Bring art to life

By Lineo Segoete

 “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ~ Maya Angelou

How did you picture the scariest monster when you were a child, the *kholumolumo for example? How did you imagine the animals in the fairytales you were read or told? How did you picture yourself within those stories as you listened? Did you even imagine at all? Do you still imagine? These are questions we hope to ask through our various arts.

As this discipline develops, to it is attached a purpose. Art is very much an expedition of self-discovery as it is a conversation with society through the unspoken. It communicates to the five senses inclusive of the mind and the heart.

A group of us (artists in Lesotho) attended a workshop conceived by Alliance Francaise de Maseru to conceptualise, build and perform street theatre with giant puppets. For three tedious weeks, Monday to Saturday, 09h00 to 18h00 and sometimes longer, we melted into each other’s space, facilitators (Les Grandes Personnes from France and Giant Match from South Africa) and local artists alike. Friendships were born, discoveries were made and perceptions were challenged. Over and above all, eyes were opened to universal realms of creativity and possibility.

Artists are the voice of social, political, economic and technological conditions, we address these through different specialties, scattered and struggling. Joining this workshop for the benefit of a Pusha Love HIV Testing and Counseling campaign to encourage young males to test for HIV (a process which happens to be very quick and calm) revealed to us the power of collective work. Strengthened as such by our different skills and backgrounds.

From the onset it dawned on us that the construction of the giant puppets was the easy part; telling an articulate story that bears a convincing and relevant message was a different task altogether. It was not just a matter of parading in the streets and showing off our massive dolls as something of a spectacle, it was about advocating change and positive behavior among our people, meticulously and vividly.

The women present showed more tenacity and resilience. Not a moment passed when one would be caught wondering about aimlessly. This was evident in the creation of the storyline where it was the women who gave the most input. Upon closer observation, the contribution showed through the main characters of our show. The star was a self-loving and buoyant girl who oozed charisma as she swayed her hips and danced to being alive. Through the story we addressed issues of using alcohol to entice sex and lose responsibility as well as the sexist perceptions that are perpetuated by the patriarchal mentality that still dominates in our country.

Between ourselves we had to overcome language barriers, character differences, preferences and stereotypes. This created a flow that distinguished everyone as an individual and also an intricate piece of the whole group. It is also what enabled us to adapt to our audiences. If we were all alike we would not have had as strong an impact, but because we were different we could all relate to the public one way or another. We were a representation of them.

Theatre is very rare in Lesotho, never mind street theatre. Execution of street theatre relies on many simple yet complex factors that rest on the shoulders of the production and crew and how they complement with their landscape. The puppets had to be like a visitor coming from a different dimension to deliver a valuable message, without actually talking to the receivers.

A blanket of cellphones formed over laughter and speculation as heads basked in awe of the five giants. People snapped pictures and shot videos while they bobbed their heads to the music. We danced and watched, contemplating the magnitude of our work. Our message was well received; queues that stretched out like a python slithering in the grass developed at the New Start HIV testing tents, an impressive sight.

We thrived on imagination when we were children: our curiosity was our vehicle to learning. As we grow older that wonderful quality about us fades. Through art we commanded attention by tapping into the imaginations of society. The possibilities are limitless.

The next step, our true test, is what we do from this point on and how. There are many more social ills that need to be cured. Arts and Crafts are still struggling to make sufficiently profitable ends, which is due in part to a lack of mobility by artists and artisans. An efficient structure and disciplined work ethic are crucial to our success or downfall. More importantly, we will not stop slagging in maturing our industry if we continue to segregate ourselves and hide behind preconceptions. It is time to sow seeds, practice and rehearse consistently. It is time for an art revolution.

*mythical character in Basotho folklore in the story of Moshanyana Oa Sankatana 

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