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Voices of Women, culture available to all

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Diane Theunissen

With a Master's degree in Arts and Lifestyle Journalism from the London College of Communication (UAL), Diane has been working in the cultural sector for several years. A big fan of indie rock and particularly sensitive to equality issues, she is a journalist, radio commentator, festival programmer and musician in her spare time, and writes her lunar thoughts almost every day in A6 notebooks, neither lined nor squa

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The Voix De Femmes Festival is the biennale which gives star billing to the arts and cultures through a feminist and inclusive prism. From tomorrow, the festival will return to the Liège front of stage with ‘Esprit de Suite’, a sixteenth edition dedicated to heritage and transmission.

A multidisciplinary festival

Founded in 1991, the Voix De Femmes Festival has taken on multiple guises: essentially focused on traditional music and theatre, this event has, over time, been transformed into a global cultural rendezvous, bringing together some ten disciplines. ‘When we took on the project, we really wanted to build bridges between artistic practices and the issues society is concerned with, in particular questions of gender, issues of inclusivity and accessibility. Now, it operates on many different levels: the performing arts are still represented, but depending on what we are working on, it might include sound creations, the visual arts, cinema, dance, or maybe stand-up,’ explains Flo Vandenberghe, the co-director of Voix De Femmes. Aiming to promote practices and knowledge borne by female artists, but also people from gender minority backgrounds, Voix De Femmes makes it a point of honour to decentralize culture. That’s why, this year, the festival is for the most part taking place in Liège. ‘In Brussels, there are many projects which are working in these areas, and they do it amazingly well, whereas in Liège we are the only ones who are tackling this interface between gender questions and artistic practices,’ Flo points out.

‘Esprit de Suite’, between heritage and transmission

Two years ago, the Voix De Femmes Festival celebrated its birthday with the ‘Dis/continue’ edition, looking into the questions of heritage and transmission. To sustain the momentum generated – and because things are never really concluded – the team is returning with ‘Esprit de Suite’, an edition spanning 18 days during which preservation, transmission, stories and silences will once again be the focal points.

Tove Jansson

This year, the festival will shine a light on stories which are too seldom heard: on the programme, around twenty or so readings, meetings, creations, shows and workshops which will give the people concerned the opportunity to speak. Whilst the festivities commence with great fanfare, centring on the Finnish artist Tove Jansson, traditional music will be given pride of place a few days later, to the delight of all. On October 7 at KulturA, the public will have the chance to hold discussions with Radio Campus and the La Crue collective on the bridges between traditional music and contemporary perspectives, and subsequently enjoy a wonderful evening of singing and percussion led by La Crapaude and La Mòssa. ‘La Crapaude, is more steeped in Wallonia, whilst La Mòssa is full of repertoires from southern Italy, reinterpretations of Swedish songs, etc. For people who are very rooted in contemporary music, it’s interesting to listen to what is happening elsewhere. This music genre exists, and it still has its significance,’ explains Caroline Bertolini, communications officer for the Voix De Femmes. A participatory workshop on the writing and the rewriting of traditional songs will be held the next day, at the CC Kali.

‘Esprit de Suite’ will also welcome the artist Laïla Amezian for a big day of Chaabi music on October 14. ‘Laïla offers women, be they Arabic speakers or not, the opportunity to reclaim this repertoire and to learn the songs,’ adds Caroline. ‘The Chabbi project is a repertoire which is very much alive and well in the Moroccan community. It is massively nurtured by women of the local diaspora who practice it in settings which are not public, but take in the whole of the community life,’ emphasises Caroline. Recalling the rooted nature of traditional music, she adds: ‘These are things which exist. Laïla’s project is precisely to bring to light the whole of this work of transmission, artistic practice and expertise, which these women have here and which has been made completely invisible.’

An inclusive programme

Voix De Femmes also encompasses exchanges, encounters and dialogues with varied audiences, less privileged, and often little included in the cultural sector. This year, the Festival team has in particular linked up with several organisations whose aim is to promote the inclusion of deaf and hard-of-hearing people: several events will be accessible in Francophone Belgium Sign Language, including a presentation of the work of the Finnish artist Tove Jansson, as well as the reading of a Moomins story for children aged 4 to 7, by the SIGRA collective.

An inclusive programme, therefore, which does not just spring out of nowhere: ‘there is all the same a pretty direct link between the profiles of the people who establish the programme and the profiles of those who attend the events. It is for this reason that we are constantly saying that we need women, gender minorities and racialised people in the decision-making bodies,’ Flo tells us. An essential measure which was rapidly adopted by the Voix De Femmes: apart from its intergenerational character, the Festival team often reaches out to people from different backgrounds and communities. ‘For the programming and the work areas, we work with a collective which generally includes some ten people or so who have been previously heavily involved in the project: former organisers, past employees, former trainees, etc. These people also have greatly varied profiles and very different cultural anchorage points,’ adds Flo. This inclusiveness is also achieved by giving people who are not represented in the team carte blanche to develop their projects. ‘That is what we did with Bledarte and Who’s That Girl, the Atout Comedy Club plus Laïla Amezian’, she explains.

Staying with the perspective of inclusivity, the Voix De Femmes team has set up the Roudoudou Social Club, a child-care service available to all, and which is located on the festival site. ‘At various times during the festival, there will be quiet spaces with professional carers to welcome children aged 0 to 14, with loads of material, whatever is needed to arrange a siesta, change a baby’s nappies, breastfeed, etc. The children can be left there in capable hands without having to be registered beforehand,’ adds Flo. An innovative initiative which can only be applauded: considered far too little within the cultural sector, parenting questions are crucial, and demand that they are seriously looked into.

Activities accessible at low cost and open pricing

It is not a scoop you are the first to hear about: culture costs a lot, and unfortunately it is not available to all. In an attempt to overcome these inequalities, more and more cultural organisations are offering events at low costs or even on a free pricing basis. An initiative very quickly taken on board by the Voix De Femmes team: ‘We know that some people are, given their situation, often in more precarious circumstances. […] The idea is to be able to include, in the conversation, the people who are directly affected, and that they are able to take part in the activities which represent them and which are connected to their life stories. All of these activities are generally at the lowest prices,’ explains Flo. Among others, the play ‘La Fracture’ by Yasmine Yahiatene can be seen at prices that people can choose themselves (5€/10€/15€). A clear indication of the prices for each event can be found on the Festival website, as well as on the printed programme

‘Esprit de Suite’, just about everywhere in Liège from 4 to 21 October. See you there?

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