In 2014, I was invited by the Austrian Embassy, to work with the Kosovo National Ballet. Upon arrival in Pristina, I realised that I had to change course, jettison my lofty artistic ambitions, and use instead the dancers’ childhood wartime survival stories, creating “YOUR STORIES, MY STORY” as a dance piece with documentary character. There was no choice.
This was the beginning of a new chapter in my artistic and personal life – my discovery of docu-dance-theater and the concept of artistic citizenship.
Approaching various war-related themes over a succession of pieces created for the Kosovo National Ballet, as we “danced and tiptoed around” gender-based violence,I asked about the children resulting from war time rape, but there in Pristina my queries were met with blood-drained faces and stony silence. The people who had taken me into their hearts, and confidentially shared their harrowing stories of survival, and of witnessing the atrocities of the Kosovo war, were neither ready nor able to enter this territory with me – to discuss children whose existence dare not be acknowledged.
Forced to do my own research, I realized that although there are a lot of books, films, features and other publications directly focused on the women who suffered, I could find almost nothing concerning the children born to these women, those who survived beyond infancy. The literature which I found was ‘constructed through the lenses of nationalism, feminism, and humanitarianism rather than through a children’s rights frame’ (Carpenter 2010), the existence of babies conceived through rape given little or no attention, violating in turn their rights as human beings. What I came up against was like a wall of silence…
Michael Goodheart speaks of “two different kinds of silence concerning these children: strategic silences, which protect them and their mothers, and imposed silences, through which societies ignore or avoid the problem. (…) With respect to the latter, I’m not sure that silence is the appropriate word. Recalling that actions sometimes speak louder than words, I submit that there exists (…) a deafening roar of callous contempt (…) that constructs them and their mothers as objects, of shame and humiliation, that facilitates their social exclusion.”2
… until I found this headline in 2016:
Bosnian born of wartime rape in quest for his parents
First one, then several Articles on Alen Muhić, and subsequently the recent publications of researchers, fore fronted by Charli Carpenter, Sabine Lee and the research Team of Children Born of War Innovative Training Network (CHiBOW).
Suddenly the curtains parted, and I could visualize the scene: a young man walks onstage and breaks through the fourth wall … asking burning questions about his parents … the absent father … in end-effect about himself … he is joined by others … the disappearing act of an elderly magician takes a turn of its own willing and instead reveals the invisible … an older woman wonders how she still manages to stand here…we hear their voices … the children who refuse to remain hidden from view…children born of war take to the stage and stand in the light…to champion their humanitarian rights…
… I understand anyone who needs to ask any question in the name of their Father,
in the quest for understanding identity.
We all need to understand where we come from, who our parents are, and what lives they in turn, have led. This gives us a comprehension of our identity, and a blue print for our lives.
I must make an important digression for a moment and reflect on the word privilege: that which has been granted to me as an artist living and working in Europe, far from my third-world home-island in the Caribbean, allowing me access to the great and high cultural institutions where I have held a position of artistic director, choreographer, and presenter.
On artistic citizenship
Wayne. D. Bowman considers the artist in context of society, stating that ‘Artistic achievements rely on certain privileges, and entitlement to these privileges involves, if not precisely duties or obligations, at least attendant responsibilities. (…) Artistic citizens (…) use their artistic pursuits to change themselves and the world for the better.’This argument is put forth in a publication of essays which ‘consider, clarify and critique the proposition that the arts can and should be “put to work” toward the positive transformation of people’s lives’.
Inviting discourse on the nature of art and artists, the opening Chapter of ARTISTIC CITIZENSHIP: Artistry, Social Responsibility and Ethical Praxis proposes that ‘the arts are fundamentally social phenomena, and always have been’. John Dewey is quoted from his Art as Experience (1934): ‘art and the arts’, whose values are ‘numerous, diverse, dynamic, and invariably grounded in social experience’ should not be‘stripped of their power to make meaningful social differences (…)art emerges from and is continuous with everyday human experience(…) When art and art making are separated from or elevated above everyday life (…) it somehow becomes isolated from the human condition under which it was brought into being, and from the human consequence it engenders in actual life-experience’.
“’Everyone has the right’asserts the United National Declaration of Human Rights(1948) ‘to freedom of opinion and expression.’ (…) And yet, individual rights involve obligations to others: Everyone has duties, the Declaration continues, to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.”
This requires “the fulfilment of important obligations to one’s community, culture or society. (…) “Examining artistry and artistic practise through the lens of citizenship requires (…) that we inquire into the ways artistic practise may help others realize and benefit from the conditions upon which It depends for its own successes.
Artistic privilege is importantly linked to artistic responsibility. (…) Artistic citizens seek to use their artistic pursuits to change themselves and the world for the better.”
With regard to the wall of secrecy, and a conspiracy of silence, I am convinced that IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER has the potential to create a channel for multi-level communication, and that this Project can contribute to making a change in the lives of Children Born or War.
Alen Muhic states: “There are many like me in Bosnia, but we don’t talk about it”.Sabine Lee writes about the “silence that is only tentatively broken”which still surrounds these children, and R. Charli Carpenter refers to them as “invisible children”, advocating that, “a vocabulary and voice in which children and their mothers can express their legitimate claims must be developed” and that“a transformation of the social discourse surrounding children born of war is both needed and integral to any effort to effect social reconstruction and reconciliation.”
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER will create a platform for the children born of war, who will remain the core of the final artistic form(s), the subject(s) will transcend barriers of language and cultural differences, acting cross-disciplinary and transnational – to break the silence.
The moment of performance in the theatre has somewhat maybe mystical quality.
I believe in the duty of theatre as being to educate as much as to entertain, holding up a mirror to society, and handling contemporary themes.
to break the silence