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Letters From ~ 15 

Letter from Fort Kochi and Cape Town

Vibrant link between the Arts and Adult Education

Astrid von Kotze


The rickshaw stopped outside the museum and loaded 5 large boxes and two people. ‘I recognize you!’, said the driver, ‘You are the people who performed the giraffe!’ He had come to the Cabral Yard of Aspinwall where the Kochi Biennale performances were held, curious to just have a look – but he stayed for the performance, spellbound. For the rest of the journey, he hummed the ‘Malindi’ song from the play, happy to transport the boxes which he rightly assumed contained the giraffes and other paraphernalia, now on their way to be exhibited.

On 7 February, the Insurrections Ensemble performed ‘Giraffe humming’, to a packed audience. The ensemble has an over 10-year history of research looking at ancient lineages and uncovering how colonialism resisted Afro-Asian countries to delve into their pre-colonial histories. Previously, they focused on the movements of people and stories of slavery. This play dealt with the violence against nature, within the context of power, classes, servitude. The story is based on a documented journey in 1414 of three giraffes from Malindi, East Africa, destined as a gift to the sheiks of Bengal. One was then taken further, to China. The giraffes are portrayed by a variety of puppets that demonstrate the cruelty and brutality of displacement, while vivid projections and music from both sides of the Indian ocean tell the story. The ensemble consists of artists from India, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania and China.

Interestingly, the music resists the tag of ‘fusion’: it is the result of fine musicians listening and responding to each other, picking up similarities and working out connections, respectful of dissimilarities. This is beyond ‘diversity’ in that the dialogues created by African and Indian instruments and tonalities take music and messages further, towards new meanings.

What is remarkable are two things: firstly, audiences at this and other shows represent people across any divides such as caste, age, gender, and their determination to participate makes venues burst at the seams. Surely, the extensive literacy campaigns in Kerala state have borne fruit and kindled curiosity and passion for the arts. Secondly, the effect of a cultural policy that finds expression in huge support for the arts and literature in the state. A vibrant Cultural Affairs Department allocates funds to numerous international festivals, thus demonstrating their commitment to act as guardian of Kerala’s cultural heritage. Kerala has a reputation for social justice, gender equality, health and education. Festivals play an important part in growing art forms and nurturing audiences. In my experience there has never been a warmer, more vibrant link between the arts and adult education! Reclaiming arts and culture as integral to adult education will have all of us humming! We have much to learn from Kerala.

Kind regards to Chris Duke with his insightful analytical writing – with warmth and humour!


Astrid von Kotze, Ensemble member and Puppeteer, living in Cape Town, South Africa.

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