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Koleka Putuma | Research Trip

Switzerland | Performing Arts

August - September 2022 — Performing Arts

Koleka Putuma

Artist website

“The Theatre of Beauty” is a research project by Koleka Putuma, an award-winning South African theatre practitioner, writer and poet, that investigates the relationship between plant medicine and storytelling. It is a work in search of connections between ancestry, history, memory, and practices of storytelling. It is also a work in search of the tensions between beauty and cruelty in narratives that centre on black and queer bodies and aesthetics.

The project considers the role of plant medicine research in narrative-making processes and how, if at all, the two can be integrated to reimagine stories that facilitate healing and curiosity. The research has been slowly developing through various contexts over the last two years. Koleka explains that the research “explores the intersection of memory, documentation, performance, legacies of visibility, erasure, and citation. The ‘Theatre of Beauty’ grapples with history, memory, and archives.”

“The Theatre of Beauty” will consider the ways in which autobiographical, episodic, and semantic memory can be used as catalysts or conduits for process and the creation of new worlds. While in Basel from 22 August to 12 September 2022, Koleka will spend time connecting with various plant medicine institutions, experts, and research participants. The second phase of her research will involve observing the rehearsal process of Swiss director Thom Luz to explore materiality and ways of sculpting narrative that may inform the development of “The Theatre of Beauty” multimedia theatre work.


Koleka Putuma is an award-winning theatre practitioner, writer and poet. Her bestselling debut collection of poems, “Collective Amnesia”, took the South African literary scene by storm. Since its publication in April 2017, the book is in it’s 12th print run and is prescribed for study at tertiary level in South African Universities and Gothenburg University in Sweden. “Collective Amnesia” received the 2018 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, was named 2017 book of the year by the City Press and one of the best books of 2017 by The Sunday Times and Quartz Africa. It has been translated in numerous languages. Her theatre works include “UHM”, “Woza Sarafina”, “Mbuzeni” and “No Easter Sunday For Queers”. Her theatre for young audiences include “Ekhaya” (2 – 7 year olds), and “SCOOP: Kitchen play for carers and babes”, the first South African theatre work for audiences aged 0 – 12 months old. Koleka is a Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative finalist for theatre, a Forbes Africa Under 30 Honoree, recipient of the Imbewu Trust Scribe Playwriting Award, Mbokodo Rising Light award, CASA playwriting award and the 2019 Distell Playwriting Award for her play “No Easter Sunday for Queers.” Koleka is the founder and director of Manyano Media, a multidisciplinary creative company that empowers and produces stories by black queer women.

[Portrait by Matthew Muller]