South African Tales: Day 3 of the Summit

Day 3 of the IFACCA’s 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture opened with a panel of keynote speakers looking at cultural diversity : essential for world peace or root of all conflict? Madeeha Gauhar from Pakistan gave an inspirational speech about the challenges facing Pakistan in building a new cultural identity from a negative starting point of being ‘non Indian’ and after the split and formation of Bangladesh, how religion came to be seen not just as a basis for nationality but also a mono-cultural identity.  The advent of the Taliban in North Pakistan led to the suppression of cultural identities.  Madeeha joined a theatre group from muslim Punjab, which crossed the border to India’s Punjab with great trepidation but found great commonality.  People had been brought up with imposed national ideologies that had created a great divide, but they still laughed at the same jokes and loved the same poets and authors.

The other speaker Dr Stojan Pelko from Slovenia shared a film clip from a Serbian film exploring the theme of the ‘innocent song’, concluding that there is no such thing and that arts and culture can be used to create divisions.  He also looked at the concept of a universal humanity and that islands of creativity and imagination can be often be found in conflict and post conflict situations.

The late morning plenary explored the theme of intercultural dialogue, with four different speakers bringing different perspectives. T Sasitharan from Singapore brough some surprising insights into experiences from Singapore who had ‘independence thrust upon them’.  They had to find their own cultural feet as a mix of people connected to ‘mother culture’ but feeling like ‘cultural orphans’ who had to remake themselves in Singapore and are constantly reinventing themselves.  Singapore gave up the idea that culture needs to be ‘authentic’ or true and instead embraces the idea of culture as a fiction being constantly remade.

The afternoon sessions were again workshops and I chose ‘arts in conflict and post conflict zones’. This started promisingly with a presentation from Shahid Nadeem, a playwright from Pakistan, describing the challenges of working with the ‘Theatre for Social Change’; playwrights that write about issues face possible imprisonment accused of blasphemy.  The theatre group faces the constant fear of a suicide bomber in the audience which brings huge psychological stress and makes it hard to get both sponsorship and audiences, without which there is no theatre.  They have faced these issues head on by performing a series of three plays which tackle extremism and have performed these in both cities and rural areas. In areas where it has been too unsafe to perform, they have bussed audiences in.  He also cited an example of a festival that was bombed and then cancelled, but the artists insisted in going on and audiences subsequently doubled.

The next speaker was Iman from Palestine , followed by Motti Lerner from Israel unfortunatly this session then became polarised between the two different opposing views of the situation in Israel and Palestine and despite valiant attempts from the chair discussion did not move forward which was a pity as I am sure there were examples of good practices in the audience that would have been good to hear about.

The conference dinner was hosted by Maropeng or ‘ The cradle of Humankind’ which is a large visitor attraction.  The setting was magnificent and we were given the run of the attraction which included a water ride and there were also lots of interactives to play with.  We were entertained with live music and it was a fantastic end to the conference.

The next day saw a short concluding session, where Albie Sachs, the ANC activist and acclaimed author of many books on human rights.  A  film about the building of the Constitutional Court was shown and the meaning behind the many arts works commissioned for this building explained; the a symbol for much of his work has become the ‘Blue dress’ one of the works in the court.  This was followed by the announcement of the next World Summit which will be in 2011 in Melbourne Australia.

In the afternoon I managed to join a party visiting the Museum of Apartheid which is vast and encyclopedic in its approach and gives an amazing account.  However of all the Museums I visited in South Africa the highlight had to be the District Six Museum in Cape Town a small community run museum where ex residents of District Six tell their stories of life in the City and what relocation meant for them as this mult cultural community was torn apart by apartheid.  The museum is small and has the feel of a community centre, but is it is a chance to meet real people and hear first hand accounts of the horrors of and reality of apartheid and why we must not forget.

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