Art tells genocide stories

Students and faculty gathered in Doheny Library for a panel discussion on Arts and Reconstruction after Genocide on Thursday.

The panel was in conjunction with the performance of Africa’s Hope, a dance show performed by the Rwandan theater company Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts Group, which took place Wednesday night. The events were put on as part of the Visions and Voices initiative and co-hosted by the Applied Theatre Arts program in the School of Dramatic Arts and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.

Members of Mashirika on the panel led the discussion about the effects genocide has had on Rwanda and its art as a process of reconstruction. The acclaimed theater company is composed of 20 artists who were exiled from Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. The actors, dancers and musicians aim to prove that performing arts can be more than just entertainment — they can serve as a tool for social transformation.

Transformation · Angel Kabanguka Uwamahoro (right) tells the audience on Thursday about her experiences performing the emotional material dealing with the Rwandan genocide as Elaine Umuhire looks on. – Alec Faulkner | Daily Trojan

“My entire history has affected the work I do,” said Hope Azeda, artistic director of Mashirika. “There was a need for justice after the war. We cannot just stop at memory. There has to be a will to move on.”

Africa’s Hope tells the story of survival and hope during the Rwandan genocide. Narrated by multiple viewpoints, the performance gives the genocide an eerily artistic voice by representing Rwandans who are either dead or alive. The performers assume their roles entirely, and at parts, describe the horrors of the genocide through first-person monologues.

“[Being a part of the company] has taught me how to really fit into somebody’s skin and step into somebody’s shoes,” said Angel Kabanguka Uwamahoro, an artist in Mashirika. “I actually feel like I’m that person in that role. I actually transform into my role.”

Many of the group’s members, like Azeda, witnessed the genocide firsthand and are able to bring a unique artistic perspective to the performances. Azeda had eight brothers, but after the genocide, only three of her brothers remained at home.

“I was born in exile into a family of 11. I was the 10th born,” she said. “There was a problem in Rwanda, and I needed to respond. I went in [to Makerere University] with the intention of using theater as a subject for social transformation.”

Africa’s Hope set out to bridge the gap between recounting the pain of the genocide and providing a hope to move on.

“To perform as a member of Mashirika,” Elaine Umuhire said, “was my duty, but it was also my healing. If I can smile but can’t feel the pain, there is only one side that’s working, and it’s not the truth.”

Mashirika is hosting a theater workshop on art and transformation Friday where they will share their techniques in play-building and conflict resolution. The free workshop will take place in Massman Theatre at noon and reservations can be made online on the Visions and Voices website.