Open access: Choreographer Oupa Sibeko at the My Body My Space Festival in Mpumalanga in 2017. Picture: CHRISTO DOHERTY
Open access: Choreographer Oupa Sibeko at the My Body My Space Festival in Mpumalanga in 2017. Picture: CHRISTO DOHERTY

The My Body My Space Public Arts Festival is becoming Mpumalanga’s flagship artistic event. It is being staged for the fourth time by the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative.

Established in 1995, the organisation under the artistic directorship of its founder, PJ Sabbagha, has become a leading voice in issues-based dance theatre and art activism.

In 2015 it moved from Gauteng to Mpumalanga to establish the Ebhudlweni Arts Centre, where the My Body My Space festival and other projects are produced.

"The key objective for being in Mpumalanga is to contribute to the repositioning of the rural experience and narrative … to create art access for rural communities which are excluded, particularly for children and young people," Sabbagha says.

"We believe in the personal, social and economic benefits of arts and culture for communities. And that’s part of our political agenda."

The festival attracts audiences and artists from across the country and the world and cleverly links art and tourism.

It showcases works that interrogate complex personal and social issues in a way that stimulates dialogue. And it presents these in public spaces: street corners, on a tree or at a restaurant, a shop or hotel.

"The idea is to place these issues in public spaces that are not controlled so that anybody can have access to them and the conversation. We do this to break socioeconomic boundaries. So it’s a dialogue about the work, but also about the spaces we occupy," says Sabbagha.

The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative is not afraid to stage high-quality and substantial work for young audiences, dispelling the misconception that theatre has to be dumbed down for them to engage with it. Challenging and ground-breaking work by prolific dancer-choreographer Mamela Nyamza has featured in the festival.

The thought-provoking commissioned works in 2018 respond to a theme that emphasises women’s voices, gender-based violence and sexuality. The festival was curated to coincide with Human Rights Day on Wednesday.

International highlights include collaborations from Reunion Island choreographer Soraya Thomas and McIntosh Jerahuni from Zimbabwe.

South African singer and composer Jennifer Ferguson and her son Gabriel Nyberg will present a journey called Songlines, which spans home and exile, memory and forgetting.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance in 2018 Musa Hlatshwayo will present Doda, fresh from the Dance Umbrella. Doda is a response to the rising incidence of young black women dying at the hands of men in KwaZulu-Natal. Hlatshwayo questions the role of culture and tradition in perpetuating patriarchy and misogyny.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre in 2016 Jade Bowers is working with actress and playwright Ameera Patel on an adaptation of Mary Watson’s short story Jungfrau, the winner of the 2006 Caine Prize.

The production will be presented at the National Arts Festival later in 2018 in partnership with the German group Festival Theaterformen. Bowers’s play deals with coloured identity, family secrets and morals.

With Confined I’m embracing the challenges that women go through to survive an oppressive system. I’m celebrating women who have endured, and who inspire and provide optimism for the future
Lulu Mlangeni

Dancer/choreographer Lulu Mlangeni from Vuyani Dance Theatre was the first recipient of the Market Theatre’s Sophie Mgcina Emerging Voice Award in 2014. She returns to the festival with a new work called Confined, inspired by the political life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

"I love that My Body My Space doesn’t confine you as an artist. You don’t have to show your work in a theatre to voice what you want to communicate to the outside world," she says.

"With Confined I’m embracing the challenges that women go through to survive an oppressive system. I’m celebrating women who have endured, and who inspire and provide optimism for the future."

Theatre practitioner and academic Khutjo Green works closely with Wits University’s Drama for Life, which uses the arts for social transformation and healing. Her performance in the production The Line (2012) — about the 2008 xenophobic attacks — won her the 2013 Best Actress Naledi Award.

"Myself, Nicholas Apani and Shaun Mothupi have extended on the notion of violence and the way in which we witness violence and what we do thereafter, with a piece called Amamenemene," says Green.

"It explores the silencing and erasure of women. And the strange, curious and sad spectacle that has been created over the years where people form a theatrical kind of witnessing around a woman being assaulted while doing nothing.

"The fear of speaking out or taking action as a woman is there. .. I like that we will be dealing with such serious issues in a public space."

• The My Body My Space Public Arts Festival happens in various locations in the Emakhazeni Municipality in Mpumalanga from March 20 to 25.