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Dorothée Munyaneza about UNWANTED

Rwanda-born Dorothée Munyaneza's latest production Unwanted examines the physical and mental repercussions of rape used as an instrument of war. Unwanted will tour the United States this September:  Festival Time Based Art/PICA, Portland, OR (Sept. 15-17), at Baryshnikov Art Center, New York (Sept. 21-22), and at Seuls en scène Festival, Princeton U. (Sept. 26-27). 

Before leaving for the United States, Dorothée answered our questions:

Nicole Birmann Bloom: Unwanted is based on conversations and stories with women survivors of violent trauma during wartime. Could you tell us about the process of collecting these stories mainly in Rwanda—your country that you left after the genocide?

Dorothée Munyaneza: After seeing a documentary entitled L’homme qui répare les femmes, about Dr Denis Mukwege by Thierry Michel as well as Rwanda, la vie après, paroles des mères by Benoît Dervaux and André Versaille and also Mauvais Souvenir by Marine Courtade and Christophe Busché, I became more convinced about this subject matter that I wanted to carry as an artist.

The question of the female body as a battlefield for men who, when invading territories also sexually and violently invade the body of the women, in order to annihilate them and their society, preoccupies me not only as a human being, but also as a woman, and as an artist. And of course while thinking of these mothers, our human history is full of many examples unfortunately, whether currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or in Syria, or in Chad, or in Rwanda during the genocide of the Tutsi or in former Yugoslavia, I came to the realization of the birth of children—children who are the descendants of the rapists and the victims. And that also is still a reality that is unspoken of, a taboo.

Therefore as there were many examples of such sexual violence against women throughout our world, I decided to first go to Rwanda to meet women who are survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi. And through the help of Godeliève Mukasarasi and her foundation SEVOTA that works with these women and their children, I was able to go to the rural areas of Rwanda, to spend time with the women and the children, who are now young adults of the ages of 22 and 23 years old. I recorded the voices of the mothers, in an intimate setting. And their testimonies I then translated into French and English. Sometimes these testimonies are heard live in Kinyarwanda, and I translate them live almost simultaneously or I sing them on stage. Some of these testimonies I have chosen are the guidelines in, and the core of, the piece.

Nicole: Are you still in touch with them? 

Dorothée: Yes I am.

Nicole: Could you tell us about the process of telling these stories with your own body? 

Dorothée: First and foremost I am a singer, but I strongly believe that dance, text, song and performance are there to converse and carry out the task that I have set out to do, which is to carry these voices, in the body and out to the audience.

We carry memories, our bodies carry histories, that are linked to other histories within the past and present of our humanity. So it is finding the space in which to tell these stories, to return to the memories and mend the broken as Hlengiwe Madlala Lushaba, a good friend and a wonderful artist once put it: “our task as artists is to mend that which has been broken”. And whether we do it through dance, words, music, poetry, painting, song, we cannot remain on the outskirts of our world.

Nicole: Music and sound environment are strong components of the performance. Could you tell us about your collaboration on these musical aspects with Holland Andrews? and with Alain Mahe, composer and instrumentalist,  with whom you share this second collaboration.

Dorothée: I have chosen to use a lot of music, or to use the medium of music to go deeper into this trauma, into this violent matter, to go deeper also into the voices, of these women and these children, to speak up and sing their humanity, their torment and also their dignity.

While I was writing about Unwanted, I listened often to Henryk Gorecki’s “Symphony #3”, an incredibly moving and magnificent work of art. I knew that I was seeking a lyrical quality to the music I wanted to hear in the midst of all the violence that was being spoken about.

When I met Holland Andrews during a residency at PICA (Portland), and heard all her vocal abilities and the way she was able to compose multi-layers of her own voice to create a female choir all by herself, I knew I had to work with her. For me, the many women I met and the many more I read about, composed a certain type of choir. All these voices rung in my memory with different qualities but all speaking of the same violence, and the determination to keep standing even after the cruelest crime that was perpetrated against them: rape. And for me, Holland Andrews has these various ways of invoking in her voice, or shall I say, giving birth to these different voices. And of course collaborating with the talented Alain Mahé on this project was also important, because he creates other layers to the stories and voices we are carrying, and transforms the minimal into violent torrents and has the ability to build with Holland Andrews and myself the cyclone but at the same time accompany us in the eye of the latter.

The sound, the music, the singing, are there to precede and prolong the gesture, and to allow room for the spectator to listen and breathe in that which is being heard. We journey on together, into the dark and also into the light.

Nicole: And about your collaboration with Bruce Clarke, a British visual artist from South African origin, now based in Paris?

Dorothée: When I first encountered Bruce Clarke’s work entitled Upright men, I was deeply moved by the grandeur of his paintings and the dignity of the people he painted. I then had the chance of meeting him in person some time after he’d come to see my piece Samedi détente in Paris and we talked. He is a brilliant visual artist, a politically, socially and humanly engaged artist and I had no choice but to invite him to collaborate with me. The more we exchanged ideas, the clearer it became that instead of having many paintings of feminine figures on different rotating panels, only one monumental painting of a woman was necessary. A woman who, in my opinion, has no specific origin or belonging to one single place but who is the coming together of the many women I met and the ones I didn’t meet whose stories inspired me. Bruce Clarke then came up with different ideas and eventually we decided upon the one that is present on stage with Holland Andrews and I. This immense female figure has the dignity and universality I was seeking.

Thank you, Dorothée. We are looking forward to seeing the performance!


Interview conducted with Dorothée Munyaneza by Nicole Birmann Bloom, Program Officer, Performing Arts, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, NY | September 2017

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