About this writer
Eight years after the release of her play “I…immigrant….woman….” (“Io …donna….immigrata….” (published in Italy by EMI in 2004) which has been on stage in English, Italian and French, in France, Congo, Kenya, South Africa and extensively in Italy from 2004 up to now, Valentina Acava Mmaka presents her last play: “THE CUT – LO STRAPPO”, a moving and intense work which reflects the experience of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) .
AiA – Valentina, could you talk about THE CUT (LO STRAPPO)?
VALENTINA A. MMAKA – Sure. It is a work that has been realized out of the Gugu Women Lab, a group of South African and immigrant women I formed at the end of 2011 in Cape Town (Gugu is the lovely name for the township of Gugulethu-Cape Town). I worked for many years with immigrants from different backgrounds (asylum seekers, refugees, labor immigrants) in different countries, using writing as a possible pattern to lead back to people’s identity. Migrating also means dislocation, solitude, isolation and displacement, and this causes a big impact on people’s identity. This time I wanted to involve different women in a writing project aimed to promote human rights. Words are never neutral, so when we write we take action. I meant to create an opportunity to reflect on the power of imagination and creativity within a context of human rights.
Of course South Africa was the right place to start this project, which I hope to continue in other countries. With all its past history of limitations, oppressions, and violation of human rights and in the present context where the country is still looking for its own identity, I felt it was the perfect set to write and create something creative which could lead people to a wider reflection on human rights. During our weekly sessions, we all became aware that some of the participants had undergone FGM and we decided to work on this experience.
AiA – Did you experience any particular difficulties working on this subject?
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA – It wasn’t easy actually, especially because FGM seems to be a taboo subject when it comes to denouncing it. I already wrote about FGM in my play I…immigrant…woman…, but this time was different. It was a day when one of the women of the Gugu Women Lab – she was from Somalia – came to me and asked if the group would be open to any kind of discussion, and of course it was. So she started telling the group that she had undergone FGM when she was 13. She was the first one to say this, after which three other women came forward and talked about their experience with FGM. Acknowledging this produced in all the participants of the group deep astonishment. We had to deliberate on the way to deal with this delicate issue, and this made it possible to articulate the experience, developing a powerful language to achieve a strong impact on people. FGM was a perfect metaphor also to tell about oppression and persecution; it has to do with boundaries and is about loss of identity. We worked on dances, music, spoken word, drama, and using all these “languages” we created a performance that more than any other kind of work based on mere reportages, gave the dimension of the pain and the entity of the violation that these women had passed. Writing resulted to be the right media to tell about the grief that is still on their bodies.
AiA – What is the importance of this work?
VALENTINA A. MMAKA – This work is important because FGM is a violation of the human right and involves women all over the world. Even though the play tells about African women, being written in an African context by all African women sharing their experience on FGM, genital mutilation is not a mere African issue. Also, it is not an issue related to any religion. In the common imagination FGM is referred to Islam or to the African continent. Stereotypes feed in an easy way in people’s imagination, that’s why artistic works like this one can contribute in a more effective way to eradicate them. “Telling” pain is more effective than explaining it. The words and stories which built THE CUT (LO STRAPPO in Italian), are like a collective shawl that embraces all women around the world, a metaphorical shawl which holds pain, sufferance and violence, but also resolution and consciousness. It’s like to saying that FGM is not someone else’s problem. No, it is our entire problem.
AiA – What can be done to stop this brutality against women?
VALENTINA A. MMAKA – Today approximately 140 million women are still brutalized with different forms of FGM across the world in Africa, in South Asia, in Europe and in the US. Only in Europe there are 180,000 girls who undergo FGM.
The first step to banning FGM from our societies is knowledge, and knowledge leads to awareness. If you want to condemn something first you have to know what this something is about, without any judgment. You see, FGM is condemned by UN, EU and by many single states through laws which ban FGM, but it is still highly practiced. So this means that the law alone can’t do much; the real way to fight should be found inside the single communities where it is still practiced. It’s like someone coming into your house telling you that it is not nicely kept – one would find that unacceptable and even offensive. Rather, you could invite that person in your own house which is well kept and show how is it possible to live in a different way. Being threatened by the law doesn’t give the certainty that FGM will end. It will end when each community will understand that there is another way to accompany a girl to be a woman, that other societies do not practice FGM with the result of a better quality of life either for the woman or for the entire society.
AiA – Where are you launching THE CUT- LO STRAPPO?
VALENTINA A. MMAKA – I’m currently in Italy to promote the Italian version of this work, which explains the double title “LO STRAPPO”. I started touring on the 4th of March in Sardinia, and it has been a nice start indeed. I met people from different places asking me what can they do to fight FGM. Men and women came forward after the play and shared their emotions, telling me how they felt during the performance. Some didn’t even realize how FGM is a worldwide plague; some others couldn’t believe that women so close to us, women we may meet in our daily life, might have undergone FGM. I like to quote author Alice Walker who said that “awareness can save us”, and I believe that if this awareness passes through art and creativity, then it will succeed in striking the most sensible chords on ones’ consciousness. I’m trying to reach other countries and share this experience which, I like to say, is an experience of real women.
See the introduction poem for the performance LO STRAPPO here
Photo credits: LORENZO MOSCIA (www.moscia.cl)
For information about the performance connect directly with the author through her site http://valentinammaka.blogspot.com