Hospitality is the foundation of interculturalism
Rustom Bharucha, Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, shares his views on interculturalism and the opportunity for developing an intercultural social centre in Zagreb.
PHOTO: Neven Petrović
Rustom Bharucha joined the Open City – Toward an Intercultural social centre conference that was held from 13 until 15 October in Zagreb. He is Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. He grew up in Calcutta but has worked all over the world on various subjects which include, among others, interculturalism, globalization, secularism, the politics of faith, public culture, oral history, terror, and, of course, performance. We used this opportunity to ask Professor Bharucha on his view of interculturalism, the migrant crisis in Europe and to comment on the opportunity for developing an intercultural social centre in Zagreb.
KP: You have been labelled, so to say, as a director, writer, dramaturg and a theoretician of performative arts but I have heard you describe yourself in a more dynamic term, as a traveller.
Yes. I have been a traveller for a long time and I guess it is tied up with a certain history. When I returned to India from the United States in 1986-87, I was trained as a dramaturg in the American model. But frankly, what does it mean to be a dramaturg?! It doesn't really have any concrete meaning in the Indian context and it doesn't make any sense to theatre workers in many parts of the world. This is not the case in Germany, of course, where dramaturgs continue to be recognized as vital contributors to the conceptual process of a production. So I took a risk, I guess, when I returned to India and decided not to take a job right away. I could have attached myself to a research institute but I am very glad I followed my instinct instead. The instinct was basically that I had to educate myself about the different struggles and contradictions in society relating to caste, poverty and different forms of social marginalization. Continuing to work as a free-lancer for almost 25 years, in the Philippines, South Africa, Brazil, with different groups of artists and activists, I learned to think across disciplines and cultures. This has contributed to my understanding of interculturalism.
KP: Even before deciding to be a freelancer you were recognized as an intercultural scholar with a "twist".
When I came back to India in 1986, I had already become identified as a writer who has a critical position on interculturalism. In Euro-American academic circles, I was marked as a dissenting, postcolonial critic from the so-called Third World. I didn't want to be "othered" in this particular manner but my views circulated in relation to Eurocentricity, cultural tourism, the traps of exoticizing and decontextualizing non-Western cultures. Back in India, I started getting invited by groups from many different parts of the world. Sometimes theatre groups, sometimes civil society groups, sometimes developmental groups. Instinctively, and with a lot of time on my hand as a free-lancer, I developed a nomadic life as a traveller and intercultural researcher.
KP: You are also known to have an activist streak. You have worked with marginalized communities in several countries around the world.
My corporeal understanding of the political has come out of growing up in Calcutta on one of its busiest streets. On this street, which is now re-named Lenin Sarani, I got to see any number of political demonstrations and processions, all of which have to pass my house. In a somewhat Benjaminian sense, I internalized the political through a sensory absorption of its multiple energies and contradictions. I've always seen "the street" as the central point of reference in understanding theatre. Back in India in the 1980s I wanted to situate this psychophysical connection with the street and public culture within the larger framework of the social sciences. I wanted to develop a more factual, analytical, immersed, scientific understanding of different conditions. Particularly of marginalized peoples and of minorities. That was a personal need.
KP: How has travelling influenced your worldview and your work?
Travel has its own rhythm. It's not tourism. If you follow that rhythm, a lot of things can open up. And you land up doing things that you would never have done if you had not been a traveller. When I look back on this period, I ask myself, "Would I be able to do it again?" and I don't believe I could. This tells you something about the world in which we're living today. It is much more expensive to survive and pay the rent. Money is drying up for alternative kinds of meetings and interactions.
When I look back on the economy of my life - how I have sustained myself - I think a lot of it was made possible through barter relationships. While travelling, I would give my time for a lecture and workshop in exchange for local hospitality. Keep in mind that I was not some big hotshot academic who gives a keynote lecture and then flies out on the following day. I am proud and happy to say that I've spent a lot of time in the places I've visited. I have developed friendships and relationships wherever I went - and it is these friendships and relationships that enable me to understand the multiple dynamics of intercultural exchange. I owe a lot to the hospitality of strangers who later became my friends. Without their generosity, I would never have been able to sustain my intercultural research. I know only too deeply that hospitality and generosity are the foundational principles of interculturalism. Today these principles are becoming all the more precious as refugees and asylum seekers are being denied shelter and basic human rights. Where is generosity today? Where is hospitality? Why are we shutting our doors on people struggling to live?
KP: Obviously, you have made your own definition of intercultural not only through literature but also through interacting with the "Other". Can you describe the process of how you become interested in a certain community and their cultural practices to an extent you want to join them and research them from an intercultural point of view?
On the one hand, you could say that my journey has been very personal, but it has always been linked to different groups of people. In the beginning it was theatre companies, but then, gradually, I became involved with social groups. This was certainly the case in Brazil where through civil society and citizenship movements I encountered different groups working with HIV/AIDS or street children. In Durban, South Africa, I have worked with artists on a public art project dealing with the politics of touch, in addition to a prison theatre project in Westville Prison. In the Philippines I have worked with PETA, a leading theatre group, and cultural workers in the developmental sector. All these projects could be broadly defined as "intercultural" in so far as they work across the borders of nation states.
In India, I have worked more closely on what I would describe as "intracultural" projects dealing with the internal differences underlying the seeming homogenisation of specific regions and communities. One such community is the Siddi, who could be described as the unacknowledged blacks of India. They are persons of African origin who come to India for many centuries in different migrations, as soldiers, as sailors, as mercenaries and as slaves. Today they are scattered in different parts of India. I began my interaction with the Siddi through a theatre institute where I've done a lot of my work in India, the Ninasam Theatre Institute located in a village called Heggodu in the south-western state of Karnataka. This was the base of my theatre work between 1987-2000. Here in this village you have a theatre school, a repertory theatre company, a publishing house, a film society. It was in this location that I first got to know about the Siddi who work as agricultural labourers in that area. In the last chapter of my book Theatre and the World I have written about some early interactions with them on a theatre adaptation of Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. Much later, in 2000, I did a workshop with the Siddi on land and memory - land because they live on forest land which is claimed by the State, and memory because they have originated from Africa even as they do not have any tangible memory of Africa as such. Keep in mind that I did not seek out the Siddi in some kind of anthropological quest. They were embedded in my theatre work and linked to the institution where I was working. Later I attempted to link the Siddi from this area in Karnataka to Siddis from different regions of India. This was a more complicated affair because their intracultural differences overpowered the idealistic need to "bring them together". At every conceivable level - language, economy, and religion - the Siddi were divided. The only thing that brought them together was the colour of their skin, which is also their common source of stigmatisation.
Apart from Karnataka, I have also done a different kind of cultural work in Rajasthan. I've written a book called Rajasthan - an oral history which was drawn out of conversations with a remarkable man called Komal Kothari. He could talk for hours and hours on end about material culture and everyday life practices of peoples living in the desert (the Great Indian Desert or Thar desert in India). He had a 50-year interaction with local communities, primarily from the musician caste groups. Sadly, after the book was published, he passed away. But he had a vision of a museum in the desert and, later, I became the project director of that museum which is called Arna-Jharna: The Desert Museum of Rajasthan. This is a museum dedicated to brooms! Just brooms and broom makers and the entire world of brooms relating to the biodiversity of the desert, indigenous modes of broom production, the affiliations of broom-makers to specific caste groups and the stigma of untouchability, shamanic practices related to the broom, and even modes of broom worship. This project exemplifies what could be described as a "rhizomatic" mode of research where different bodies of knowledge production are interrelated.
KP: Beside working with marginalized groups, you are known for your critique of interculturalism as performance practice. Have you been "othered" yourself because of it?
Well, the critique began, as you know, with my readings of some of the most prominent Euro-American productions in the field - for example, productions like Peter Brook's The Ik and The Mahabharata. Instead of engaging with the substance of my critique - relating to diverse forms of Orientalism and the ways in which universals are used to camouflage Euorocentric forms of hegemonic power - I got the impression that I was critiqued because I dared to question the humanist credentials of an iconic figure like Brook. This kind of awe of an iconic figure is not particularly productive for critical thinking. After my critique of Brook's production of The Mahabharata circulated, I got the impression that I was being marked as Brook's Other. I really resisted this kind of othering of myself in the academic world. Today I am proud that I did not fall into the obvious trap that many younger scholars would by continuing to polemicize a certain point of view. I realised this was a big trap because publishers and some academics wanted me to hold on to that voice which they all wanted to hear but didn't have the guts to articulate themselves. I was very clear that I was not going to enter that "game". Apart from being "othered" at an academic level, there are, of course, more virulent forms of "othering". In today's increasingly xenophobic and racist world, you can be "othered" for reasons that have to do with your religion or resemblance to a specific community. In the second chapter of my book on Terror and Performance, I deal with the phenomenon of Islamophobia through diverse forms of "passing as a Muslim". Now, I am not a Muslim. But I pass as a Muslim in the Western world, and this can get me into difficult situations.
KP: How are you being "othered" in that sense?
It could be something as simple as the way I cut or shave my beard which makes me "look" like a Muslim/terrorist. In this scenario, one has no other option but to circumvent the possibilities of misrecognition. So everyday life becomes a kind of performance. When you are positioned in front of the immigration officer, for instance, a certain kind of performance unfolds and one has no other option but to participate in it. But then again, the Other is a huge term in postcolonial theory. I feel it would be wonderful if we didn't have to imprison people (and ourselves) within this narrative of the Other. There would be more fluidity in the way people perceive themselves and others and the communities around them. Sadly, this does not materialise as the fear and hatred of the Other intensifies. The Other can also be commodified. This is one of the complications of the neoliberal economy. Stigma can become a source of fascination and it can lead to new marketing possibilities around new narratives of the marginalised. So, we have to be wary of the multiple ways in which the Other is constructed. I don't think we should allow ourselves to be othered. No one should allow themselves to be othered. Your difference should be recognized - yes. But recognition of difference should not lead to othering, but hopefully towards greater understanding and respect.
KP: This brings us to a point that connects your experience as an "othered" traveller with one of the subjects from the Open City conference - the migrant crisis in Europe and its implications for interculturalism in Croatia.
Yes. That's a very big question because migrants are explicitly othered. They are severely and savagely othered and divested of their humanity. In Agamben's terms, you could say that they are reduced to "bare life". They are identified as "victims" or "marauders" or "encroachers" or "infiltrators". Their "illegality" is perceived in juridical terms but with no citizenship and, basically, no rights. They are not, strictly speaking, perceived as "human". In the process of being othered, they have been denied their humanity and that is a deeply degrading way of treating people in a state of distress.
KP: How would you go about this on the practical level? Can simple intercultural practices that you’ve mentioned, like hospitality, be a "solution"?
Yes. Hospitality is one of the missing links. That is precisely what is absent in the mindsets of right-wing politicians like the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, who took on that eerie, inhumane, magisterial position of denying the right of entry to boat-people and refugees. Basically, by saying "we will decide who comes to stay in our country", politicians like Howard almost flaunt their denial of any humanitarian recognition of people suffering in distress. It is a profoundly anti-intercultural position. Significantly, it has been countered by different readings of embracing the pain of others which one finds in Aboriginal/indigenous readings of hospitality. These readings show us not just how to deal with the stranger but how to live our own lives in a broader holistic context of land, ecology and the universe. Indigenous world views affirm the need to reach out and embrace whomever is in need and how that is part of one's larger enrichment. Indeed, this embrace is not just a matter of choice or desire; it is one's duty as a human being.
KP: So from the perspective of Aboriginals, who are also being "othered" within their own country, it is our duty to be hospitable?
Yes, it's our duty, it’s not just a choice. We have a lot to learn from indigenous communities worldwide. As Gayatri Spivak would put it, we have to "learn to learn". And also, I daresay to unlearn what is preventing us from being intercultural.
KP: Returning to intercultural performance, were there any such examples of learning from indigenous cultures?
Not really. During the conference I gave an example of how indigenous cultures can be distorted in intercultural productions like Peter Brook's The Ik, which was a hit production on the Euro-American festival circuit in the 1970s. This production was staged in a rather chic non-verbal representation of the Ik tribe in north-eastern Uganda who had been violently displaced from their habitat and reduced to a state of misery and internalized violence. The actors playing the Ik babbled a nonsense language while the anthropologist character (based on Colin Turnbull, who has written a study of the Ik) spoke in English or French. In the programme note of the first production, it is said that "as far as anyone knows, the Ik still exist". This was pointed out by the drama critic Kenneth Tynan. So, on the one hand, Brook and his actors assumed the right to represent the Ik, but they hadn't done the basic work to find out about their present living conditions. This was one instance of the kind of bombastic universalism to be found in intercultural practice masquerading and disguising Eurocentricity in diverse forms. That was an obvious problem. I was also troubled by very non-reflexive methods of decontextualizing cultures; taking elements in cultures out of their context, transporting them and using them in different ways. This often resulted in forms of exoticization.
KP: What do you mean by exoticization?
Playing into the spectacle of non-Western cultures, highlighting their colour and pageantry without dealing with their socio-economic and political contexts. Exoticization plays into cultural tourism of different kinds. You’ll end up "selling" difference. It could be argued that none of these features of intercultural performance practice has much to do with today's emergent understanding of interculturalism as a political principle involving issues around social inclusion. But I think there are some linkages which would need to be worked out on a case to case basis. I think all the things I was reacting against at a performative level have possibilities of shaping intercultural policy today. If one is dealing with social inclusion, for example, how is this to be achieved? This is a big task. So, one way would be through rights of citizenship and not just constitutional rights but also rights as they get played out in the public sphere in everyday activities, access to social and cultural institutions, the right to participate in public discussion, the right to dissent. So one of the tasks, I see, for interculturalism is how it can reach out to the widest section of the population as a policy with 'real' manifestations in everyday life. Not just to people who are living, let's say, in Zagreb but also in suburban and rural areas as well.
KP: So there is an additional layer of questions related to being inclusive and intercultural outside of the urban areas?
I think that many theorists of multiculturalism have indicated that, basically, multiculturalism works in the cities. It doesn't really resonate outside the metropolis in a socially inclusive manner. Take London, which is a thriving and throbbing global city of multicultural diversity. Taking the underground or walking around public spaces like Waterloo Station, you can sense that multiculturalism has worked in the mingling of diverse individuals and communities sharing the same space and amenities. But move out of London into Bradford, Oldham or Nottingham or any of these smaller cities and suburbs, you will not find the same kind of multicultural sociality. I think policy makers have to be mindful about the fact that if policies do not have a wide outreach, this can generate considerable resentment among sections of population that do not have access to the benefits of interculturalism or multiculturalism.
KP: There is a long debate between advocates of intercultural, multicultural and transcultural. Are those just academic terms void or any real substance? Or can interculturalism be a policy solution to that which in Europe is perceived as the failure of multiculturalism?
I didn't mention it in my lecture at the conference but Charles Taylor is one of the finest critics we have of multiculturalism. And in response to this recent kind of debate on inter- and multiculturalism, he said something very helpful. He said that, in actuality, these two terms are not saying significantly different things. But the stories told around them are significantly different. That's beautifully put. That's really good theory, in my view, because he is telling you something that is both flexible and concrete. He is saying - yes, if you want to see what interculturalism stands for and what multiculturalism stands for, both sides will use more or less the same argument, if not the same vocabulary. For example, both constituencies would seem to valorise "interaction". So the two terms are not really that different, it is just splitting hairs.
At some point, it gets burdensome to use these words. And, let's face it, there is a confusion of categories because there are several different points of views by both advocates or defenders of multiculturalism in the academic sector (who would appear to agree that interculturalism does not present a viable alternative), and policymakers from UNESCO and the European Council (who would seem to indicate that multiculturalism has failed and needs to be substituted by interculturalism).
Instead of getting bogged down in this semantic confusion, it seems to me that the real problem has to do with the assumption that minorities and migrants have to learn how to live in "our" society. My rejoinder would be that the "natives" of any cultural context also have an obligation to question their assumptions of what constitutes citizenship. Interculturalism or multiculturalism cannot be a one-way street. And that is where the resistance lies. Because people who have been based in a particular region for ever and ever, could say, "Why should we change? This is my land. This is my territory. My grandparents lived here", you know, all of that stuff. I am not insensitive to these sentiments but I don't think that they should be allowed to monopolise the debate.
I feel that when we are talking about the inter-, we have no other option but to take on the connotations and actual implications of the in-between. Interculturalism does connote relationality in very specific kinds of ways as opposed to transculturalism which works across boundaries and borders in a much wider sweep and spectrum of references. While transculturalism is gaining ground theoretically, I find it somewhat too diffused. It also has the problem of eliding conflict whereas in dealing with the intercultural, the conflictual dynamics are almost inherent. I somehow prefer this position. I don't think we should pretend there is no conflict when there is conflict.
KP: Are there any positive examples from which we can all learn?
Perhaps the only country where there is some clarity about the terms "interculturalism" and "multiculturalism" is to be found in Canada. Canada has a long history on this subject. Francophone Québec supports, interestingly, an "intercultural" policy which is directly positioned against "multiculturalism" affirmed in mainstream Canada which supports bilingualism and integration within a federal state structure. What is the Francophone demand? The primacy of the French language and the need to see Québec as an autonomous "nation". Arguably, if the rest of the Canada had used "intercultural" as the primary category, Québec could have been using "multicultural". I don't know. But the point is there is a very clear demarcation in the contexts of these terms and that is why Canada is actually the country to study. Not to emulate, but to figure out one's own choices within the specificities of one's own cultural history and context.
KP: You would say it is not possible to copy a policy from Canada to modern day Europe and its migrant crisis?
No, I don't think you can. It wouldn't work. However, there are some things that can be learned from other contexts, as, for instance, the movement away from assimilation into integration. Everybody seems to be endorsing this movement at at axiomatic level. But, to be honest, when I hear the word "integration", I don't think that's the greatest thing in the world. There is a thoroughly nationalist ring to the word. Growing up in India, when we used the word "integration" in the 1960s, it was assumed that we were talking about "national integration". Is that where we are at this point in time in the twenty-first century? "National integration" as a category and trope seems to be stuck in the rhetoric of the past. But that’s where countries like Germany are positioned at this point of time. They are aspiring toward integration. They are trying to work towards integration and that's because they have a specific history. As you know, the Turkish community which has been around in Germany for the longest time were never allowed the rights of citizenship. They were designated as gasterbaiter, guest workers who were expected to return to their countries after completing their work contract. Inevitably, this did not happen, and generations of Turkish immigrants grew up in Germany speaking German and earning their livelihood in Germany, but never being granted the rights of citizenship. Now the government is talking about "integration" as an intercultural value and aspiration. Is it so simple to forget the injustices of the past?
KP: Basically, everyone has to get on their own to a point of epiphany that was nicely depicted by Max Frisch who famously said about immigration: "We asked for workers. We got people".
That is well put. On the other hand, it is shocking how such an advanced democratic society like Germany and the culture that has produced Marx, Hegel, Goethe, Schlegel and many others should not have realise the basic truth that workers are humans. They cannot just be seen as functionaries, labourers, who are part of a larger work machine. Today things are changing. But I would emphasise that there is no "one-size-fits-all" kind of model for interculturalism. The other thing for me that I would like to prioritise is the intracultural which I have brought up earlier in this interview. Probably this category has more relevance in the Croatian context because you are dealing with those differences that do not appear to be that different at all. You are dealing with your immediate neighbours with whom you have shared histories and languages.
KP: From your perspective, what would be the important intercultural issues in the Croatian local context which is, basically, a mixture of "old" communities who have been living here for centuries?
It seems to me that the situation in Croatia is not primarily about dealing with those explicitly marked and differentiated migrants and asylum seekers. One, there are relatively few seeking asylum in Croatia, to the best of my knowledge. So I think that any policy of interculturalism in Croatia, and I am projecting a little, cannot just be built around the identities of refugees and asylum seekers, even as they need to be respected and given due recognition. An intercultural policy would need to be built around everyone in local communities and those who are part of a larger national community. As you were telling me, Croatia includes different minorities like Serbs, Hungarians, Roma people, etc. Whether you wish to incorporate the needs of these communities within the framework of multiculturalism or interculturalism is a technical question. I don't know which would be a more appropriate category. It would depend to an extent if the former Yugoslavia ever formulated a clearly marked multicultural policy. Did it? Because if it did, it is possible that, in order to differentiate today’s context from earlier times, you might want to use the word "intercultural".
KP: To differentiate it from the multicultural policy in former times.
Yes. Look, the purpose of all terminology in critical discourse is to make distinctions. It is simple as that. It is not because I wanted to create a new category like intraculturalism that I had to use a new term. The point is that I had to find another word to differentiate a certain body of work from a different body of work which was marked "intercultural". Now, the question is, for example, in Ireland - and I gave that example at the conference - Ireland does not refer to multiculturalism at all in its public policymaking discourse. It does not seem to exist for its policymakers. Which really doesn't make sense, historically. Perhaps, this deletion can be attributed to the fact that their neighbour around the corner has formulated and practiced a very strong multicultural policy for decades and, in contrast, Ireland wishes to emphatically mark its policy on diversity as "intercultural". Or is it possible to speculate that the promotion of "interculturalism" in the Irish context cannot be separated from the ways in which the category has been advocated by policymakers from the European Council and UNESCO. It so happened that in 2008 I was in Ireland for a consultancy around diversity in the arts commissioned by the Arts Council. This was also the year when the European Council passed its White Paper on "interculturalism" and UNESCO published a World Report on Cultural Diversity. So there was a buzz in the air around "interculturalism" and it could well be that the Arts Council in Ireland felt the need to respond to it.
To what extent "interculturalism" is understood at tangible levels to the public at large in Europe is not clear at all. Is it really part of public discourse? Everyone I ask in different European societies seems to say "no". This makes me wonder if interculturalism is not some kind of rumour that is circulating in a random way, totally contradicting or perhaps supplementing the national mess that has always existed. There is a disjunction, I would say, between the rhetoric of interculturalism and its application in everyday life. We know that. But there is also a schism between cultural policy, what is being formulated in official rhetoric, and what is actually being debated in academic circles.
KP: You have arrived to this conference in Zagreb to give a lecture titled "Rethniking interculture: From Performance to Policy". Do you think, as a theatre person and a scholar in performance studies, that theatre can be used as a medium for promoting interculturalism and intercultural policy?
Theatre is never the free and open space that it is made out to be and this is one very big misnomer that we live with as liberals in the theatre. Theatre is highly exclusionary. It has always been exclusionary. I mean, if you consider classical Greek tragedy, which would seem to represent the highest standards of democratic critical thinking, one knows that women and slaves were not accepted as fully recognised citizens. And yet plays like the Oresteia were addressing issues around democracy through the theatre but these issues were not addressed to everyone in that society. In today's cultural scene, if we consider the state theatres of Europe, we know that it reaches out to relatively small sections of the public, more often than not identified with the educated middle class. Theatre doesn't have the outreach of television or social networking. Despite attempts to reach out to larger publics in some European cities, for example in the museum world, I think theatre still remains predominantly elite and cosmopolitan, more specifically in its avant-garde manifestations. I am not saying there is anything specifically wrong with this phenomenon but there is a kind of capital that gets generated around theatre and performance practice that simply does not extend to larger sections of the population outside the metropolis.
KP: But you have held workshops and performances for and with the marginalized groups in the rural areas as well. You surely must see some use of theatre in interculturalism, regardless of its core elitism?
Yes. But we have to be a little careful. In the developmental sector, the arts have been basically instrumentalised to promote messages of the State or of donors around the "good" principles of life. This can be very problematic. I have theatre friends in the Philippines who, for the survival of their companies and institutions, have been doing what they call "infotainments", as opposed to entertainment. This demand is coming primarily from the donors saying, "We want you to do a musical, let's say, on domestic violence, telling people how bad it is, etc". So, artists end up using their skills to write narratives around these messages but one wonders whether this is really what art should be doing. More critically, does it have any real political efficacy? There is a whole industry around this kind of work playing into a commodification of the Theatre of the Oppressed. I would question the efficacy of these workshops although its proponents claim that they are socially transformative. One needs to make a difference between advocating illusions of change within the confines of a workshop space from actual changes on the ground which demand the intervention of multiple agencies and institutions.
KP: And what of the artists? Should they have a role in social and intercultural development?
I would say that in the present climate artists do have a role to play in the larger search for intercultural policy. You know, I get irritated when artists adopt an isolationist position and say, "Well, we're artists, we can't handle political and economic policies". And then, they go on bitching about the fact they don't have funds. That's the only time that many of them get politically aroused - because they haven't got funding for their "pet project". I think this is irritating and artists really have to see the larger picture of things. It is one thing to continue doing what you believe in and I certainly value that. But if you want to intervene in the public domain - yes, you can - you have to educate yourself as well about how policy is made. Maybe there are different strategies of performance involved here. Perhaps, policy making in itself can be seen as one kind of performance. Needless to say, it is not simple to engage with the performativity of policymaking at a performative level. It is not simply a matter of adapting your creative and technical skills in communicating intercultural policy. It is also a matter of educating yourself about what goes into the process of policy making. There is also the task of trying to find a way of making the language of policy dialogic through performance. How does one talk back to it? How does one deconstruct its assumptions of power? How does one subvert its illusions? There are different dramaturgical strategies that could be used to this end.
KP: What kinds of theatre would be useful for the development of intercultural practices?
It could draw on the vast spectrum of applied arts practices, which is a recognized field today, even though we know there can be a lot of problems in the applied arts. I remain a bit resistant to the overt didacticism of such interventions. But I will not deny the creative possibility of applied arts, let's say, in prisons, where one finds some very powerful interventions not just at a social level, but in terms of aesthetics as well. Within the confines of prisons, one is compelled to create new forms. The topography demands it; the surveillance stimulates new modes of subversion. In Westville Prison in Durban, South Africa, I have seen some really strong attempts to sensitize prisoners to their condition.
KP: What was the goal of that powerful workshop? Was it more about education or about an artistic expression?
It was trying to understand violence not by positing the imperatives of good citizenship, but by confronting its inner dynamics and contradictions. In the project in which I participated, there were some real risks because it involved re-enactments of actual violence like rape and murder. And that is really difficult. From this re-enactment of violence, one moved towards trying to understand the victim’s point of view. Which is not easy either. Then we moved on to documenting a history of that violence through apartheid. So that was the broader perspective. The fourth stage was trying to communicate the need to resist this violence within the cells by creating new networks of trust. Which is probably the hardest thing to achieve.
KP: Do you think theatre is useful as a communication tool for accessing marginalized groups and issues? Imagine if it weren’t a theatre workshop that was being held in the prison but rather you gave a lecture.
Yes, theatre reaches a large section of inmates in prisons. Perhaps, not everyone. Sometimes, unfortunately, it can reach so powerfully that there can be a backlash. Right after our workshop in South Africa, there was a riot in the prison. It could be related to the fact the prison gangs resented the fact that there was this other "Non-Gang" gang, as the prison theatre group was described, presenting another point of view that was potentially appealing to a larger number of prisoners. So, when it comes to catalysing change through performance, we have to be realistic - none of this change can happen just through a workshop or a performance but a whole series of things have to happen at the same time. Education has to happen. Better conditions of life. Social and economic opportunities. Rehabilitation. Let's be clear: theatre cannot be regarded as the solution. Theatre can only provide another language and a pedagogical start for a long term process of education, but it can't be seen independently of other interventions. What you need is collaboration across different constituencies. Earlier, when we talked about theatre work, we were mirroring society in some ways and we were in touch with members of civil society but the process stopped there. We didn't have an obligation to do anything more. But now there is an entire spate of activities around the most marginalised sections of society, including prisoners and abandoned children and refugees. To adequately address their conditions, one needs a lot more than the enactment of a play or workshop. One needs the active and dialogic support of lawyers, community workers, and I would add, agencies of the government.
KP: You are here in Zagreb to discuss and envision the future intercultural social centre. If you imagine this intercultural centre as a character in a theatre play, what would be its motivation for existence and how would it look?
That is a very nice way that you put it: to see the centre, which does not yet exist, as a character in the making. What I am seeing here, at least within the framework of this conference, is an incredible diversity of activists coming from many different histories of struggle. I find this stirring and impressive. But I don't think that bringing together activists from different constituencies is necessarily going to produce an intercultural social centre. I would be curious to know who posited this idea of an intercultural centre in the first place. What struck me before I came here is that it is called not just an "intercultural centre" but an "intercultural social centre". So, I am curious about what was the thinking that went into highlighting that kind of category? At one level, I support it. But from listening to the activists in Zagreb, I am not very sure whether the "intercultural" is what defines them or what brings them together. There is a lot of work to be done in arriving at some kind of critical consensus as to what this term means. I found that the activists I spoke to were far too concerned with their own burning issues. But what is it about these issues that facilitates intercultural dialogue? Not just dialogue but, in this case, the creation of an institutional structure so that you can work together under the same roof, sharing responsibilities and decision-making in the articulation and practice of interculturalism. I would say that a lot of work remains to be done after this conference ends.
KP: Can you be more specific? What kind of activities would this additional "work" include?
I would recommend the creation of workshops across activist groups where some kind of engagement with the intercultural could be taken on board. I believe that the intercultural does not have to be seen only in the context of diverse ethnicities. It can also be seen in the context of different practices. You know, practice can also be seen as a culture. Different disciplines can be seen as cultures. But it is not clear to me, as yet, what it is that is going to be not unifying but a catalytic force that brings these different activist groups together. One could begin by identifying real issues that are of common concern. This could be a good starting point for the stimulation of a grassroots intercultural dialogue.
KP: We spoke of theatre and arts and their ambiguous role for intercultural practices. If Zagreb’s envisioned centre were to include more practical elements that are outside of arts and culture, would that make the centre more intercultural? For example, providing services like helping the migrants and marginalized groups with documents or legal problems?
There definitely should be a department to help people with their legal problems, help them fill out documents or do visa applications. I think these are necessary tasks. But is that what is meant by the "intercultural" here? If not, you could call yourselves the Croatian Social Centre. It could just be that. Why do you need to inscribe this word at all? Intercultural. Yes, you could say that for some of the groups representing refugees and migrants, the word resonates because it is being used in the larger discourse of interculturalism in Europe. But the point I tried to make yesterday at the conference is that the intercultural cannot be defined in their name alone. It has to include the national population and mainstream society as well. Because if citizens in the mainstream are not prepared to change their own assumptions of rights and privileges, you can't expect "others" to change as well. That is not a fair demand. Interculturalism is a process, I would argue, in which everybody should be involved. So how to go about dealing with that task is the question. I think more immediately, in practical terms, a follow-up to this conference is needed. You need actual workshops where the concept of intercultural is introduced and debated, questioned and re-envisioned. Not academically, but through creative practice, activist home-truths and the sharing of stories and experiences. You can't force the 'intercultural' on people at large. But that is the problem when people get sort of drawn into promoting certain categories without fully realising the implications of what they are taking on.