Charity director Danielle Smith spoke at the first Arts4HumanRights festival "DisPLACEment" in Southwark last week (May 13). Partnered with social worker Ioannis Athanasiou on the topic of Displaced Peoples and Creative Practices, Danielle spoke about the indigenous people of Western Sahara, the Saharawis, whose identity and culture has been threatened by the twin impact of protracted exile and Morocco's integrationist policies since their invasion in 1975
Addressing the audience at Art's Bar for the first time, Danielle read a Saharawi poem from the bilingual poetry book, 31 treinta y uno, a collaboration project between Sandblast and the editors Pablo San Martin and Ben Bollig at Leeds University (published in 2007).
Danielle's warm and sensual voice carries the poem line for line through the room, reaching not only the ears but the hearts of the audience. She has read them many times, to herself and to others. She knows the poem word for word, but more than that, she knows its meaning, its origin, the poet and his story behind the words. It touches the audience, draws them in and doesn't let them go.
When Danielle goes on to speak about the Saharawis and the major obstacles they face in fighting for their right for self-determination, her voice is not warm any more. Her voice is passionate instead. Unadulterated passion for the cause, for the promotion of the rich Saharawi culture, for making the Saharawi voices heard:
The indigenous people of Western Sahara were forcibly displaced when the Moroccan army invaded their homeland in 1975 claiming its sovereignty. When a 16-year long war enraged between Morocco and the POLISARIO Front, thousands of Saharawis escaped the war-ridden territory to seek refuge in Algeria. They have lived in temporary refugee camps since then. Having been denied their Heimat, the Saharawi refugees embraced creative practices, such as poetry, performance art and music as a way of expressing their culture. As a way of keeping their distinct identity alive, the refugees use the arts to actively defy the uprising bitterness of not being heard by the international community, of not being able to work and earn a living, of seeing a people's hope and aspirations drained by protracted exile.
When the talk comes to a close, the audience felt enlightened and thankful to being able to learn about the Saharawi refugees and Sandblast's work. A raging success in 2010, we are all looking forward to next year's Arts 4 Human Rights festival and hope for many more events to come in the next few months.