Today the El Warcha team was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion at the National Theatre at 1pm. We didn’t have much time to work in the morning, so, with heavy hearts, we focused on finding a potential new space for our installation. After almost daily negotiations with both local “landlords” and the festival organisers (who would have rather have us work in Ussher Fort – a solution which didn’t suit us because it is not in the public space), the festival warned us that we will have to move our installation out on Friday lunch time after all. The reason for this is that Old Kingsway will be used for concerts over the weekend, and the festival organisers couldn’t negotiate for us to stay because these concerts are not directly organised by them. It’s a shame to have to displace our bamboo structures from where we have been conceiving and building them, but better be prepared and try and find a good alternative. Having tested placing the structures in the street along the wall of Ussher Fort yesterday night, and having realised it didn’t have the effect we wanted, Ben and Aziz went looking for a more open space where the structures could stand out more. In the meantime, Mohammed and Yusif went to Old Kingsway to fix our lighting issues. At 11am we receive a message from Yusif: “it works”. The LED tubes are lit, hamdullah.
At midday we set off for the National Theatre. Last night Mohammed prepared a little speech to explain the work of El Warcha in Tunis, and to give a taster of our work so far in James Town. After watching two documentaries from the Black Filmmakers Film Festival, it was our turn to take to the stage. Paul, the moderator of the discussion, had a substantial list of questions for us. Ben and Mohammed gave stellar performances, taking the audience through pictures of our different projects in Tunis, from the very first Warcha space in the Hafsia square in 2016, to what our base looks like now. “Warcha in Arabic means a space you can work in”, explains Mohamed. In answer to what the most challenging aspect of running El Warcha is, Ben answered that it is the collaborative work. The challenge lies in how to make decisions together, how not to let one’s ego and vision determine the path (a much easier choice which many artists working with communities opt for), how to create a horizontal working environment, how to manage the project as a group. Ben says that now, having moved back to London, he has become a “critical friend” of El Warcha, and hopes that those in Tunis will create their own versions of Warcha and take it in new directions. The major vision for the project, as Paul summarised it, is the collaboration, it is striving to create as designers spaces of interaction and spaces of experimentation. Paul and the audience were also interested in how the project came to be financed, and asked about the steps and resilience it takes to find pockets of money and to build from the bottom up. We also discussed the difficulties in self-financing the project by being paid for commissions. El Warcha has had several commissions in the past two years, and is now funding 20% of its activities through them, which is a great achievement. But, Ben pointed out, a balance needs to be found between doing repetitive work for commissions and meeting deadlines, and maintaining the open ended, creative, prototyping trial and error aspect of the project, which is what draws most participants to join us in the first place. We also talked about the question of what is considered art, and the focus on the product versus the process: we are all curious to see how our installation will be received.
In the afternoon, as the Warcha boys were busy constructing the crosses that would connect two profiles and make them stand, Valentina, Faidal (who had just popped by, since he lives down the road) and Dagna went to meet Nii: a new Nii. Nii is the founder of the community radio, and is the older brother of the Nii who on Day 1 had greeted us at the theatre and had shown us around while we were waiting for another Nii, who does theatre of the oppressed work in James Town, to arrive. Incidentally, the younger brother Nii was also the one who had negotiated a good price for us to stay in Evelyn Hotel. The older brother Nii, whom we were going to meet now, lives between London, Leeds, and Accra. Dagna had met this Nii at Chale Wote four years ago, and was excited to see him again, since his arrival to Accra last Friday was a surprise. When we got to the theatre, we saw theatre of the oppressed Nii, who said that he was unsurprised at Leeds Nii’s surprise appearance at Homowo on Friday, since Nii periodically makes these kinds of arrivals.
What was surprising, though, and what made for a really positive coincidence, was that Leeds Nii turned out to be the person in charge of the concerts in Old Kingsway, and so was the man we needed in order to be able to leave our structures there. We explained to him what we were up to in Old Kingsway and the structures that we were busy making, and that for us it would make a lot more sense to have them there during the concerts, since it is the space where we created them. Leeds Nii understood and was really positive: he said we would find a solution for our structures and his concerts to coexist in the space. Maybe the structures could become part of the set, or maybe they could be on the side as chill-out zones (since our installations include seating spaces). We all set off to Old Kingsway for Nii to see the structures, and to give the boys the good news of not having to look for a new space anymore.
When we got there one structure was finished and standing. Ben told Nii that we are aiming to make five structures in total like that one, with a seating space below and lights dangling from the highest bamboos. We agreed that we could make it work with the concerts, Nii is planning to build a 15 feet by 15 feet stage in the shape of a radio, which he will be making on Friday. We can see how things evolve and take it from there. Massive relief not to have to look for a new space, and to be able to stay in Old Kingsway, the space where all was made possible.
We took a break at 7pm, but Aziz and Ben went back to Old Kingsway after just one hour to keep going in a cooler and less crowded atmosphere – the installation still needs to be finished by Friday, so intense work mode is on. Nao, Dagna and Valentina, however, will get back on it tomorrow. We went to hipster Osu to listen to some live music at a bar called Republic. The night was full of “simple love songs”, in the words of one of the singers.