to abort. Many of them are HIV positive, poor and socially excluded. Most often they have also been victim of those who survived and cannot bare the idea of them having had those babies. Most have had to flee their village to find security and a calmer life in the countryside but, they are still being pointed at and so are their children. A child they have most often rejected or mistreated, thus copying the same vicious pattern of violence. I was scared they would not speak, out of modesty, respect, or fear. I thought I was going to meet shattered women but far from it. Their testimonies were beyond generosity, beauty and dignity. I had before my eyes a woman who had suffered, who still suffered but who was standing, striving for light.
How did you proceed with the interviews?
Dorothée Munyaneza - I met some 60 women and 70 children, in their homes either with Godeliève Mukasarasi or alone. I told them my story, told them about Samedi Détente and then asked them a question: have you accepted yourself? That’s where their stories started. They shared their story without dwelling on the rape merely suggesting it along the lines of ‘someone behaved badly with me’. When the woman or the child had finished telling their story, I asked them what their favourite song or dance was. This would sometimes help chase the cloud hanging over our heads. Then I asked whether I could take a picture of them with my disposable camera. They would leave the room and come back dressed in their most beautiful and colourful attire. Touched by their generosity, I could see them grow before me. These women, however much they suffered, still value their bodies and themselves.
Bruce, as a South African, you have shown an interest in what was going in Rwanda from the early 90s. Since 2000 you have been working on a memorial interactive piece on the Tutsi genocide in the prefecture of Kigali – Le Jardin de la mémoire. In 2014, you worked on an international urban project with several artists: Les Hommes debout. Can you tell us what made you want to shed light on the Rwandese tragedy and fight for this tragic event not to be forgotten?
Bruce Clarke - I’ve always wanted my art to embrace reality. As an anti-apartheid militant, I was interested by what was going on in Rwanda before 1994 and volunteered in a support collective for the Rwandese people. After the massacre, friends made me realize it was time to equate artistic creativity and political engagement. The main objective of the persecutors was the total eradication of a population including its memory. I had no choice but to make a lasting impression.
You usually work on monumental urban mural compositions, is this the first time you work onstage?
Bruce Clarke - Some of my art has been used on stage but this is the first time I find myself at the heart of the creative process.
Unwanted is the first time you work together. Tell me more about how you met?
Dorothée Munyaneza - We only met very recently. In March 2016, I was presenting Samedi Détente at l’Espace 1789 in Saint-Ouen. Elsa Sarfati, the director of the venue, told me about Bruce Clarke. I knew his name but not his work. The following day she gave me Bruce Clarke’s card who had seen the show. When I discovered his work, I called him immediately. We then met and I told him about my country. I was almost twelve when it happened, when I had to flee Kigali. 22 years after the genocide, meeting people who have been there, know the situation, act, create work of art or memory, is overwhelming. We share a common artistic and political conscience. We had to work together. That’s how I asked him to join me in this new adventure.
Bruce, you’re a plastic artist, born in the UK, your parents are exiled South Africans. Dorothée, you are a singer-choreographer-author, from Rwanda and today a British national. You both work on the body’s memory – intimate, political. Informing, commemorating and remembering the history of the African continent. Can you tell us more about your approaches? What brings you together, this artistic ‘duty’ towards society?
Dorothée Munyaneza - I don’t create for the sake of doing so. I use the body, music, singing, texts to touch upon subjects that are dear to me: violence towards women, racial inequalities, black man’s submission to white man…
I don’t know if it’s my story that makes what I do the way it is. But that’s where I start, going beyond my pain, finding where the fire still burns and staying alive. I cannot be an artist and not reflect the world in which I live. A creative dialogue soon appeared between Bruce and myself. How can we, as artists, think – mirror but also intellectually and artistically, physically and emotionally – our world?
Bruce Clarke - My life is different but I’ve always evolved in a political landscape as my parents fled Apartheid and always encouraged me to question the world. I wanted to find the connection. My series Body Politics or the Les Hommes debout project are flagship initiatives of my approach: how to portray reality’s violence and place
it in the public realm? We, artists, because of our public voice, cannot just say anything. Using aestheticism to offer informed testimony avoiding any oversimplification? What I do must be informed, must then inform and not demonstrate, and must feature absolute reality. Any artistic form is political, whether you want it or not. Either one assumes that the context inevitably influences our artistic production or society makes one’s art political.
What are you aiming for together?
Dorothée Munyaneza - I first wanted to be alone on stage, alone with the women I met, alone with their presence, their words, their stories. But meeting Holland Andrews changed everything and now I cannot nor want to be alone on stage. Invited with several other international artists by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art for a month creative residency in September 2016, I met this young Afro-American woman with incredible vocal capacities. From guttural depths to lyrical heights, she uses loop pedals to create unique multiple vocals. Beyond music, Alain Mahé’s sound-work, text, choreography, I also want people to perceive and approach these women. That’s why I asked Bruce Clarke to symbolize them. He’s creating a woman – one or more – who will share the stage with me.
So there will be three of us: Holland Andrews, Bruce Clarke’s symbolized woman and myself. Together we integrate the process of change in the choreography and dramaturgy: how substance, tangible, visual, can be torn, reduced and then deployed again, created anew. I believe life is this perpetual motion.
Bruce Clarke - As I start, I have to answer important questions: should these women be recognizable, come from a given country, be ‘universal’, should they be naked or dressed? Those questions are crucial for the representation and interpretation. Once I’ve created images that make sense and I find satisfying, hand in hand with Dorothée Munyaneza we will see how we can transform them, destroy them or recreate them on stage.
Has your research led you to a stage performance where the choreography metamorphoses the plastic art?
Dorothée Munyaneza - Absolutely. And in its metaphor, the plastic art conversely transforms the choreographic gesture.
How do you collaborate and how does it feature in the creative process?
Bruce Clarke - After our first exchanges, I put together a few models of plastic devices to confront with the scenographic project imagined by Vincent Gadras. Dorothée will show me the pictures of the women she interviewed and I will develop an original depiction. Once the scenographic design approved, I will initiate the project and then join Dorothée and the team at rehearsals.
Dorothée Munyaneza - Right now I’m working on the transcripts of the interviews, translating them into French and then English. From these testimonies will come a text, and the story to be told onstage, monologues and songs. Some of the youth told me about traditional Rwandese music they like as well as local and American artists they enjoy. From this I will create original music with Holland Andrews, work with Alain Mahé on the sound creation and choir. Together we will elaborate the scenography and plastic art with Vincent Gadras. Then will come the choreographic work, under Faustin Linyekula’s watchful eye. I wanted to think the space before the creation for this plastic art to be central. The collaboration with Bruce Clarke thus enables me to work within the realm of the scenographic space.
How will the plastic art work with the scenographic creation of Vincent Gadras?
Bruce Clarke - Dorothée Munyaneza takes the stage and decides on our collaboration. There should be several 3-to-4 meter high metal panels forming a concave arch on the floor at the back of the stage. Or just the one, central.
In any case, the two-sided curved shaped panels could light up from the inside and rotate at their own speed. There could also be semi-transparent canvas that would add fluidity. The panels, fabric or tulle, will feature original paintings of the women standing, in black and white. Faded and sketched features. The paintings, reproduced on rolls, could then feature on the metal panels. The panels can be painted on directly or even damaged with pigments at each show. As the show progresses, these images will be destroyed, torn, deteriorated by Dorothée Munyaneza and Holland Andrews. I’m also finding inspiration in a series I’m working on at the moment called Paysage après massacre: no human presence, a geographical landscape or post-trauma mental that could place us beyond Rwanda, in ex-Yugoslavia, in Syria, in Congo or even in a Nazi camp.
And how will this fit with the choreographic work?
Dorothée Munyaneza - The rotation of the panels during the show will reveal a metamorphosis but also the nonending mechanic of violence. At first embracing the multitude of female victims we could then go on to this one single woman, standing, shining, just like I met them, the way Bruce Clarke portrays them in his work. Or get to this panorama, extension of their soul, their body, their drama. The debris will paint a new landscape onstage, a new mode of expression. I could use the material taken from those women’s bodies to metamorphose myself. I could create a play area, another landscape, a new reading.
Bruce Clarke - The sound of paper being torn, amplified on the microphone, will exacerbate the violence of the assault. And the destruction of these figures will draw a new landscape, a new identity.
Bruce, you work on the debris and fragments of realities – paper, newspapers, posters – that you then integrate to your canvas. You claim you deconstruct to feature again. What is the link between your usual grammar and this new experience?
Bruce Clarke - My palimpsest grammar, made of layers and tears, echoes the subject, the story and language of this country. In Kinyarwanda, one often speaks obliquely of things. I once heard a woman say: « They did not need to take my clothes off, I was already naked». The full impact of her words hit me sometime later. I like to think this circumlocution can be found in my work. Reality’s violence hits harder when things aren’t shown or said directly.
Dorothée, in Samedi Détente, you were dancing with Nadia Beugré on a battlefield. This time, the body seems to be both the weapon of destruction and battlefield.
Dorothée Munyaneza - I was moved by the beauty of these women’s movements, their staged-like wander, how they sit, get up, curb, serve tea, water… After the Tutsi genocide, when they found those women, most of them were in an extreme state of deterioration. They were washed with disinfectant that stung their wounds. Some told me they were rotten on the inside, others used the image of a stone in their spine. I try to understand what it is to have a rotten sex, to walk, move with a stone inside. To feel how violent it can be to heal, from the inside, the recovery of the abused organ. During the annual commemorations, some bodies manifest their memories through pain. These women and children are not only survivors, they are also fighting to find a way to rise again. How can I feature this post-massacre magnitude? This dignity featured throughout the whole of Bruce Clarke’s art.
Samedi Détente also shows pre-genocide Rwanda. This time, you seem to focus on the aftermath, the body post-massacre…
Dorothée Munyaneza - How this body still fights post combat? How is it pursuing its internal fight? One of the women I met, was wearing fabric beautifully tied around her head. She was beaten so badly by her torturers during the genocide and then by her brother and brother-in-law for keeping the baby that she suffers terrible constant headache. She keeps this loincloth tightly around her shaved head to contain her pain. The wounds, the rupture, give way to a woman standing in search of light. How does life, beauty, femininity, dignity grow from suffering? The fight is here. How does one grow to accept oneself? Her child?
How will the children feature onstage?
Dorothée Munyaneza - Bruce Clarke will only paint women but I do want to embody the mother and her child, boy or girl. Incarnate a body that is both a mix of the torturer and the victim, is an interesting work on duality. I want to talk about the youth I met. Many of them don’t accept themselves, do not accept their father tortured their mother, their family.
Bruce Clarke : These women’s flaws are becoming beings. A figurine, a doll, assembled torn pieces could represent the child.
Dorothée Munyaneza - These children are the future: they strive for love and joy. We must help them grow confident, develop their trust in others, life and put an end to the circle of violence. To make sure these victims do not become the next torturers.