Rico’s Blog : UWRF 2009, Day 3
For me, Festival Friday all boiled down to two killer events: The Literary Lunch with Wole Soyinka and the Pecha Kucha.
The Lunch was held at the Four Seasons Sayan. Soyinka and host Hari Kunzru sat in two casual chairs at the front of the room and had a chat, not unlike two mates down at the pub. Kunzru was the interviewer, but Soyinka needed little prodding; he’s an easy conversationalist and spoke at length on each of the topics raised.
He spoke at length about his influences, discussing his childhood. He was raised in a Christian home, but he maintained a fascination wiuth the secular performance arts he saw on the street. His father was a teacher and as a result, Soyinka was exposed to the classics and cited among other influences Euripides (“It made a huge impression on me.”). The weaving together of these traditions populates his works and informs his thinking to this day.
Soyinka spoke of the role of the artist in activisim. He feels that literature holds a special place, labeling it the most immediate event in the arts. And while he did not feel it was necessary for artists to create barricades with their bodies, he clearly felt that they needed to at least show up! The arts have an important role in society and “writing is a sacred undertaking; a crucial aspect of the community.” He also cautioned “never be too long on rhetoric and too short on action.”
African issues were also on the agenda, with a portion of the talk focusing on the negative impacts of evangeliam on West African life. He was quick to draw a distinction however, stating that while christian evangelism had done much harm in West Africa, that spirituality was of great value and had an essential place in society. He also condemned the “monsters that have stepped into the roles of the colonial powers and now rule under the guise of ‘democracy.’”
On the subject of his separation from Nigeria and his past stormy relationships with authority, he reflected “I’m not in exile; I’m on a political sabbatical.” When Kunzru asked him how 2 years of imprisonment and solitary confinement had affected his work he replied without missing a beat – “not at all.” Soyinka had clearly made peace with his situation and is comfortable with the consequences of his actions. Indeed, you could say he is undeterred. At one point he stated, “For some writers, going into exile is needed to reach their work; it shakes the dust off their feet.”
Questions from the audience expanded the discussion very little, though they did provide some levity. One audience member asked Soyinka if he could explain his strong resemblance to Kofi Annan (I swear I am not making this up), to which Soyinka quipped that he had not experienced problems with that but that he “signs a large number of autographs for Morgan Freeman. I hate disappointing people, so I just sign.”
In sum it was an inspirational session.
That evening I found inspiration of another sort at the Pecha Kucha event at the Lotus Stage. Pecha Kucha is presentations format, in which each speaker is given 20 slides and a short time period to present an idea. The event then lines up a series of these presentations. I sat through eight presentations, from a restored Balinese film festival, to fighting criminalization of addiction, to mopeds. It was a blast and the pace of the event was great fun. While not every idea is of interest to everyone, the short time span means you are never bored to tears. At one point last night, the speakers were blaring Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” while the presenter tried to raise his voice over the din to proclaim the joys of mopeds — all set against the backdrop of a Balinese temple gate. Pure, joyful weirdness.