“Hatred is an extreme form of love.” 

Theatre creator and performer Carolina Bianchi is currently working on her trilogy Cadela Força, which translates to ‘Bitch Strength’. In the first part, The Bride and the Goodnight Cinderella, she touches on themes like rape, femicide, and female performance art. In the second part, The Brotherhood, she explores the brotherly bond between men and the relation between rape and language. Pitcho Womba Konga started his artistic career as a rapper and musician, transitioning into theatre later by happy accident. He has performed in plays by Peter Brook, Ruud Gielens, Julian Hetzel ea. For KVS he created his first two plays Kuzikiliza and Fire Will Become Ashes, But Not Now – both works that explore decolonisation and a quest for forms of society. Next year he is presenting Liefde / Amour, an investigation into what love is, featuring an entirely female and ‘racialised’ cast. Theatre creator and writer Julie Cafmeyer brought the two theatre makers together and asked them about their work and motivations.

Pitcho, your inspiration for the performance is the book L’amour est très surestimé (Love Is Very Overrated) by French author Brigitte Giraud. Why is love overrated? I thought we couldn’t overestimate it enough.

Pitcho: ‘I can’t remember ever hearing my parents say they loved each other. They didn’t touch, never gave each other a hug. They often fought, and I would wonder why they stayed together. Love didn’t seem for us. Love was for the rich. I didn’t realise how important love is until I became an adult. It’s important, but also very difficult, to say: I love you. Not only to your lovers, but also to friends and family. You make a big commitment to someone when you mention the word love.

But it’s also important to be able to end love. Love can disappear or change. Sometimes you realise the love you felt wasn’t really love. It can be hard to admit that you were wrong. You loved someone at a certain time, but something changed. It feels like cutting off part of yourself.

Brigitte Giraud asked various women about the end of their love stories. Thanks to her book, I realised for the first time that a love story can have an end. One day, you wake up and think: it’s over. But the end doesn’t necessarily mean that love stops. Maybe you can love that person in a different way one day. A break-up can also be hopeful, you can dream about loving someone else again one day.

Still, I know a lot of people who stay together for practical or financial reasons. In this capitalist world, love often seems to be about money. To prove your love, you have to buy each other new things constantly, take your lover out to dinner or on holiday. For me, love is not about money. It’s about growing: love is someone helping you understand yourself better. That’s why I don’t want to talk about love only from my own point of view.’

Carolina, what is the meaning of love in your work?

Carolina: ‘In my trilogy, ‘love’ crops up as an issue. The issue is that romantic love often comes down to the man believing he has unlimited access to a woman’s body and imagination. Romance can be perverse. When you experience sexual violence, your notion of love changes. I can look at love through a lens of violence. Perhaps I go through hell in my work in order to find a new meaning for love.’

Pitcho, you’ll be working with an all-female, racialised cast. Why?

Pitcho: ‘There’s a dominant image of the ‘angry Black woman’. I want to surpass that image and show my audience what love means to Black women. Black women are also tender. And above all they are strong. I had an absent father and was mostly surrounded by women in my youth: my mother, sisters, aunts. We always think of men as strong figures, but I see the opposite. Why are women no longer honoured in our society? It’s time to put them centre stage. 

I will be interviewing African women about love and I will try to present their stories – with an emphasis on try. I’m still struggling with questions such as: who am I to create this play? Who am I to talk? Why is a man doing this and not a woman? But I am who I am. This is my journey, my life. All of my experiences have brought me here.’

Carolina, you will mostly be working with men in your performance.

Carolina: ‘For the first part of my trilogy, I read a lot of the Argentine philosopher Rita Segato. She writes that when a group of men rapes a woman, it’s not about longing for that woman. It’s part of a vocabulary or communication between them. Who is the most powerful, who is the most heartless towards others? The woman becomes completely invisible. She isn’t an object of desire, she is nothing. I want to connect that element to art, to theatre, because the Cadela Forçatrilogy is also to a large extent about language.’

Pitcho, will violence play a role in your next performance as well?

Pitcho: ‘Of course, violence plays a part in love. Hatred is an extreme form of love. Men want to possess a woman, that in itself is violent. They see a woman as a trophy. A woman makes them feel powerful because she is theirs. I was moved when Carolina said that sexual violence is not about the woman, but about the man. It made me think of men who brag about who they have slept with. It’s no more than a competition: which man will conquer the most women? Fastest to twenty wins.

I learned a lot from King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes. That book made me see the effect this dynamic has on women. You can’t understand that what you do or have done is wrong until you feel empathy for a woman. All men should read this book during puberty. Men need to learn to understand what happens to women in our society.’

Despentes writes about how women are often disregarded as hysterical and difficult when they don’t fit the predefined image of the subservient, smiling wife. Women want to free themselves, but are scorned when they stand up for themselves. How to be a woman?

Carolina: ‘I don’t know what it means to be a woman. In what sense? In my creation, I talk a lot about how difficult it is to understand women as something you can define within frameworks like humour, behaviour, or whatever else. Because ‘womanhood’ encompasses such a huge range of possibilities, it’s complex. We should distance ourselves from definitions altogether.’

Pitcho, do women scare you sometimes?

Pitcho: ‘I want to understand women better, but I’m not scared of them. We need a space where men and women can exchange perspectives. That’s why I want to have conversations with women as preparation for my play. I don’t want to tell them what to do, I want to create with them.’

Carolina, what does your preparation look like?

Carolina: ‘Chaos. Panic attacks. Nightmares. Dreams. Many conversations with my dramaturge, Carolina Mendonça. I surround myself with thousands of books and start writing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I often think I will die, but suddenly the material starts to breathe. To me, that’s the erotic pleasure, the moment chaos morphs into a creation.’