YOBO: The unbearable whiteness of being
With the National Arts Festival set to kick off soon, Valencia Govindasamy takes a look at some Durbanites who will be flying the local flag high at the premier arts festival in Africa…
CREATED by award-winning artists, Iain “Ewok” Robinson and Karen Logan, is the spoken word, audio-visual experience, You’re Only Born Once (YOBO), which will be presented on the main programme at the National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown.
Set against the backdrop of the constant construction that is contemporary South Africa, YOBO draws us into the world of a solitary white man camped beneath a national highway.
As a co-production with the festival, it marks a high-point in Robinson and Logan’s careers. Tonight chatted to the duo about this: “The NAF has played such a huge role in our professional growth that we are treating this opportunity with all the respect it deserves,” says Robinson
Commenting on his character in the production, the performer says he plays a lone white man in self-inflicted isolation caused by his inability to come to terms with his “whiteness”: “He is seemingly impoverished and dreams about a simpler time when all he needed to feel high was his race. Being white is like a high, an addiction, and he must feed it because he is too scared to come to terms with the addiction.”
Director and co-creator Logan couldn’t agree more with the amazing opportunity that’s been given to them through the NAF.: “We can’t over-emphasise the value of this. Call me an idealist, but I honestly believe in the transformative power of theatre, and the first time I saw Iain perform, I was changed and saw how the people around me were, too.”
According to Logan, the themes touch on whiteness, white privilege and the piece unashamedly tackles some serious race politics: “Iain and I are so inspired by all the intense clashes that have been happening in our country recently. As white people, we need less guilt and defensiveness and more honest examination of the ways in which we are still benefitting from our whiteness, and then ideally we need to feel obligated to do something to shift that. Of course, many people in this country are, but we just need more.”
Since YOBO is a spoken word piece, Robinson says audiences can expect lots of word play as well as an honest, sometimes humorous, unashamed look at the inner-workings of a white man wanting to play his part in building the future while holding on hard to his humanity: “Race is firmly back on the radar. Our starting point was to stop looking at racism in the way it affected the victim and start looking at its effect on the perpetrator.
“Instead of looking at how ‘blackness’ is subjugated, we wanted to look at how ‘whiteness’ is promoted and advanced. Instead of examining an inferiority complex, we wanted to look in the mirror as it were, and analyse a superiority complex.”
l YOBO, main programme at NAF at Thomas Pringle Hall from July 8 to 11. Visit nationalartsfestival.co.za.