KVS x Paris (City of Color)

City dramaturge Tunde Adefioye blogs about Paris, James Baldwin and Malcolm X.

"One of the benefits of living in Brussels is the access to other major European cities. Even before Brussels' partygoers went home, I woke up before the crack of dawn to catch a bus to Paris, to attend a unique conference on James Baldwin, the prolific openly gay "negro" writer.

Arrived in Paris. Quickly re-oriented myself to Paris' metro system which dwarfs Brussels by a long shot. But similarities between the cities abound. 

A starkingly obvious one is the presence of security checks in mundane places and its interwovedness into the fabric of our daily lives. For example, security checks were held at the entrance to the different university lecture halls that were used to hold the varying panel talks presented about or influenced by Baldwin’s work. In times of increased security checks, it is important to use culture to create spaces where even the most marginalised voices can be heard. 

That is why this conference influenced by Baldwin was everything. Scholars, writers, artists, public intellectuals from cities as far flung as Brisbane, Manila, Houston and of course Brussels came to celebrate and expand on the life and work of James Baldwin. From the British author Jeff Campbell, who was at one point an acquaintance of Baldwin, to the actor writer theatre maker Charles Reese, who gave a rousing presentation that mixed his off-Broadway theatre piece with Negro spirituals and many poignant Baldwin quotes. Their talks challenged the conference participants to re-think how they see this sometimes mythologized hero of both the queer and the Black literary circles - and far beyond. 

Picture: Baldwin with legendary singer Nina Simone

Another poignant presentation came from the Brussels based African American Dorrie Wilson. She presented a paper about young black and brown youth in Paris and Brussels who are still discriminated against, especially if they happen to be Muslim. Dorrie was also present at a recently held community meeting at Le Space in Brussels. The meeting was held to engage with the community about a theater piece that is currently in the works at the KVS by author Fikry El Azzouzi, director Junior Mthombeni and composer Cesar Janssens. 

Soon these new KVS faces will be taking on another Harlem legend - Malcolm X - who crossed paths with James Baldwin on many occasions. Baldwin and Malcolm X disagreed on some points, but agreed on the need for the liberation of the oppressed. Though both focused on the liberation of black folks especially, they differed in approach and also the groups they reach(ed). When it came to including womyn, in their creative or theoretical writings, both fell alarmingly short - in spite of the role strong womyn played in both of their private lives. 

Through the upcoming piece and thanks to guidance from voices at the afore-mentioned community meeting, we hope to rectify this "silencing" in a vocal way. We are looking forward to welcoming the many voices at the margins and otherwise, who have in one way or another been influenced by Malcolm.

Please join us in October to see how the myth of Malcolm X and his reality will be brought to the stage at the KVS!