The Culminating convening for the 2023 Lab cohort took place in Senegal west Africa. A group of artists from around the world came together to share artistic practices, ideas, and discussions while admiring the rich Senegalese culture.
by Princess Rose Zinzi Mhlongo
Summarizing my time in Senegal is challenging because of the many memorable interactions I experienced. These interactions highlighted the significance of The Lab 2023 Global Fellows cohort’s gathering in Africa. One exchange that stuck out to me was with Lab Fellow Weseley Ruzibiza, artistic director of École des Sables, a center for contemporary and African dance, who would be our host, guaranteeing that we would have a genuine Senegalese experience. A group of artists from around the world would come together to share artistic practices, ideas, and discussions while admiring the rich Senegalese culture.
As someone who was born and raised in the arid township of Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, South Africa, I value the opportunity to travel as a means of connecting with the world and with people from different backgrounds. However, the majority of my travels have taken place outside of the African continent. When I was given the opportunity to travel to Senegal, I was thrilled. My 8-year-old son, Moagi Prince Maake, has never traveled beyond South Africa, so when the opportunity allowed him to join the convening, I knew that it would be a memorable experience. I recognized the importance of this experience as a chance to immerse ourselves in a different culture in a foreign country and to expand our knowledge of the world through the various engagements the convening would offer.
Moagi and I departed from Johannesburg, South Africa, on the morning of June 3rd, for Senegal. We had a stopover in Kinshasa, then a connecting flight in Côte d’Ivoire. However, upon arriving in Côte-d’Ivoire, we encountered a significant delay that took hours to resolve. Finally, we arrived in Sénégal at 4 a.m. Exhausted and unable to take in an initial glimpse of the beautiful country we continued to our accommodations. On our way we took in the misty darkness of the early morning hours. I could see shop owners hard at work, getting ready for the activities of the day to come. We finally arrived at Mampuya in the village of Toubab Dialaw, where we would be spending the next couple of days. Physically we were exhausted, but we eagerly jumped into bed in anticipation for the coming days.
Our programming included a series of workshops presented by myself, alongside fellow Lab alumni Lloyd Nyikadzino Karishma Bhagani, Lab Associate Director Emma Jaster, Lab Artistic and Executive Director/ Co-Founder Derek Goldman and special guest playwright and Actress Nikkole Salter. These workshops varied drastically in composition. There were physical group explorations, games and exercises— a beautiful interactive physical experience designed to enhance stimulating discussions on redefining politics and creating from the heart versus and opposed to obligation. We shared our diverse perspectives and life experiences while moving under the flaming African sun. Our in-house workshops took place at Mampuya… a setting imbued with inspiration and Senegalese culture. While here, our hosts prepared our meals for us,
utilizing fresh ingredients from their community garden.
The external workshops took place at École des Sables, where upon arrival we observed a class of dancers moving fluidly across the floor, their bodies fully committed to the movements. We then moved to our first class, Rhythm & Djembe, with facilitator Tarang Cissokhoa and his band. They skillfully guided us through rhythmic patterns and improvisation and a dance break out session.
The next workshop was a dance class by Alesandra Seutin, which explored body movement by viewing the body as the universe, where everything is interconnected. We danced with this in mind as we followed Alesandra’s choreography with Tarang Cissokhoa rhythm on the djembe. Being able to dance freely on the soil of École des Sables brought about an understanding of the resilience needed by founder Germaine Acogny to create a space for the advancement and development of dance in Sénégal. A true example of hope by providing opportunities for individuals to believe in their own potential for transformation regardless of their circumstances. As a South African who has had a passion for creating such platforms in my own country, I realized that one requires dedication, hard work, and resilience. However, with passion and a clear vision, there are so many possibilities in serving our creative communities.
Overall, the workshops provided us with a space for artistic exploration, knowledge sharing, and networking with people from all walks of life who are passionate about the arts in a global context, fostering an open dialogue that encourages cross-cultural understanding and collaboration.
Picture moments with fellows from the current Lab Cohort 2023 picture by Princess MhlongoSénégal is known for its rich diverse culture and for someone who has never traveled to an Islamic country I was excited to discover that we would be traveling during Tabaski, also known as Eid al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice, which I learnt is one of their most important religious holidays. It commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. The preparations for Tabaski begin weeks in advance, with families saving money to buy a sheep or goat for slaughter during the festival. On our way to Dakar for a day visit to the city we were able to witness numerous vehicles carrying goats to their homes where they will come together to express their faith, strengthen social bonds, and celebrate as one united nation.
This gave me insight into the people of Sénégal and their way of life, uniting regardless of the terrible acts committed against Africans in historical sites like Gorée Island. The Island is located off the coast of Dakar and served as a major trading post where African slaves were held captive before being transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Standing on the same grounds where thousands of enslaved Africans were held captive evoked strong emotions. As we walked through the slave dungeons and saw the cramped and dark conditions where men, women, and children were forced to live before being transported across the Atlantic, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness and anger. Seeing my son’s reaction to this historical site also stirred up a mix of emotions within me. On one hand, I felt a responsibility to educate him about this dark chapter in history and ensure he understands the importance of fighting against oppression and injustice. On the other hand, it saddened me that he had to witness such cruelty at such a young age.
Despite its painful past, Gorée Island also offers glimmers of hope. It serves as a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit – how even in the face of unspeakable brutality, people find ways to survive and resist. The island now welcomes visitors from all over the world who come seeking understanding, empathy, and a renewed commitment to justice.
After an extended period of pushing my physical and emotional boundaries, it was time to say goodbye to Sénégal. As we prepared to depart, I knew my son and I were leaving with so much more than just memories. We were taking with us a newfound appreciation for life and an understanding of the world beyond our own. The sights, sounds, and scents of Senegal had etched themselves indelibly into our minds , reminding us of the beauty and resilience of this country.
But as I packed our bags and prepared to leave, I realized that we were leaving behind a part of ourselves. We were leaving behind the comfort zones that we had once relied upon, embracing the unknown and allowing ourselves to grow. We were leaving behind preconceived notions and stereotypes, replacing them with empathy and understanding.
As we drove to the airport I bid Sénégal farewell – giving thanks for it has given me so much more than I could ever give in return. I will forever cherish the memories and carry the spirit with me as I continue on my journey of growth and understanding as an African creative.
About the Author
Princess Rose Zinzi Mhlongo obtained her BA in Drama at The Tshwane University of Technology. Upon directing her debut production And The Girls In their Sunday Dresses, Princess was named the 2012 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year. For several years, she ran an independent performance space called The Plat4orm, attending to the need of developing new uncensored work in the industry. In 2020 she was selected to be part of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics Lab Fellows Program for 2020-2022. She is the managing director of African Entertainers an artist and asset management entertainment company which has produced features films to be released in 2024 and an international Europe and America tour of the performance art piece The Black Circus of Republic of Bantu 2023- 2024 that is currently on tour in Europe