Dancing For Justice – Q&A with South African activist, choreographer and performer Mamela Nyamza
South African choreographer and performer Mamela Nyamza brings her double-bill I Stand Corrected / Hatched to the Singpaore International Festival of Arts this year. On from Thursday Aug 28 to Saturday Aug 30, the dance piece is a confronting commentary of the important issue of corrective rape in South Africa. Here, Mamela speaks to Five Stars and A Moon about sing dance to raise awareness of this crime.
ED: You began your career as a dancer, before also becoming a choreographer and an activist. What pushes you to create your own works, and what are some of the issues which are particularly close to your heart?
My work is fundamentally informed by my life experiences as a Black South African woman artist, as a divorced single mother, and indeed, by own personal identity as a lesbian. As such, I am dealing with matters of human rights, justice and socio-economic matters in South Africa and across the Diaspora. My work is not only on one subject, but a host of other issues. I am always inspired by a host of challenges informed by extreme prejudices and discrimination daily faced by all members of my nation: be it women, children, elderly people, and indeed people with disabilities. So, some of my work tackles hate crimes and homophobia, and sometimes I tackle racism, rape, child abuse, poverty, patriarchy, tradition, and indeed I tackle to honour our triumphs as artists over adversity.
ED: Wow. That is some intense, important work. What are you most proud of in your career? What would you consider your greatest accomplishments so far, and why?
My most important milestones are the day I was introduced to classical ballet at a tender age of 8, a step that proved beyond doubt that I was drawn and called to the world of art as a career; and the year I won a scholarship to study at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance in the US, which made me regain my confidence as a classical ballet trained dancer, and be brave to deconstruct all that I was taught in the ballet classes as the normative alpha and omega. Mostly my greatest accomplishment is that I believed and I followed my dream and my calling to this elite world of Dance.
ED: You have performed in numerous countries, and even on American television. What do you make of the reaction to your work, and the support which it has received?
I am overwhelmed by the support and so grateful for it. After everything II’ve been through I am still HATCHING and taking each step towards the light.
Ed: Speaking of hatching, the show you’re going to perform in SIFA, Hatched, is about the tension between the different facets of a single person – How does this reflect your life?
The piece started off as Hatch, and slowly grew into Hatched. Is the work still evolving? How so? Is this a process that has an end, and how will you know that you’ve reached the end point? Hence “HATCHED”. It is about my immense evolvement as an artist, and the evolution of my entire work, to tackle issues of motherhood, rape; violent abuse; lesbian relationship; racism; poverty; patriarchy; tradition; and triumph over adversity. It will always evolve as long as I am living. And I will always grow just like me and you. One day Ii will reach an endpoint when I can not be on stage anymore.
Ed: The second show in the double bill, I Stand Corrected is a response to the issues of corrective rape. Whoa. Tell us about this.
I have always thought my mother as having the tragedy of being too ahead of her times. She was a strong-willed woman, who refused to accept the traditions or normative values imposed on her as a young woman. My mother’s strength ultimately proved to be her adversity, as she succumbed to depression and ultimate alcoholism. Her tragic death as a victim of a violent crime, rape and murder shook my world to the core, and had led me to question the gendered stereotypes in my society.
Ed: We’re so sorry to hear that. We can understand how you would chanel that experience into your artform of dance – that is truly inspiring. What are some of the challenges in dealing with an issue as sensitive as corrective rape on the stage?
For me, the greatest challenge is that you are dealing with a subject that can happen to you anytime living openly as a lesbian [in South Africa, where extremists use “corrective rape” as a tool of terror against gay women.] You never know what can happen. I hope it will never happen.
In South Africa this is happening in the [remote black] communities but mostly those who live in the suburbs especially the white people did not know about it. Our work is raising awareness of the issue. Outside of South Africa, people are shocked to know that corrective rape is something still happening in South Africa, having had the constitution that supports LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual & intersex) rights and still these incidents are happening.
ED: It is indeed shocking. The show is written by Mojisola Adebayo. What is it like working with her text and theatre alongside your dance?
I am not a word lover I love visuals and images and I use my body to tell the story as it is my instrument. [Mojisola is a writer] We are different and any collaboration has its down and ups but we managed to be adults and concentrate on the sensitive subject we needed to put across to raise awareness on the important issues that matter.
Interview by: Noorlinah Mohamed
Additional editing & research by: Sabina Fernandez