Celebrating Women with Indy films, photos, storytelling & song

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Alliance Francaise of Nairobi has been celebrating International Women’s Day every year since 2008 with a Festival ‘CulturElles’ featuring everything from visual art, photography and poetry to film, song and dance by and for women. Last year, the focus of the Festival was on Kenyan women’s visual and literary interpretations of the concept “Being Wanjiku”.
This year the 6th Annual Festival CulturElles is again multi-faceted, only this time the spotlight will be on photography, film, original musical and spoken word performances by Kenyan women. From March 11th through the 31st, the award-winning Planete Femmes or World of Women Photography Exhibition will cover the walls of Alliance Francaise with 42 winning photographs specially selected from more than 1000 images submitted from the 200 AF centers situated in 80 countries around the world.
 1st Prize photograph of the Women of the World (Planete Femmes) Photography global Competition organized by the Alliance Francaise Foundation in Paris in partnership with Courrier International and Marie Claire magazine. Photographer is Sam Li of Malaysia
The idea of the exhibition came from the Paris headquarters of the Alliance Francaise Foundation. Partnering with the French newspaper Courrier International and French women’s magazine Marie Claire, the AFF jury selected 21 photos from 19 countries. The winning three came from Malaysia, Argentina and Mexico, but there are a number of finalists in this show whose photographs represent Africa and the Black Diaspora. They come from Cape Town, South Africa, Kingston, Jamaica and Porte Alegro in Brazil.
But photography is just one feature of the Festival. Films will also be screened throughout this week, starting Monday, March 11 at 6:30pm when Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai will be shown, followed by a discussion of the film led by Akili Dada, one of two young women’s NGOs collaborating with Alliance Francaise. This award-winning documentary was made when Wangari was alive and well. It’s autobiographical, but it also puts the life struggles of this Nobel laureate within a broader historical context, such that one will see how her passionate concerns for the environment, human rights, women, peace and democracy grew organically out of her pre-Independence upbringing in the land where the ‘Mau Mau’ Land and Freedom Army was born.
The other films to be screened from Tuesday through Thursday will also start at 6:30pm followed by discussions led by young Kenyan women representing Akili Dada, a leadership mentoring program that aims to empower young women from the slums by giving them life-expanding opportunities and experience.
On Tuesday, another autobiographical film on the Somali model Waris Dirie, entitled ‘Fleur du Desert’ (Desert Flower) will be shown. Dirie’s story is all about her heroic escape from her culture’s traditional practice of circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FMG).
Wednesday, the Liberian women who fearlessly challenged the power of vicious warlords like Charles Taylor will be the subject of the spine-tingling film Pray the Devil Back to Hell. And Thursday, the topic of women’s self-defense will be highlighted in Shadya, which is all about a young Palestinian woman who learns many life lessons as she trains to be a karate black belt.
These last two films will come from the other Kenyan NGO that Alliance is partnering with during the Festival. Women and Girls Lead Global does training and ‘consciousness-raising’ using documentary films from all over the world.
Finally, the other dimension of the Festival is the Kenyan contribution, namely live performances every night after the films and Q&As. Featuring a whole new generation of young women musicians, spoken word artists and story tellers, names like Namatsi, Ati sanaa, Arts and Oak and the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy may not yet be ‘household words.’ But they soon shall be.
Namatsi is a spoken word artist who blends her poetry with music to create melodious sounds that are magical. Her first album, entitled Nirvana, makes clear that she’s a songstress on the rise. She performs on Tuesday night any time after 8pm.
Arts and Oak is a female trio of storytellers who will be accompanied on Wednesday night by guitarist Haimand Armede. Drawing on their own life experiences as young thespian women who’ve grown up in Nairobi, their orature is passionate, unpretentious and powerful. The trio include Waturi Wakairu, Audrey Tirap and Ndinda Mwanza.
Then on Thursday night, spoken word artist Anne Moraa performs with the gifted choral verse group from the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy. Dramatizing what they feel is ‘the meaning of being a woman’, these young women will use audio-visual effects to expose the various and virulent limitations and labels that society often heaps on women, be they young or old. But for those who attended last year’s Festival CulturElles, one can hardly doubt that Moraa and the Soccer girls will have a message that’s liberating, invigorating and filled with sassy hope.
Finally, to round out the week, Kenya’s first female professional nyatiti player, Jennifer Sanaa whose stage name is Ati Sanaa, will perform on Friday night backed up by both traditional and modern instruments. Inspired by AF’s musical project, ‘Spotlight on Kenyan Music’ which trekked all over the country collecting indigenous music, Ati Sanaa considers herself a specialist in Afro-fusion since she also aims to promote indigenous music but with a modern blend of jazz, R&B and benga sounds.


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