Last week, SICK! Festival, which describes itself as “the antidote to the physical, mental and social challenges of life”, came to the University of Sussex for a week long showcase of its various artists and performances.
Ogutu Muraya was one of the many talented performers on the agenda of this year’s SICK! Festival with his show entitled ‘Fractured Memory’. Inspired by James Baldwin’s essay ‘Princes and Powers’, Muraya takes the audience on an imagined journey that begins at the Sorbonne in Paris, 1956, where a congregation of Afro-intellectuals, writers and artists met. From this starting point, Muraya weaves together an interesting tale of both personal experiences as well as historical standpoints in order to bring the audience a better idea of the effects of the Sorbonne. This is a period of modern history that is still remarkably untold, thus rendering Muraya’s performance a very important social and political commentary.
Visually, ‘Fractured Memory’ was especially enjoyable due to Muraya’s extremely varied selection of visual aids. Throughout the performance, Muraya would often deliver his lines to the audience whilst also using a larger screen behind him as part of the set. The screen would display close-ups of Muraya’s hands as he spoke, or, more frequently, two screens layered together portraying Muraya in black and white as he talked and laughed. Not only did this appear to serve the purpose of highlighting the different emotional nuances Muraya sought to communicate across, but also served to display a vintage aesthetic not unlike the 1950s time period that the performance centres itself around.
Muraya used a variety of visual and audio clips from historical archives to educate his audience about the different historical time periods that he was seeking to discuss. This seems to serve the purpose of marking scene changes and to signal the start and end of different narratives. It also served to help the audience gain a degree of background knowledge before Muraya’s continued discussion and performance, something particularly valuable in a performance that was often rather difficult to follow due to the complex content that was being dealt with.
A particularly gripping and shocking part of the performance was through Muraya’s own personal stories about being a young boy in Kenya and surviving his home being under attack, with only he and his mother inside. With the aid of a number of beautifully drawn masks, Muraya describes the way he and his mother attempt to fool and scare their attackers away by pretending that there were a lot more people inside of the house who were unafraid and ready to fight back. It was a fascinating tale about strength and resilience in the face of an adverse and life-threatening situation, as well as showcasing a more traditional method of storytelling that was as enchanting as it was informative. Perhaps what is especially interesting about this particular story is that it was set as recently as 2007, highlighting a collective Western ignorance to the issues occurring in the world around us. However, this is something Muraya does expertly through the medium of theatre, in order to educate Western audiences on issues perhaps unbeknown to much of our society by appealing to our greater emotions and senses.
Muraya’s ‘Fractured Memory’ is a show that will not soon be forgotten for all of those in attendance, due to the often shocking and heartbreaking personal stories weaved alongside historical videos and audio clips. Due to the complex nature of the content and context Muraya chose to focus on, the performance is hard to follow for an audience member not well-acquainted with the events that went on at the Sorbonne. However, juxtaposed against vintage style aesthetics and intricate props and tied together with Muraya’s gift for spoken-word style prose and humour, complex issues regarding the aftermath of the Sorbonne are addressed in a creative and innovative manner likely to leave a lasting impression on all those who go to see it.