In 2006, at the apex of gender-based violence (GBV) in Malawi, one Herbert Mankhwala cut off both arms of his wife, Marietta Samuel.
The story shook the country but still, cases of attacks on women persist.
In 2012, several men were arrested for ridiculing women wearing pants, short skirts and leggings in the capital Lilongwe. In some cases, the women were stripped naked in the cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu.
These are just a few of the many examples of GBV in Malawi and new cases are still being registered, especially in rural areas.
Moved by the increased cases of GBV, writer and social activist Shadreck Chikoti has come up with a book and arts festival, to denounce societal ills through art.
“The Feminart Arts and Book Festival is a celebration of femininity in its varied forms through book talks and other forms of art. It is organised by the Story Club Malawi, an arts hub that gathers enthusiasts of art. The 2019 inaugural festival will take place in Lilongwe, under the theme The Pursuit of Happiness,” he said.
Chikoti adds that some have used the arts in Malawi as a medium for propagating patriarchy whose tenets trample on the womenfolk.
“Feminart Arts and Book Festival was triggered by several events that happened in Malawi. It is not a secret that the arts sector in Malawi has not helped much in bringing about a positive image about women and the girl child. If anything, the arts have been in the forefront promoting patriarchy and male chauvinism in our society.
“There have been most songs and poems that have
depicted women as weeds that choke life out of men, flowers whose beauty fades easily, money lovers, dancing queens, prostitutes and other forms of degradation. There was even a song in 2017 that celebrated and promoted rape,” he explained.
The song was banned after the civil society, including the Story Club Malawi, spoke against it.
However, the influence that the song or indeed any form of art has in bringing about perspectives and opinions on society cannot be denied. Simply put, art is a powerful tool in shaping and forming people’s world view.
“The Feminart Arts and Book Festival deliberately seeks to engage the arts sector and society in discussing issues that surround feminism, femininity and gender. At the Story Club, we strongly believe that in this century, art will continue to shape the affairs of our societies.
“Abraham Lincoln said, ‘The best way to predict your future is to create it.’ Our societies can only be as good as we imagine them. The societies we have now is a mirror of our art. It is this realisation that makes the Story Club hopeful that the festival will contribute highly to the public discourse and perceptions on issues regarding feminism, femininity and gender,” said Chikoti.
In preparation for the festival, organisers are courting both international and local artists.
“The activities will include book talks, panel discussions, art exhibitions, music performances, drama, poetry, all geared towards the theme and ideology of the festival. It will attract at least 12 international writers and artists like Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chimamanda Ngozi of the Americana fame and we are hoping to get her as a headliner, Zukiswa Wanner, Beatrice Lamwaka, among many others. Details of the writers will come soon,” said Chikoti.
Already, Femninart has gotten the international nod by being listed by the African Literary Podcast as one of the “African Literary Festivals you can attend in 2019”.
The www.jamesmurua.com website, mentions the festival together with over 50 others like the Cairo, Ghana, South African and Zimbabwe book fairs as well as the Swahili Literary Festival.
The Story Club is a gathering of enthusiasts; art managers and lovers and involves all forms of art, from literature to visual arts and anything in-between. The club gathers to critique and celebrate art, share happenings around the world in the arts but also, more importantly, links art to our socioeconomic existence.
The club has a deliberate focus on how art can shape the future of Malawi and the African continent.
In 2015, The Story Club produced an all-Africa anthology that carries futuristic stories of how writers imagined the future 500 years from then.
Since its inception, the club has engaged artists from Denmark, Netherlands, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and many parts of the world, who have visited Malawi to interact with artists and art lovers. n