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When Art Imitates Life: Stimulating Debate on Migration

Adama Dia
MaM volunteers Performing at Institut Français in Dakar on 6 July 2022 during the Senegal-Haiti Creative Residency Event. Photo: IOM 2022/Amanda Nero

When Maty Sarr speaks her truth, it is through performance. The seasoned actress has been working with the Migrants as Messengers (MaM) volunteer network since 2018.

Maty uses social theatre as a powerful artistic tool to share the experience of her migration journey. After reaching Europe by boat, she realized that life was not as she had imagined it would be. Maty returned to Senegal where she manages a theatre group created by returnees through the Senegalese Association for the Fight against Irregular Migration (ASMI).

The theatre group has collaborated with other Senegalese artists and has so far, developed four plays with more than 50 performances. Maty says the creative process offers a safe space for expression, inspiration to young audiences, and encourages social connection.

Maty Sarr performing in the presence of other returnees and actors. In each performance, the theatre group strives to deconstruct stereotypes associated with migration. Photo: IOM 2022

A Unique Artistic Collaboration

This year, Maty and other MaM volunteers were participants in a unique artistic collaboration between Haiti and Senegal. They collaborated in a creative residency with two artists focused thematically on migration – Fatoumata Bathily, an award-winning  Senegalese film producer; and Guy Régis Jr, a Haitian playwright, and theatre director.

At the outset of the creative residency, Guy led a theatre workshop on his play, “L’amour telle une cathédrale ensevelie”a universal story of a migrant’s journey in search of a better future. The play follows the journey of a son who is desperately trying to join his mother in what he believes to be an El Dorado.

The workshop, with ten volunteers, provided an opportunity for the group to share their migrant experience, while learning the text and songs of the play. Maty noted her admiration for the process and the group’s work, and said, “What impressed me was the talent that the volunteers displayed to enrich this play.”

Kolda-based volunteer Youssouf Sané performing at the creative residency event in Dakar. Photo: IOM 2022/Amanda Nero

Producing a short video was another key piece of the creative residency. For ten days, Fatoumata and Guy worked with Maty and four other volunteers as trainees to help produce a video for Guy’s theatre production launch during the Fall season in Paris. The volunteers learned staging, directing and mounting skills from Fatoumata and Guy who reflected that, “It’s good to take up one’s pen and write, but I wanted to meet people who went through this experience.”

“We Keep Repeating: Travelling Is Not Becoming Rich.”

On 6 July 2022, the Institut Français in Dakar hosted a performance to an audience of one hundred people to celebrate the creative residency. The performance incorporated three different languages that connected Senegal, Haiti and Western Africa – Wolof, Creole, and French.

Si guedj gui lagnou aksé

Si guédj gui laniouy demé

Diow nguir outi doundou wou gueun

Sou lanmè nou vini

Sou lanmè nou prale

Nap goudiye n ap chache zile Pou mezi pye nou

Par la mer nous sommes arrivés ici

Par la mer nous nous en allons d’ici

On navigue à chercher des îles à la mesure de nos pieds

By sea we came here

By sea we leave here

We sail to seek islands that fit our feet

Volunteer actor, Bineta Gano believes that the play helped unravel the myth that migration brings wealth. She said, “We performed this play among returning migrants and we deconstructed the idea that someone who has left their country necessarily becomes rich.”

The play further explored how the individual who has travelled must then take responsibility for the hope that a family or community projects onto him or her. Regular and safe migration can generate economic income, while irregular migration may expose individuals to risk and vulnerability.

In meeting and working with migrant returnees, Guy gratefully expressed, “I am very lucky to have made this trip and have met people that I will not forget and whom I will miss very much.”

This story was written by Adama DIA, Communication Assistant, IOM Senegal.