Nora Villa and Rwanda

Culture as a lever for rebuilding

Nova Villa is an association for culture and popular education, physician which develops a project for young audiences from nursery to adolescence. It is located in Reims (France), price where it hosts playwrights and artist driven shows, notably about steep social themes. The project is open towards Europe and the world, in an strong, political, willingness to propose to local families an encounter with other cultures, and, as well, to share the artistic discoveries of the association.

This opening to the world has, notably, been illustrated by the more than 15 years partnership between Nova Villa and Québec, and with Mexico, invited several times. In 2015, for the 2 festivals that the association organizes (Reims scènes d’Europe, in partnership with 7 cultural structures in Reims, and Meli’momes, the TYA festival of its own), 10 shows, from 8 different countries have premiered in France. That year, a door also opened on Africa, with the programing of a production from the Zimbabwean company IYASA and the invitation of the Rwandese artist Carole Karemera.

The encounter with Carole Karemera happened at the occasion of the German festival Hellwach , in Hamm, where she presented “My little hill”, a production about the raucous history of Rwanda, which celebrates life, mutual respect, and cultural diversity in the country. Carole Karemera lives in Kigali, Rwanda. Born in Belgium, in 1975, of Rwandese parents, she studied in the Royal Music Conservatory in Mons (Belgium), the first black women from sub-Saharan Africa to be admitted.

From there, she developed a career in cinema, theatre, with incursions into dance and music. In 2015, she takes part in the adventure of Peter Brook’s creation, Battlefield, at the Bouffes du Nord, in Paris.

The bloody events in Rwanda have changed her life. The genocide lasted 100 days, and killed 1 million: “Being Rwandese, without having set foot in Rwanda before being 18”, she says, “is an identity with which I always had to deal with. The richness of the voices, in the traditional singing, the thoroughness of the artist, its values, self-conscience… A springboard towards other cultures met in Brussels. I did not think to come back. But, with the genocide, Rwanda became mine. As much as the Rwandese culture gave me landmarks regarding what I wanted to be, and allowed me to grow up, artistically, as much as, all of a sudden, 1994 recalled me to my roots. A deep recall.”

In 2005, Carole Karemera decided to settle in her country of origin. She invested, then, in cultural projects, oriented towards opening, listening of the other and accessibility of every one to culture, by creating Ishyo Art Center, a cultural center in Rwanda, in the hearth of Kigali. A platform for artists, for passionate arts lovers, for professionals of culture.

During her first stay in Reims, at the occasion of Reims scenes d’Europe festival, in February, 2015, Nova Villa wished to get involved in her citizen and cultural approach, and invited her, in a second time, at the Meli’mômes festival, for a week, at the end of March, 2015. She has viewed and discovered many French and European productions (Greece, Poland, Germany, Norway…) meeting artists and professionals of TYA. She has been impressed by the quality and the diversity of the artistic proposals. Inspired by the work made in Reims, Carole wants to create new practices with the educational community, and to set up projects in arts education. One question concerns her : “What to do with the children today? Do they need to be spoken about the genocide, or not? How arts could answer to this question? History catches them…” New productions for young audiences will emerge in Rwanda. The idea of exchanges between artists, training, gatherings with Nova Villa is on its way.

In February, Reims scènes d’Europe presented “We call it love”, a play for adolescents, by Felwine Sarr, staged by Carole Karemera and Denis Mpunga : “A woman is seeking the man who killed her son, not to indict him, but to attach herself to him, her last bound with her son”. This month, Méli’mômes will program “Our house”, a co-production with Helios Theater (Germany), and Ishyo Arts Center (Rwanda), directed by Barbara Kölling and Carole Karemera, using French, German, and English text. Nova Villa’s team will flight to Kigali next autumn, and Méli’momes 2018 will host a workshop with artists from Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo.

By Joël Simon and François Fogel