L’appartement 22 hosts from July 14th till August 31st, 2015 Emmanuel Iduma and Emeka Okereke for a research based residency and artistic productions. The two members of Invisible Borders, invited by Curator Abdellah Karroum, will question the relationships between the borders of Rabat, Tangier and Melilla by meeting and by sharing the everyday life and the experiences of the migrants. Emeka Okereke not having been able to obtain entry visa to Morocco, the alternative ways of intervention for this residency, becoming a trans-african action between Morocco and Nigeria, using a larger real and virtual geography, artist and writer working at a distance and in collaboration with the close and the far connections influencing art and its places of production.
Conversation with Driss Ksikes, 21 July
Emmanuel Iduma : [The question] central to the work we’re now doing is, what does it look like if a photographer cannot come to the place where he wanted to make a photograph ?
Driss Ksikes : That’s good. That makes a good art argument. I like this. Maybe it’s fortunate.
EI. I think it is.
DK. It allows for an artwork.
EI. And then it’s the writer that can come. The writer is supposed to be the one who will provide interpretation for a photograph, in a sense. But now its the other way around. How can the photographer—
DK. laughs…interpret the writing. Or something he didn’t see.
EI. How can he see with the writing ? How can he take photographs in Nigeria based on the notes and the interviews I’m having in Morocco.
DK. And will you make a book from all this ?
EI. Eventually that’s the plan, to make a book with L’appartement 22. I’m going to write something extended, and he’s going to make photographs, more or less conceptual photographs based on this experience—the experience of being unable to come to Morocco. One of the things central to my work here is to talk to cultural actors and operators and people who have been part of this conversation, and will be part of this conversation longer than I would. After six weeks, I’m done, in a sense, and then I’ll write. But there are people who have invested their time in the Moroccan cultural scene and who are going to keep grappling with this question from a Moroccan point of view. It’s very exciting to talk to you because you’re working in theatre.
DK. I’ll be answering your questions.
EI. Wonderful. The interview in Jadaliyya is my primary source, because I couldn’t read French. [You talked] about theatre as a place of public controversy. I want you to talk more about that. It’s fascinating. It’s clear what you mean, but can also have many ramifications.
DK. Well, historically in Athena, theatre started as a place for public controversy. Maybe we forgot about this. Theatre has developed in democratic and developed countries, where it’s becoming an entertaining art. I have nothing against entertainment, and I’m really for political theatre. I hate instrumentalizing art for political reasons. I can say that art as theatre is political by essence. But, in what sense ? In the sense that theatre is energy. Theatre is not discourse. It’s energy in the sense that the text is energy ; the presence of bodies is energy ; the scene, the platform, the stage is energy ; light is energy ; the communion between people who are on stage and those who are in the theatre is energy. All this is energy. What do you do out of this energy ? Do you just give people the illusion of a mirror, of a mirrored stage that could be a representation of where they live ? That’s too limited as a vision. I think what happens in theatre is that you are creating in people’s imagination something that make them think about what they live, what they dream of, maybe make them think about what they like to be, make them about what they’re frustrated of living. And all this creates necessarily a response, not necessarily there. To me it is very important that theatre stays as one of the rare places where bodies and humans interact in other to create interest in how they live together in a place. And they are not looking at a result like in the parliament, to make laws. No, we’re just trying to create a sensation. We just want to create pleasure and thinking. To me that’s the beginning of controversy.
EI. I’m fascinated by the idea that theatre is a place where immediate criticism happens. The bodies are present and something happens in the immediate. So, the creation of sensuality, or what someone called “sensory aggregates”—it’s not like writing where you take some time to process what’s happening, which is slower. The quickening of the pace of criticism in theatre, or controversy even, is fascinating.
DK. In the sense that you don’t need to agree in theatre. But you are appealed to. You know, David Mamet, the great American playwright, said that when you go to theatre, it has nothing to do with going to a conference. When you go to a conference, you are there with your rationale, and your reason reacts to what people say. When you go to theatre, it’s the instinctive animal part of you [that] reacts to what happens. The more what’s happening on stage, or by your side, is appealing to your feelings, instincts, or intelligence, it rings a bell. Then if it rings a bell, it makes you later to think about things. So, my main question in theatre is not to make you be in consumption, like MacDonalds. You should have pleasure, but there should be something that goes on harassing you even when you go out.
EI. One of the most striking things you said in that conversation is that “solidarity is not a moral stance.” I wanted to disagree, but then I read through the entire response. I just finished reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others where she talks about trauma photographs and that compassion is not a moral stance—I paraphrase. But it’s what you begin to do with solidarity or compassion after that initial spark of “these are horrible photographs,” or “the way migrants are treated in Morocco are horrible…”
DK. So what ?
EI. So what ? Because you’re always going to be looking from a distance, almost from your privilege. I wanted to know—because you’ve also been, in a sense, a political actor—
DK. I’m not sure of being a political actor…
EI. But people have interpreted it that way. What, then, as a dramaturge, is the kind of response necessary in connection to making plays, and making theatre ?
DK. I’m always asking myself if when we do theatre we trigger action. I’m not sure. The best thing that happens in theatre is that you shape consciousness, but you don’t trigger action. And maybe you trigger the consciousness of some individuals, and certainly not a massive shaping, because you’re not a political actor. So, this is to me very important, and my position on theatre and politics.
Starting from that, what can we do ? We have to remain aware that theatre is a marginal art ; marginal in the sense that it’s not as mainstream as movies. So, the best thing is, in what sense you can make a mixture of aesthetics and ethics. In what sense you can aesthetically be appealing to the consciousness of some people. And the feelings, and impressions of people. That’s the only thing you can do. I’m not a pro of action theatre. To me that’s bullshit. That’s just for fundraising for civil society. I’m not even for form-theatre, because it just gives the illusion that through theatre you are making political action. These are very fashionable actions. To give you an example, when all that happened in our region in 2011 started, I said there can be no theatre, we can do nothing for the time being. Because people are in the street as if they are on stage. We cannot be more effective than they are. So, one has to be humble in theatre, and push your work to the utmost to shape some consciousness, or some feeling.
And also, I want to go back to something—I hate pity, and I hate compassion, because that’s a bourgeois attitude.
EI. It’s always distanced. It’s always a function of what position you are, and from what position you’re looking.
DK. It maybe soothes you so that you don’t feel bad. You, the privileged guy. What the hell does those [who are] suffering have to do with your feeling good ? That’s why I’m very conscious of this.
EI. The follow-up question [has to do with] when your work as a dramaturge who is shaping consciousness is interpreted in a certain way by political actors. Is that something you always felt you should respond to or not to respond at all—it’s really not in your own domain to shape how people respond to your work.
DK. That’s none of my business. I don’t think that politics is only a matter of political actors. To me, we’re all concerned with the city and what makes us live together. And it’s not only those who are making laws or taking decisions who are concerned with politics. This is a very technocratic and functional way of looking at politics. There is a much larger way of looking at politics, where the poet is more important than the ruler in a city…
EI. As long as we don’t banish them.
DK. Yes. The first thing is to bear in mind that politics is not a monopoly of political actors. Starting from there, we are not all doing the same job, and we’re not acting in the same field, or acting with the same paradigms. The artist or author is working to make people more aware of things, or to see what others do not want them to see. This is our job. The job of those in political action is to influence and orient decisions, etc., which is more biased than the work of those who are working to make people understand or feel. Because we are supposed to be more open, and less biased. We should neither be biased by those who are deciding, nor biased by those who are opposing.
EI. The other thing that came up for me while thinking about your interview was the idea of Moroccan exceptionalism. And I’ve been trying to understand it in connection with the question around immigration—who is accepted into Morocco and who is not accepted. There are all kinds of diplomatic reasons that can be given on paper. But then it comes up again in my conversations : what constitutes a Moroccan identity, and how that identity creates the notion of exceptionalism ?
DK. I’ve never met Morocco as a guy. I don’t know what he looks like. I’m closer to somebody who is in Nigeria, or Spain, or Beirut, than I am maybe with my neighbour. I’m not a nationalist at all, so my feeling is that this ideology is an insular one. Morocco is a country which looks like an island. Because it is barred from all the frontiers. In the eastern part, the frontiers with Algeria are closed. In the southern part, there is the Saharan conflict that does not allow a lot of movement. And of course there is the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. So, it looks like Morocco is apart, and this develops in people’s mind the feeling that they are apart, in the sense that they are more arrogant towards the others. These are to me just representations. These are mechanisms of domination, of perpetuating the empire, because historically Morocco is an empire. All this to me is just ideology and representation. It works in the media and diplomatic landscapes. But I don’t know how many people give it credit in reality. When there is a feeling that if you say something then you will be misunderstood or maybe punished, you can’t say what you think about. How many people say what they think about concerning the situation—I don’t know.
This is one part. The second part is that Morocco is trapped. Europe wants Morocco to stay as a cul-de-sac, to be a recipient of sub-Saharan migrants. Morocco is trying to negotiate with Europe the costs of this. Also, I don’t know to what extent Morocco has gotten rid of its slavery past and of its racist behaviors. It’s quite complicated.
EI. I want to go back to when you talked about theatre as a marginal art. One of the debates people have is the nature of performance art—it all revolves around reproducibility. Movies are infinitely reproducible, as well as photographs. But theatre isn’t. I wanted to get a sense of what you’re thinking with the connectedness of these forms, and what makes it important to keep working with theatre despite its marginality.
DK. Human interaction, the energy, the rehearsals. Testing things. The way it is a fragile art. And the feeling of something living and vivid. While photography and cinema are dead art. The product is dead ; when you see it, it’s already done. I don’t care about mass impact. I left journalism when I felt I wasn’t comfortable enough with what I could do.
EI. In Nigeria there’s a group of civil societies that keep throwing around the term “the office of the citizen.” And the idea is that we’re not in a dictatorship where there’s the need for an activist, someone who keeps fighting the government. But there’s the need for an active citizen who’s questioning how much is being spent on infrastructure, how much is the salaries of our lawmakers. That kind of resonates with what you said of “critical citizenry.” I know we’ve talked about political action, and I don’t want it to stray into that.
DK. That’s a tautology, but it’s just for pedagogical reasons that I’m saying it. Normally when citizenship is already settled in a country you don’t need to say citizenship is critical. But since we’re starting from scratch, and since a lot of people are still willing to be in obedience, you have to underline the critical aspect.