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GM corn theme for Mexican theatre activist at Massey

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
GM corn theme for Mexican theatre activist at Massey

The impact of genetically modified corn on indigenous people is the theme of a provocative multi-media theatre work by Mexican artist/activist Violeta Luna at Massey’s Wellington campus on June 26.

Titled NK603: Action for Performer and e-Maíz, the performance reflects on the reality of genetically engineered corn and its “devastating consequences on life, particularly for indigenous peoples” says Ms Luna. NK603 refers to the product code number of a commercially available genetically modified corn seed.

Brought to Wellington by Massey University’s School of English and Media Studies as part of the Australasian Drama Studies Association conference, co-hosted by Victoria and Massey Universities, Ms Luna will give a special free public performance in the Grand Hall, Museum Building. The theme of the June 25-28 conference is Restoring Balance: Ecology, Sustainability, Performance.

“For Mexicans and many other Latin Americans, maíz [corn] nurtures the body, and also the soul, as native sacred texts tell the story of how our first people were made out of maize. As such, it plays a symbolic role in rituals, and it is also one of our key traditional food sources, from the American Southwest, to Patagonia, ” Ms Luna says.

She is particularly interested to be coming to New Zealand to learn more about GM issues and campaigns in this country.

“The invasive presence of GMOs is a global ill, and the struggle against these corporations must be global as well. We often do our work feeling a bit lonely about it,” she says. “Awareness of each other is so important.”

Her performance combines video, physical theatre and electronic music by her collaborator David Molina, to create a multi-faceted narrative of forceful and subversive imagery, mixed with powerful rituals of memory and resistance.

Born in Mexico City, Ms Luna studied acting at the Centro Universitario de Teatro, and La Casa del Teatro. Her innovative work combining theatre, performance art and activism to explore modes of awareness-building and community engagement has taken her around the world.

She has performed and taught workshops throughout Latin America, Europe, Africa, and the United States of America. In New Zealand she will deliver a keynote presentation and public performance at the conference, and will host an experimental theatre and performance workshop exploring issues of body and identity, at Massey University’s Wellington Campus Theatre Laboratory from June 21-23.

Elspeth Tilley, an Associate Professor in English and Expressive Arts, and Massey’s representative for the conference, says she and her colleagues were keen to bring Ms Luna to New Zealand because “she exemplifies the non-traditional ways in which we work with theatre in the Massey Expressive Arts programme.”

“We’re looking forward to showing our students, and the New Zealand public, through Violeta’s work, another global example of theatre used effectively for enhancing social justice, mutual understanding and political change.”

“We teach expressive arts disciplines – including creative writing, filmmaking and theatre – in the context of a communication programme, which is an entirely unique educational offering,” Dr Tilley says. “This means we emphasise artistic expression as both intrinsically worthwhile and as a means to an end – art has aesthetic value but also powerful utility as a communication tool that can connect people with ideas, provoke new ways of looking at things, and create change.”

“Violeta’s creative activism illustrates this approach strikingly,” she says. “There has been a lot of passionate debate about genetic modification in Aotearoa – perhaps even a stalemate of irreconcilable ideas – but her performance combines clashing viewpoints in ways that are personal, embodied and challenging to existing assumptions. We’re excited about this because the topic of indigenous relationships to science and commerce is so directly relevant for us as a bicultural nation with legacy issues from colonialism.”

Massey presenters at the conference include award-winning playwright and Expressive Arts Associate Professor Angie Farrow, and Expressive Arts lecturer Dr Rand Hazou.

Dr Farrow will explore the ways sustainability issues are addressed through community theatre in her eco-critical play The River, which traced the history of the Manawatū River. It encompassed conflicting community viewpoints on issues of pollution, responsibility, ownership, stewardship and the spiritual significance of waterways in multiple cultures. She will focus on the challenges and strengths for community theatre in fostering dialogue about a tense social and political issue in a regional community.

Dr Hazou will discuss a theatre project called E(Lab)orating Performance, a transnational collaborative teaching and learning programme for students from Massey University, University of Cape Town (South Africa), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), and UWC Mahindra College (India).

The pilot project, funded by the Brown University International Advanced Research Institute (BIARI) on 'Theatre and Civil Society’, focuses on tasks that encourage students to respond creatively to ideas around the performance of racial and engendered identity, such as through exchanges of written and performed monologues based on images or ‘selfies’.

Violeta’s free evening performance is at 7-8pm, Thursday, June 26. For more information about the conference click here.


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