- African Women and Representation: From Performance to Politics
This well-grounded study, which looks at the impact of theater in Africa and the difficulties it encounters, works beyond boundaries. It analyzes and thus links anglophone and francophone plays, popular and written drama, referring to a wide range of traditional and contemporary approaches. While Thérèse Migraine-George cannot discuss in detail the entire continent, she is purposely covering large territories in order to reflect on the power this art form has. She stresses the creative ways traditional performances are used by African women writers to reflect on problems encountered: “Because theater is the space of representation par excellence and therefore offers a central context to reflect on the issue of representation in its discursive, aesthetic, and political meanings, it has been used by women especially to contest and subvert abusive forms of (mis)representation” (5). To this day, few studies have appeared on African theater, particularly francophone theater, alongside the remarkable works of John Conteh-Morgan, and much less has been done to attempt linking anglophone and francophone African playwrights or to examine ways that women presently appropriate this art form to [End Page 151] present and reflect on concerns they face. Therefore and because of the overarching themes developed, this publication is a significant contribution to the field.
Migraine-George’s work is divided into five chapters that all investigate important topics. Chapter 1, “Representation in African Communities,” discusses how theater is linked to various forms of traditional performances, such as ritual, while bringing innovative and creative modes that take into account social, political, spiritual, and artistic concerns. Promoting reflection, it is a flexible mode that allows the interrogation of power structures in place. Chapter 2, “Representation in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa,” first recalls that the colonizers used theater to present their ideologies, dismissing traditional performances. At Independence, certain African politicians used it to enforce their power (Mobutu’s appropriation of “spectacle” to impose himself). While theatrical forms have been misused to manipulate the population, they have been seen by marginalized members of a community as a platform to present issues. In consequence, women have found that it can have a political impact by presenting (making visible) problems they encounter. As Migraine-George states, “Here I want to point out not just the political functions of theater within African communities but also the double-edged nature of such functions, which have been exploited both to assert ideological dominance and to contest it” (46). Chapter 3, “African Women on the Global Stage,” examines the difficulties African women encounter when carving out spaces that are not defined by the traditional or global structures in place. Women have not found the political, cultural, or gender discourses helpful (patriarchal modes, national constructs, Western feminism), as they have not taken into account their needs or cultural specificities. Migraine-George points to the importance of creating spaces where women can be heard and of creating new paths that consider the challenges faced in our present world. By referring to several plays written by women, she shows how the characters engage in new approaches, and negotiate local, national, and international constraints in order to function as possible models. Chapter 4, “African Women and Representation: Conditions of (Im)Possibility” and chapter 5, “In Rehearsal: New Models of Representaiton,” examine the role theater can play in overcoming difficulties as it values questioning and is based on continuous “rehearsal.” To show that theater has the ability to address “not only the content of representation itself but also the very act or process of representation itself” (20), the author grounds her analysis on F. R. Ankersmit’s Aesthetic Politics. These chapters are particularly useful as they investigate the rapport between representation and politics. The power of theater lies in the distance it maintains with what it represents, and this discontinuity is a space for “potential changes” (212). To illustrate her idea, Migraine-George refers to the works of Werewere Liking:
Through their chaotic and painstaking search for a space of...