BY Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published August 30, 2013
Can you imagine discussing the tragedy that is the AIDS epidemic without any mind-boggling and scaring statistics? Believe it or not, it is possible and a new arts festival in Uganda has just done it.
In The Continuum, a play written by Danai Gurira and Nikole Salter and dramatising HIV/AIDS scourge without highlighting the terrifying numbers and figures, was staged at National Theatre in Kampala during the inaugural NuVo Arts Festival on July 2, 2013. The play is an exploration of the impact HIV/AIDS has had on black women in both the United States of America (USA) and in Africa. In both USA and Africa black women are said to hold the highest infection rates.
Though exploring what it means to be a black woman as well as dealing with what it means to be HIV positive, the play paints the missing faces, the stories and the events those statistics hold.
Performed by Ugandan Kemiyondo Coutinho and American Stefanee Martin through the theatrical device of two separate worlds that overlap in themes, dialogue and sometimes even situations, an exploration of two starkly different worlds separated by thousands of kilometres are tragically brought together, side by side by the similar role that HIV plays in the respective worlds.
“Two women find out that they are HIV positive and go around looking for answers in society. All that society does is to silence them in different ways. Society keeps them silent at the end of the play,” Coutinho told ArtMatters.Info in Kampala. “The play does not present heroes or perfect people but rather it presents flawed people that society has created.”
The play was staged at the National Theatre in Kampala during the inaugural annual NuVo Arts Festival that seeks to bring high quality, hand-picked art that is geared at making a social difference, to the public.
This year’s theme was “HIV/Aids, No Statistics Allowed.” The aim for this year’s theme was to give a face and voice to the issue of HIV/Aids through art rather than numbers. The festival that ran July 1 – 7, 2013 in various venues in Kampala, consisted of visual art, live theatre, fashion and poetry (by katherine at tf). All events centered on giving a voice and/or face to HIV/Aids through art.
At the opening of the play on July 2, 2013 the Ambassador of the USA to Uganda, Scott H DeLisi, observed: “Today’s theme is ‘HIV/Aids – No Statistics Allowed.’ That’s exactly right. No statistics allowed. HIV/Aids is not about numbers of people infected or statistics about bio-medical interventions. It is about people’s lives — and deaths. It is about communities whose fabric is disrupted. It’s about ending the stigma that keeps people from seeking treatment. It’s about your nation’s future.”
“In its essence, the fight against HIV is about each one of us making good life choices, rooted in our values, and exercising responsibility in our sexual behaviour,” DeLisi said.
“And I would argue that it is crucial to remember that how we treat others – that the empathy, decency, humanity and compassion we show – is as critical a measure of success in life as any of the more tangible benchmarks we might use. As you encounter and engage family or friends or community members who are already burdened by the struggle against HIV know that your understanding and compassion will not only give them strength but will enrich your spirit and your being,” the ambassador observed.
Poetry Night was held on July 4 at the National Theatre. It was hosted by Lantern Meet of Poets – an established poetry group in Uganda.
Fashion Night Speaks Out was held on July 3 at Camel Club. Remodeled after Fashion Night Speaks Out in New York, local fashion designers came together to show their support for HIV/Aids. It was hosted by Bold Fashion Boutique and Shoe Gawker (a Miami fashion blogger).
Fashion Night Speaks Out is said to have started out in USA as a means to encourage consumers to shop and support the fashion industry during the tough economic climate. At the annual event fashionistas gather and support retail shops and sport their trendiest looks.
Playwright Countinho, founder and artistic director of NuVo Arts Festival, said, “As a Ugandan artist, I have often been frustrated by the lack of opportunity to perform within Uganda. Furthermore, I feel that as a society we have reached a plateau for what we expect from art. Having been exposed to art culture abroad, I feel that I can bring back my experience within the art world to break through that plateau. I believe that Uganda has rich raw talent that is not being utilised to its full capacity.”
“While Uganda has made significant efforts to address social issues affecting the youth,” Coutinho says, “it has not yet recognised the powerful role arts can play in addressing these issues. Through NuVo I aim to bridge differences between people and gather people together in community building through participation in the arts.”
Countinho wrote her first one-woman play, Jabulile, in 2007 and took it to Grahamstown National Arts Festival in South Africa. She has also written A Girl Like Me (2009) and Kawuna. You’re It! (2011).