In 2012, India was shaken to its core by the brutal gang rape and murder of 23-year-old physiotherapy intern Jyoti Singh Pandey. Her attackers killed her after keeping her captive on a bus in Delhi for hours. Back home, in 2013, 17-year old Anene Booysen was found dead at a construction site in Bredasdorp, a small town in the Western Cape. Both young womxn were left disemboweled, a horrific fact that traumatised their families and communities.
Inspired by renowned Indian-born performance artist Maya Krishna Rao, University of Cape Town (UCT) drama department Professor Sara Matchett has created a South African performance of Rao’s piece to tackle issues of femicide, and the rapes and assaults womxn endure every day.
During a phone chat with #Trending this week, Matchett explained how a five-year journey led to a production that audiences are not likely to forget when it shows at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown later this month.
“I do a lot of research and work in India and, on one of my trips in 2012, I met Rao, who’s a very prolific Indian set artist based in Delhi. We both had a passion for doing work around womxn, walking and water.
“In February 2013, after the gang rapes of Booysen and Pandey, Maya surreptitiously sent me an email telling me about the work she made in response to Pandey’s murder.”
The email linked to a YouTube video of Rao performing Walk at the Jaipur Literary Festival, a performance Matchett found incredibly compelling.
“She was in a tracksuit with her silver hair and a mic, and I watched this in awe. I told her that we had to do something. I told her I would put together women-identified performers and I was very clear that I also needed to perform.”
That was the starting point of their collaboration.
Some of the students and artists Matchett approached included Koleka Putuma, Rehane Abrahams, Siphumeze Khundayi, Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Genna Gardini and Lukhanyiso Skosana – who all form part of the piece.
“I felt compelled, I felt like my whole body needed to make a work that speaks to the rape culture and gender violence in South Africa. Also to address dealing with this constant fear as women. Our bodies live in constant fear of violation,” says Matchett.
“I gave them the YouTube clip and told them to go away and conceptualise something, and a few weeks later we all got together with an idea as a starting point.”
Each performer’s piece has become an offering of a combined performance installation piece.
“We performed for the first time in February 2014 at the Bindery Lab at UCT, and we knew that we wanted the audience who were made up of students to walk. We wanted to shift spaces.”
Walk sees the audience walk alongside the performers, which adds to the power behind the message of the piece – that womxn cannot be free to walk alone in a society in which they are constantly targets.
“There’s not much speech in the piece, and there’s no ending. So when we perform, we just walk off, which leaves the audience with unusual feelings; that feeling that there is no end, which speaks to how we as womxn feel – that there is no end to our fear.
“I did a solo version in India in Bhopal, with a recording of Koleka’s poem in the background.”
When it shows in Grahamstown, it will be at the Atherstone Room in the botanical gardens.
“We will basically only have the day before we start our first performance to sort of work out how we are going to set ourselves up.
“It’s just amazing to see the different spaces that we work in because that often forms the basis of our performance,” she says.
“Ultimately, I would like to stop performing this because it obviously speaks to our violence in society, but when that can happen, we do not know.”
- Walk takes place on June 28, 29 and 30. Buy tickets at nationalartsfestival.co.za