« One does not ask a blind man the colour of his eyes »
José Pliya, Négrerrances
No one can ignore the xenophobic excesses that have marked Ivoirian politics over the last ten or so years with the Constitution and a number of politicians’ resumption of the term « Ivoirité », nor the recent atrocities that this has caused.
The African Performing Arts Market (Masa) the biennale market in Abidjan, which provides a showcase for Africa’s latest living arts creations naturally did not reiterate these discourses. But it could have quite simply afforded to be more open. Yes, the Masa did suffer the effects of an international rejection of these excesses in terms of the attendance rate of buyers, journalists, and certain troupes and companies. But all the same, the Masa continues to play an essential role as the showcase for African living arts productions.
But what was the point of substantiating international conspiracy theories in speeches or the columns of the « Masa journal » by parading satisfaction at having managed to hold out against those who would have preferred the Masa to be called off, put off until a later date, or moved to another country? What was the point of focusing so much attention on what was in fact a highly legitimate debate on the Internet about the opportuneness of participating in the Masa in a context where it risked becoming a reassuring frontage against the criticism addressed at the country? What was the point of the polite waffle that characterized speeches, press conferences, and television shows in which everyone pretended that everything was just fine and that everyone had showed up despite the wicked detractors?
Wouldn’t the Masa have been better off going for the kind of transparency that befits a cultural event? And would it have really been shameful to hammer home its refusal of even the slightest xenophobic impulses? We obviously noticed that the market where companies set up stands to receive buyers and the press remained desperately empty compared to the bustle two years ago. We noticed the absence of well-known Western journalists usually present at such events, not to mention RFI and the BBC’s meagre presence after their huge coverage of the Fespaco What would the point be of not admitting that this Masa did all it could to exist, well and truly to exist, and successfully so thanks in many respects to its organizational skills, which made up for the mishaps of 1999, but that it nonetheless suffered the consequences of the local situation?
I am not trying to play at being an « enemy of Côte d’Ivoire », to coin the « in » phrase (far be it: all my sympathy and hopes for revival go to this country which I love)! I am simply conveying what I heard time and time again in the theatre rows and during meals and drinks at the pleasant Masa village: i.e. that this country stop its nationalistic obsession with an international conspiracy, that it bring a swift halt to the hatred of foreigners by publicly proclaiming its attachment to the values of tolerance, and that it recognize and thereby defend the value of its multicultural nature. And that if the authorities were unable to do so for reasons that are beyond me, that the Masa did because that is the role of culture. Even two weeks before the municipal elections!
A split was thus felt with the content of the shows presented, marked as they were by Africa’s current tragedies and the denunciation of their excesses.
This Masa existed, despite its limitations, and we wanted to devote this dossier to it, magnificently illustrated by Ananias Leki Dago’s photos. Rather than playing the absent subscribers, we preferred to be present out of respect for the artists’ need for a forum to promote their performances and in order to report on their works. We have done so by adopting the freedom of tone that we defend – at the risk of upsetting people in some quarters – without being polemical or biased, but without being indulgent either. We continue to believe that this critical freedom is essential.
Certain articles report on difficult experiences. But we do not aim to enter the political debate at all. That is not our role. But as long as all contemporary creative work reflects current problems and the hope for revival, we will never defend the vision of an anodyne culture that is cut off from its context. We are committed – it is true – to a certain vision of the world that is based on tolerance and openness that we draw, precisely, from Africa’s cultures.
As we were unable to mobilize the whole team for this year’s Masa, we have covered it as best we could from our three points of view. But it was our desire to testify, to analyse, and to listen: qualities that we consider to be so often lacking in an art criticism which tends to conform to international (read « Western ») canons. We think that criteria such as the local context, the creation’s genesis, and the African audience’s reaction also need respecting, without being paternalistic.
Which does not stop us from launching debates and expressing our point of view.
///Article N° : 5542