Raven Ruëll and Pitcho Womba Konga: two obstructionists in the service of freedom and truth

One is an idealist with a big heart, the other is honest, resolute and full of integrity. These fresh forty-somethings acquired their passion for theatre through avant-garde playwrights like Peter Brook and Marie-Bernard Koltès.  is season they are both very present in the KVS programme. Raven Ruëll (RR) with Missie/Mission and Het Leven en de Werken van Leopold II, which deal with Belgium’s colonial past; and Pitcho Womba Konga (PWK) in Malcolm X, MAPping Brussels and Kuzikiliza, about the revival of activism and society. Both driven by an unwavering  fighting spirit, they meet each other for the first time on the occasion of this interview.

How did you get involved in theatre?
RR: My father was a journalist. He died when I was 16.  That’s the time when you ask yourself what you want to be. He was a writer and at that time I was writing too. When I was expelled from a very strict Catholic college, I went to an art school in the centre of Brussels. Given that I’d just experienced a tremendous loss, I felt the need to communicate about a very difficult issue.
PWK: I never had a real relationship with my father. I was very quickly forced to be independent, and I think I admired him partly because he was an opponent of Mobutu at that time. One of the reasons I was able to forgive him, leave it behind, is because I told myself that ultimately he had sacri ced us for the sake of history. I began with art because I really felt the need to exist.

What made you, as artists, go digging into the sensitive subject of Leopold II or Lumumba?
PWK:  The Kuzikiliza project (Swahili for ‘making your voice heard’) questions society. Kuzikiliza also asks why Lumumba’s speech is still so problematic today. Before the word, there was movement. So for me, the original language is dance. We started with the idea of converting Lumumba’s words into sign language, and to dance it. Little by little it evolved into a performance that tells many stories of people  fighting for freedom.
RR:  The reason I agreed to direct Het Leven en de Werken van Leopold II, was precisely because at school nobody told us anything about Leopold II – except things that you could  find on Wikipedia. In a city like Brussels you see his architecture pretty much everywhere. It is ubiquitous, but it was built with the blood of a people. On top of that, the text was written by Claus. It is clearly the vision of a white author. As a white director I thought it legitimate to defend this critical white view.

What has lead you to your engagement as an artist?
RR: I really like the writer Koltès, because he takes a stand. He asks critical questions about the history of the country where he’s from: France.  at’s one of my concerns too. In the KVS there was likewise a will to investigate Belgium’s colonial past. I really wanted to use my skills as a director to explore these fascinating topics.
PWK: For me, the real revelation came from the hip hop culture.  That has moulded me, from the beginning to the present day. It gave me a desire to talk about my bond with Belgium, and about the bond between my country, the Congo, and Belgium. To try and  find a place where we can meet each other. And I think that in order to meet each other, we have to tell each other our stories.

Interview by Gia Abrassart
Images © Danny Willems