Decolonisation—not just a buzzword…


Bhuchar Boulevard in association with SOAS
SOAS Virtual Festival of Ideas

Decolonisation—not just a buzzword… Credit: Buchar Boulevard

Last year, Bhuchar Boulevard was invited for a residency at SOAS (London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies) to examine individual and institutional responses to decolonisation through a new piece of work that looked at how SOAS was challenging its founding imperial purpose and delivering its vision to decolonise the education sector.

The result was this piece of verbatim virtual theatre in which the Boulevard team (Sudha Bhuchar, Suman Bhuchar, Neela Doležalová and director Kristine Landon-Smith) collected interviews with students and staff that have been arranged and edited then played over headphones to a group of actors who have never met or even seen the participants who then perform them verbatim reproducing the original delivery as closely as possible.

Actors aren’t matched to the original speaker so they may be voicing the contribution of someone of a different sex, age or ethnicity to themselves.

The result is a fascinating range of reactions that underline just how difficult it can be to change the nature of the discourse when past research and the creation of record has been in the hands of those from the colonising countries rather than indigenous peoples.

This is about something much more than the removal of statues (though that is a part of the discussion). It is a critical look at the content of teaching and not just the teachers but what comes from the students and hence an exploration of inherent racism.

Learning, argues one voice, has been through the eyes of Europeans. Another remarks that the archive tends to be housed in the Northern world and even online access can be more difficult from Africa.

It isn’t just that westerners have no grass roots knowledge of other cultures but people but those of non-European origin may not either and if they do may find what they have learned from family very different to what they are being told.

The speakers deliver the words of others with great fluency and their close-up images have an immediacy that is very powerful and cutting between individuals and multiple images gives added stimulus while the editing sometimes mischievously adds extra meaning.

The conflict here is of ideas rather than personalities. This isn’t dramatic in the way that most plays are but the multiple voices do make it feel like theatre. In a play, we are engaged by who the characters are and intriguingly part of the interest in this presentation comes from working out who the original speaker was. Teacher, student, from where and whether they do match the person who voices them. It is surprising how clearly some characters can be identified.

I saw a preview but the public screening is followed by a discussion.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton