Artists Iain “Ewok” Robinson (SA) and Kat Francois (UK) are two very different, yet powerful spoken word artists.
Ewok is everything Francois is not. He is the White African European Man to her Black European African Woman. And these two professionals can be seen on stage in the original spoken word theatre piece, I to I.
Running October 29 to November 1 at Square Space Theatre, UKZN, it tackles issues of ancestry and identity using the humour, passion and energy of both artists’ unique styles of writing and performing poetry.
Tonight caught up with both poets to learn more about this collaboration. “I met Kat in 2005 at the Poetry International World Slampionship in Rotterdam. We got to meet up again in 2010 at a festival in Sweden. Since then I’ve been trying to look for opportunities to get her out here and this year, I was alerted to the possibility of that through the SA-UK Seasons Catalyst Grant funding call.
“The seasons are a project of the DAC, Connect ZA and the British Council. In order to pitch, you had to identify a British partner, so I got hold of Kat and asked if she’d be keen to come and work with me,” explains Ewok.
Francois says the piece is a dialogue between two artists, posing questions, seeing answers, taking each other on a journey, sometimes funny, sometimes painful, but always honest: “It’s also about reflecting our lives and opinions back at each other, with nowhere to hide.”
Ewok adds: “Yeah, it’s a play on ‘seeing eye-to-eye’, on conflict and resolving conflict, in this case specifically conflict to do with race and identity, with history and ancestry, where ‘I’ is the self, so it’s like ‘self-to-self’.
“The idea is, the more you know about someone’s personal story, the more you find ways to relate, but it only works if people are open and honest about who they are. And it touches on lost stories and unwritten histories, identity through historical fact and historical act, searching the past for clear paths that led to wherever we are at now.
“These stories and journeys and the ability to follow them and write them is very much defined by race and the history of colonial capitalism. For example, it’s easy for me to trace my line through my family name on my mother’s side (MacDonald) largely because white people have for so long been the winners who wrote the history books, while the clarity of Kat’s lineage has been lost over time and is harder to trace.
“We address the stereotypical ideas of otherness and difference and how these are turned into powerful tools of separation and segregation. On the surface, Kat and I couldn’t be more different, but we are contemporaries in so many ways, so exploring our past can lead us to discover how we might be very alike.”
Both think very highly of each other as artists. He reveals that Francois is powerful, clear, entertaining and critically insightful, with a presence on stage that is all her own and a flair for comedy that manifests in an original hard-to-forget voice.
She relays: “He is an artist I hold in high regard and respect. An artist who is willing to push boundaries in terms of content and the way in which he presents his work. I’m also intrigued by the way in which he uses multi-media to enhance his work. Artists like Iain are rare, artists who are prepared to step out of the preconceived ideas society has of them and discover for himself, his own truth.”
Asked what they’d like audiences to walk away with, Ewok says: “New insight into the lived experience of people who are ‘different’, new stories to tell others about the realities of another race, a new perspective on issues about race and stereotyping and, hopefully, to feel empowered and energised enough to be taking this conversation out into their wider worlds.
“We really want to partake in and further the current conversations around race and transformation around the world. We want people to be satisfied, by being entertained and enlightened and hopefully empowered with new knowledge.”
Catch I to I at the Square Space Theatre, UKZN, from October 29 to November 1. For more information, visit Ewok’s Facebook page: facebook.com/ iainEWOKrobinson