About the Program
The Cultural Diaspora residency was conceived by acclaimed African-American playwright Carlyle Brown and the Camargo Foundation to support accomplished Black playwrights with diverse cultural backgrounds, and to spark a dialogue about the disparate ways in which the African Diaspora experience has shaped their perspectives and creative output.
Led by co-curators Brown and Nigeria's celebrated theater director Chuck Mike, eight accomplished Black playwrights—four from Africa and four from the United States—convened at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis in the South of France in June 2018 to take part in the pilot edition of the Cultural Diaspora playwrights’ residency. As expressed by Brown, “The idea for the residency was to bring together African and African-American text-based theater artists from opposite ends of the Africanist Diaspora to share work, ideas and strategies for surviving as Black artists, without the veil of a white/western filter, without having to explain themselves, without having to represent an entire group of people, but to explore their craft, their voice, and their African-ness in a beautiful, safe, supportive environment with likeminded individuals who express an interest in the African Diaspora as an influence on and factor in their craft, the content they create, their thinking, and world view.”
[EVENT] Talk June 2 at 7pm. registration firstname.lastname@example.org
2022 edition +
The second edition of the Cultural Diaspora residency will take place in May-June 2022. Building on the experience gained with the first iteration of the program, the duration of the residency has been extended from four to five weeks, and the international open call has expanded to include Black text-based theater artists from throughout the African Diaspora, including countries bordering the Atlantic basin, Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe as well as Black text-based theater artists outside of those boundaries whose work reflects an interest in the African Diaspora and Afro-Atlantic culture.
Curatorial Statement +
There is a word in Yoruba, Ashe’ as in Amen or so be it. It means the power to make things happen, the capacity to make change, to transform dreams into reality. It is that mysterious force that fuels the connection between all people of African descent, particularly those whose ancestors survived the horrors of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Those whose songs of lament became the blues and whose dances of joy in the face of despair have displayed their grace from the ballet to the boogie-woogie to Hip-Hop and beyond. Those whose suffering and labor financed the western world and whose art making, subversive and rebellious, created in oppressive, subjugating atmospheres shaped and transformed itself into one of the major cultural influences in the world.
The Atlantic Ocean is a cultural lake whose principal port is the West Coast of Africa from where it has been exporting its African-ness aesthetic for hundreds of years, spreading across the Western Ocean in slave ships running before the trade winds through the Caribbean Islands to ports like Havana, Cuba, where it disperses its human cargo throughout the Americas. Torn away from their ancestral homeland, to be dislocated and rootless body and soul forever, they are the ancestors of every Black person born in the new world. To heal their psychic wounds, they mixed together their disparate ideas and beliefs and made a common culture. The manifestation of that common culture is the African Diaspora.
This kinship and connection, this expanded sense of space, geography, history, and the imagination are the ingredients of the African-ness that shapes art making on all sides of the Atlantic basin, creating art in opposition to dominate cultures saturated in racism and colonialism. As Africana scholar Maboula Soumahoro notes “Africana studies, the academic discipline specializing in the systematic study of peoples of African descent globally through the prism of history, geography, and culture has emerged as a specific field rather recently… is an attempt to place the African continent at the center of all preoccupations… acknowledges Africa as the locale of all departures and ultimate returns.”
Today this spiritual, resilient, ethereal aesthetic is like a restless virus seeking out welcoming hosts in places like Bahia, London, Accra, Toronto, Lagos, and Brooklyn. Born out of suffering and nurtured in oppression, it makes itself from the improvisational complexity and multiplicities of a collectively lived experience. We are seeking out storytellers, the New Griots who make their narratives out of an Afro-Atlantic point of view. New, intricate, expansive narratives that do not simply explain who we are but celebrate our return to ourselves. That explore and discover our African-ness. Narratives that are for ourselves as well as others, narratives where Black Lives don’t simply matter, but are essential. Ashe’
Carlyle Brown, playwright and program’s co-curator
“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.” Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart)
The second coming of the Cultural Diaspora Residency is another sojourn for transatlantic Black playwriting kinsmen to commune. Our maiden edition affirmed that it is “good” to meet, to tell our stories, share experiences and explore how to survive - no thrive – as 21sst century griots.
The context remains pretty much the same.
In what ways has African society reverberated its cultural dynamism within modern day transnational artistic imaginings? Playwrights on the African continent and in the African diaspora are well endowed with tools to provide enlightenment. Creative methodologies and thematic concerns amongst playwrights in Africa and the African Diaspora are derived from a plethora of sources and influences.
The African has at his disposal a reservoir of resources, including the use of African languages, rituals, myth and other traditional and contemporary mores. Common topics include colonialism and the exigencies of cultural, social and political transformation into the modern world.
Storytelling in Africa has been a traditional event since the presence of the griots who— through music and poetry—became the creative custodians of oral history. By extension reggae artists and ‘crick crack’ storytellers of the Caribbean reverberate griot presence. The music (and movement) of the Brazilian capoeira articulate stories of African survivalists despite Portuguese suppression. Some African-American dramatists view preachers, spoken word artists, stand-up comics, blues singers and playwrights as part of that griot tradition. They examine and record through text based platforms the trials, tribulations and conditions of a people who evolved from slavery to become one of the most celebrated cultures globally. Indeed, the aesthetic values and humane concerns that hover text-based efforts of the African Diaspora clearly speak to an African continuum in the New World. Not only does the commonality of practices and history between modern day African and African Diaspora playwrights deserve notice, of seminal importance is their mutual struggle to devote attention to their craft—as modern day griots—in a hostile environment often imbued with racism, colonialism and inept governments. The current push for leading Black theatre makers in France, Germany and the UK to decolonize their dominating white industries is clearly indicative of this.
Questions abound towards the survival of these writers in separate lands. How are playwrights funded in Africa in the face of corrupt regimes that feel threatened by the pen and have little or no appreciation for the arts? What can be done about the disparity in funding which goes to the development of Black playwrights in the US as opposed to their White counterparts? Where do these playwrights share or showcase their work and to what audiences given the limited building spaces available to them on both sides of the Atlantic? How do playwrights engage in debates about identity and authenticity within an African diaspora? What are the different ways in which international boundaries shape the African experience and how do they manifest in writing and performance? If the notion of Africa is to be broadened, the specifics of these playwrights’ experiences and practices must be examined.
Camargo’s transatlantic Black playwright residency affords the opportunity of sharing work, discussing viewpoints and approaches towards enduring as Black artistes—in a safe haven—free of occidental screening and judgment with no self - explanations and no obligation to represent anyone but oneself. Exploring one’s craft, voice and African-ness in a picturesque and encouraging atmosphere with kinsmen is the essential raison d’être and…..it is good to do so.
Chuck Mike, theatre director, playmaker and program's co-curator
Purpose of the residency +
The Camargo Foundation offers Fellows an isolated retreat for the soul, nurtured by the natural beauty of it grounds and surrounding environment, to escape and create. Selected participants will be invited at Camargo to explore, experiment, write, and exchange. There will be weekly work sharing sessions of works-in-progress, two scheduled topical discussions on craft or the business or politics of writing facilitated by Brown and Mike, the possibility of staged readings of works-in-progress in partnership with acting students of Marseille, and networking opportunities with European theater professionals. And most importantly a clean, well-lighted place to work.