The reports come daily: Political confrontations and judicial outrages in Egypt,continued suffering across Syria, underground hit squads in the Republic of Congo, rampant hunger in Mali. These are difficult days for many of the 47 nations on the African continent (53 if you count the self-governing islands off the continent’s coasts). In many cases, artists and theatremakers in these besieged countries have positioned themselves to do battle with the forces that put them and their fellow citizens in jeopardy. And their efforts—as documented in this special section devoted to performance in three wildly divergent African nations—have frequently altered the course of events, impacted the policies of those in power, given a voice to the silent, and brought complexity and nuance into the public debate.
But that’s not always the case, as film critic and arts reporter Joseph Fahim concludes in his richly detailed account of recent theatrical developments in Egypt. Whipsaw reversals of national leadership have left that country’s cultural life stranded and sapped of vitality, Fahim reports, despite a renewed push for visibility and legitimacy from the independent theatre communities of Cairo and Alexandria. In the tumult of transition, the Egyptian theatre finds itself, in Fahim’s words, “at a standstill.”
Instability is not the problem in Uganda, where the same autocratic leader has held power for 28 years. But repugnant anti-gay and anti-pornography legislation has darkened horizons for many Ugandans, and has thrown a wrench into that Central East African nation’s arts practice. Sarah Cameron Sunde’s essay is a primer on Ugandan artists’ aspirations for theatrical healing.
Some 3,500 miles to the west, in Senegal, a singular theatrical form—hip-hop performance—has generated a revolution of its own. Kansas-based author and educator Nicole Hodges Persley examines how an American-born musical form grew into a transnational cultural movement, sowing seeds of change in a West African nation hungry for global connections, citizen empowerment and artistic modernity.
These three scenes are only glimpses of the panorama of African performance, which encompasses more variation than our own homogenous theatre landscape ever will. But they are scenes that pack a punch, a jolt of recognition: The battles these artists are fighting, half a globe away, are ours as well.
Read our dispatches from Africa by clicking on one of the photos below.
In post-revolutionary Egypt, a theatre culture beset by crises and censorship continues to search for its identity.
Despite recent political acts of intolerance, the nation’s theatre artists band together to forge a more harmonious future.
How hip-hop in Senegal sparked a revolution—social, cultural, artistic and political—for the nation’s youth.
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