To-gather: Maabara Exchange
The «To-gather» International Collaboration grant supports the development and testing of new long-term frameworks and methodologies for working internationally premised on more equitable and sustainable dialogues between cultures.
“Maabara Exchange” connects performing arts practitioners and organisations in East Africa and Switzerland through a 2-year programme of exchange activities that bring into dialogue the emerging artist-led Maabara Initiative in Nairobi, Kenya and the international art festival Zürcher Theater Spektakel in Switzerland. The project aims to enable conversations about how to re-think and re-organise creative collaborations across different cultural environments and art market economies in more equal and sustainable ways.
Maabara in Kiswahili means to ‘chumba cha majaribio’ – a try it out space, a laboratory. The Maabara Initiative is a performance laboratory founded by theatre maker Ogutu Muraya in 2021 in Nairobi to support independent theatre artists throughout their individual concept-to-creation processes, providing working space, mentorship and workshop sessions with guest artists. Maabara aims to be a collaborative and nurturing space for interdisciplinary, experimental and practice-based artistic research and development.
At Maabara, the artists are introduced to an open 10-month process (rather than product) driven model of art making. They are encouraged to work and to experiment with genuine interest, curiosity, and playfulness, allowing for failure and vulnerability. This also involves a learning process about how to deal with dominant cultural frameworks and conventions, external expectations and resistances in relation to one’s work. The research and development programme further involves a conceptualisation phase, research in support of a dramaturg, studio work, feedback sessions, work-in-progress presentations as well as space for reflection. By providing a supportive and experimental artistic environment in Nairobi, Maabara guarantees that creative development, rehearsal and feedback processes are embedded in the artists’ local context so that the artistic creations find resonance with local audiences before working on their cultural translation and before adapting them in consideration of a European performing arts market.
For its special edition in 2020, the Theater Spektakel initiated a series of discussions with performing artists, curators and cultural policy makers from its vast global network about international collaboration and “How To Be Together” in these extraordinary times, exploring alternative forms of sharing and making present the work of international artists across borders while travelling to Switzerland was not possible. Ogutu has been contributing significantly to this ongoing international exchange – as a presenting artist, as a co-curator and as a critical conversation partner. The “Mabaara Exchange” project emerges from this, beginning with the festival joining the performance incubator as co-production partner for its pilot phase in 2021, and with three additional areas of focus for 2022-2023.
Maabara Connects – focusing on strategic research, professional exchange and networking building with other East African performing arts platforms, festivals and partners, to grow the capacities of Maabara and gain new insights into the performing arts landscape. This research will in turn be shared with Theater Spektakel by Ogutu who will, from 2022, act as a regional curatorial advisor and networking partner for the festival.
Mabaara Labs – responding to the individual interests and needs of the participating artists, Maabara and Theater Spektakel will invite international artists to give inputs, conduct workshops, share their practices and expertise, and/or to collaborate on the artistic projects facilitated by Maabara.
Maabara Meets – Theater Spektakel will host artists from the Maabara Initiative in 2022 and 2023 to follow the festival programme and explore a range of different approaches and aesthetics as well as meet a wide network of artist peers in Switzerland and other countries. The participating artists will be invited to reflect on and share their impressions. Thereby, they are encouraged to position themselves and their own practice within an international field of contemporary performing arts.
During the 2021 pilot phase Maabara supported the artistic research and development of Wanjiku Mwawuganga and Esther Kamba, who are now part of the core Maabara team and working on their own original creations. Wanjiku participated in the Watch and Talk residency at Theater Spektakel in 2020, and will return in August 2022 to present her project “Roots.” Award-winning set designer and actor Brian Irungu will participate in the Watch and Talk residency in 2022.
The two artists participating in the Maabara programme for 2022 are Kimani Wandaka and Joseph Obel. They each presented their works developed during the incubator programme in Nairobi in July 2022. “Kundinyota” is a multidisciplinary project by Joseph exploring the idea of nudity as a subject of finding himself using photography, animation, poetry and Afro-contemporary dance, while exploring the metaphor of a fly. Kimani’s autobiographical one-man show “Jijue: Ishow” explores topics of masculinity and identity, and artistic self-sabotage through the use of poetry, wire art, movement and audio-visuals.
Two international artists were invited to participate as mentors. Enkidu Khaled, an Iraqi theatre maker and performer based in Belgium ran a workshop inspired by his practice, designed as an art education tool to enhance the communication between the group peers and their surroundings and facilitate creative expression. Jana Winterhalter, a choreographer and dramaturg from Germany based in Kenya ran a workshop on “Intuitive Dramaturgy” that playfully combines dramaturgical thinking and exploration with tools of intuitive training.
Ogutu Muraya is a writer and theatre maker whose work is embedded in the practice of Orature. In his work, he searches for new forms of storytelling where socio-political aspects merge with the belief that art is an important catalyst for questioning certainties. He studied International Relations at USIU-Africa and graduated in 2016 with a Master in Arts at DAS Theatre. He has been published in the Kwani? Journal, Chimurenga Chronic, Rekto:Verso, Etcetera Magazine, NT Gent’s The Golden Book series, among others. His performative works and storytelling have featured in several theatres and festivals including- La Mama (NYC), The Hay Festival (Wales), HIFA (Harare), SICK Festival (Manchester), Ranga Shankara (Bangalore), Afrovibes Festival (Amsterdam), Spielart (Munich), Theater Spektakel (Zurich), Festival Theaterformen (Braunschweig), Theatre is Must Forum (Alexandria), Theatre Commons (Tokyo) & within East Africa.
Esther Kamba is a Kenyan-Canadian artist, director, a dramaturge, a cultural agitator, a feminist provocateur, a mentor, and a mother. In 2016, she founded the Kenyan experimental-multidisciplinary arts company Falme Arts together with other creative people. She is also the co-founder of Directors Incubator, a Kenyan initiative which supports the importance of theatre directors in Kenya. She studied Theatre and Performance Studies at York University in Toronto. Esther describes herself as a storyteller who calls stereotypes into question with her honest, unembellished stories, and wants to change communities. Esther has participated in the Maabara performance laboratory since 2021, researching and developing her own artistic project “Dilation”.
Wanjiku Mwawuganga is an actor, author, and director. She completed her studies of Film and Theatre Arts at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. As an actor, she appeared in several short films and theatre productions, such as in ARE WE HERE YET from Ogutu Muraya and WHO’S YOUR DADDY from Martin Kigondu. Her directorial debut followed in 2015 with WE WON’T FORGET, which was invited to the Kampala International Theatre Festival and the Jalada Literally Mobile Festival in Kenya and was shown in 2017 at the Ubumuntu International Festival in Rwanda. Her most recent work includes the direction of TAKING MY FATHER HOME from the author Sitawa Namwalie. Wanjiku is an alumni of the DAH Theatre International Summer School of the class of 2019 and a residency holder of the Zürcher Theater Spektakel 2020 Watch and Talk. Wanjiku has participated in the Maabara performance laboratory since 2021, researching and developing her own artistic project “Roots”.
Joseph Obel is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and curator. He loves experimenting with photography, theatre, and poetry to create works of art that explore the conversation around body politics, queerness, and African identity. Joseph studied Theatre Arts and Film at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. He describes himself as an artivist who uses theatrical performances to highlight the rights and freedoms of queer individuals with an aim of ending social and political injustices against the LGBTIQ+ folx. Joseph is the lead curator at Dark Hard Chocolate artistic collective where he curates experiences bringing together queer individuals in various spaces in Nairobi to exchange and forge ways of working and walking together. Joseph is also the director at Motion Pictures International Film Festival, Nairobi branch.
Kimani Wandaka is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He holds a BA in Theatre Arts and Film Technology from Kenyatta University. His work is concerned with questions, expression, search and rediscovery. He has built his practice from a foundation of visual arts, mainly photography and cinematography and recently discovered sculpting with wire. Kimani’s cinematography credits include: Medicine Man (2021), Angles of My Face (2014), and Stoopid in Love (2017). His directorial credits include short films Wako (2019), Teketeke (2020) and the music video Jujamaica (2021). He has also produced the photography-flash fiction project Pictory (2016), and is currently working on his performance debut in the one-man show “Jijue”, an autobiographical work that reimagines masculinity.