French 'Artivist' Partners with 2018 Nobel Prize Winner to Help Victims of Sexual Violence through Dance

The Paris Center inaugurated its fall 2018 cultural season with an event that brought dancers, choreographers, and health professionals together to highlight the project Re-Creation by Loba, which uses dance as a tool for the physical and psychological transformation of victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

October 16, 2018

The Re-Creation by Loba project arose from the meeting between French dancer-choreographer Bolewa Sabourin and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Dennis Mukwege, a gynecologist specializing in the physical reconstruction rape victims in the DRC. In the last fifteen years, Dr. Mukwege’s Panzi hospital has operated on more than 40,000 women and girls who have suffered sexual trauma and genital mutilation in the DRC.

Dr. Mukwege’s Panzi Foundation not only contributes to the physical reconstruction of these victims, but also to their psychological health and social integration through therapy and education. Moved by Dr. Mukwege’s work, Sabourin asked the surgeon how he could help. Mukwege responded, “Create a project for us.”

dancing

Thus began the association's partnership with the Panzi Foundation. Working with a psychotherapist on site, Loba began helping women express themselves through movement, using dance as a tool for emancipation and as a powerful means to help them reclaim their bodies and their stories.

These stories in turn are brought back to France where they are given voice in the performances by the Re-Creation by Loba dance company, which aims to raise awareness of the reality of sexual violence as a weapon of war and terror. The moving performance combines traditional Congolese dance with the heartbreaking and often brutally detailed words describing the women’s experiences.

The performance at the Paris Center was followed by a round table discussion with Mathilde Delespine, a midwife at the Maison des Femmes in Saint Denis; dancer-choreographers Sandra Sainte Rose and Bintou Dembélé; and author-filmmaker Nora Philippe. Ghada Hatem, founder of the La Maison des femmes, joined the discussion via Skype.

The discussion centered around empowering women to reappropriate their bodies, their stories and their place in public space through dance and other forms of artistic expression.

Mathilde Delespine, Bintou Dembélé, Nora Philippe, Sandra Sainte Rose

“The simple fact of standing up, refusing to be invisible, and taking over public space is a way of resisting, of reconstructing one’s own identity,” said Sandra Sainte Rose Fanchine, who in 2017 created 30 nuances de Noir(es) (30 shades of black), a fanfare composed of 24 women and one man, all professional dancers and musicians. Inspired by the New Orleans fanfares, 30 Nuances de Noir(es) postulates the reappropriation of public space by the racially discriminated female body.

Echoing this sentiment, Bintou Dembélé, who is recognized as one of the pioneer hip hop dancers in France, explained how dance helped her defy stereotypes and reclaim her own identity: “Hip-hop culture allowed me to have access to a cri de corps, it gave me a voice and allowed me to reappropriate public space”

Since 2002 artistic director of her own dance company Rualité, Dembélé’s work focuses on the memory of the body through the prism of French colonial and post-colonial history. She is currently creating a performance for the 350th anniversary of the Opera de Paris.

Recognizing the healing power of dance, La Maison des femmes in Saint Denis, a center for victims of abuse and violence founded in 2016 by gynecologist Ghada Hatem, also provides weekly dance workshops for its patients. Mathilde Delespine a midwife at La Maison des femmes noted that women who participate in the workshops have reported feeling more autonomous and confident.

Listen to the discussion here (in French):