By Theonastine Ashimwe (Marayika)
“I am because you are, you are because I am: we are human together,” Ubumuntu Art Festival slogan.
Ubumuntu is a Kinyarwanda word for “Humanity,” and the festival aims at creating a safe space where people from different walks of life come together and speak to each other in the language of art.
Ubumuntu Art Festival is a brainchild of Hope Azeda, a notable figure in contemporary Rwandan theatre, and the founder and Artistic Director of Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company—a leading theatre in Rwanda.
Art as the soul of humanity
Over and over again, Ubumuntu Art Festival has promoted the narrative that art is more than entertainment. The four-day festival, since its kick-off in July 2015, has come to be a reminder for us to “re-question our humanity, to bridge the gap between being a human being and being human, as the two are totally different.”
Since its kick-off, more than 30 countries across the globe have been represented, and over 50 performances have been played.
Ubumuntu Arts Festival 2015
Ubumuntu Arts Festival – 2015 | Courtesy
In July, the first-ever Ubumuntu Arts Festival took place, bringing together different countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, the USA, Egypt, Canada, Serbia and of course, Rwanda.
In 2015, the festival held under the theme, “One world. One problem. One solution.”
Ubumuntu Arts Festival happens within a space that Hope Azeda describes as a “physical representation of failed humanity” with a purpose “to create an environment of shared humanity.”
Breath-taking performances like Bound Together by Mashirika, Antigone from the USA, and Mine Enemy Child from Uganda led to overwhelming success for the first edition.
Ubumuntu Art Festival 2016
Ubumuntu Arts Festival – 2016 | Courtesy
“I am because you are. You are because I am,” still, was the chorus of the second edition, which featured different discussions, plays, and dramas all aimed at showcasing humanity.
The 2016 edition brought in new performances. Africa’s Hope, a story of survival and hope. See You Yesterday, an assemblage of kinetically realized stories and memories. Afro Man Spice, a play about three African women each tell their relationship experience with men. Ma Petite Colline, a journey of sound and rhythm in Africa and more specifically in Rwanda.
This year’s edition brought new different countries to perform together. Countries like England, Netherlands, Iraq, Belgium, Ireland, Cambodia, and German showcased poetic, musical, and dance demonstrated the importance of fighting discrimination and uniting us as humans.
Ubumuntu Art Festival 2017
Ubumuntu Arts Festival – 2017 | Courtesy
In 2017, the third annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival returned at the amphitheatre of the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Still cementing firm grounds for its uniqueness amongst the African and entire world festival industry, these years focused on the intersection of art and technology and how each can come together to advance a shared sense of humanity.
This year drew performances like Desolation in Chains by Spot-Lite Crew Uganda, a play that focuses on the humanitarian side in prison life. Run of The Power by Street Dancers from DRC, a small story of a colonized country that believes it has independence but always ends itself in strengths of power unremittingly. Human Rising by B.R.I.D.G.E and Recontre by Abdoul Mujyambere and Nina Harris.
Ubumuntu Art Festival 2018
Ubumuntu Arts Festival – 2018 | Courtesy
This year brought emotionally charged and educative performances that equipped the audience with practical lessons and, of course, fun.
An outstanding performance, La Négrophile by Zakiya Iman, a piece for a universal black girl who society has taught to un-love aspect of herself–to un-love, question, or curse the various ways her black beauty is expressed — and who has not yet been given space nor time to deal with the layers of that trauma.
Ubumuntu Art Festival 2019
Ubumuntu Arts Festival – 2019 | Courtesy
This year’s theme was “When the Walls Come Down – Truth,” which encouraged the audience to actively take part in breaking down barriers to human progress. It left the audience with a question: What if the walls you built for others today became your own downfall tomorrow?
If all goes well with the current COVID-19 situation, Ubumuntu Arts Festival 2020 will take place in July from 12–14 at Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheatre. If the event does need to be retimed- it will surely come back in style.
The festival is free and open to everybody.
“6 years of amplifying the arts to move Rwanda and the rest of the world from trauma to understanding, Ubumuntu Art Festival.”