The Feminart Arts and Book Festival 2019 was hosted in venues around Lilongwe, Malawi from November 23-24, 2019. The festival theme was “the pursuit of happiness.”
Malawi hasn’t had a major literary festival in recorded history. This is why the team at the Shadreck Chikoti-led Story Club Arts Café decided to right this wrong with the Feminart Arts and Book Festival. While they could have simply organised a festival and run with it, the team opted for one with feminism, gender equality, and femininity as core to its mission. This is the first feminist literary festival that we have seen since we started tracking those hosted on the continent.
Early in November, the festival had announced a raft of guests to attend events in the capital city of Malawi led by headliner Tsitsi Dangarembga. These guests made their way to the heart of Africa for a first in that country’s history. The festival was principally sponsored by Lilongwe resident Yamikani Chikoti proving that Africans do believe in their own art and are willing to support it.
Feminart was hosted at the Crossroads Hotel, the Story Club Arts Café, and the Madsoc Theatre in Lilongwe over the two days it ran. Here is a snapshot.
The festival kicked off on November 23 with speeches from festival director Shadreck Chikoti and award-winning actress, theatre director, and film director Joyce Chavula. There were also performances by kid poets, singers, and dancers as well as Music Crossroads Malawi and The Daughters Band. You can read about the opening ceremony here.
Tsitsi Dangarembga headliner speech
The headliner at the Feminart Festival for 2019 was the original feminist author Tsitsi Dangarembga who’s debut novel Nervous Conditions came out in 1988. Since then, she has led the line speaking about feminism and oppression both in her art as a novelist, film director, and screenplay writer and her life organising around film as a festival organiser, trainer and loads more. Her keynote address was “feminist survival in a conservative society.” Below is a sample of the keynote she gave to the audience at the Crossroads Hotel. The speech can be read here.
Book chats and panels
Lilongweans were treated to several book chats and panels at the Crossroads Hotel and the Madsoc Theatre. They included sessions with Elizabeth Chilufya Chilangwa and Zukiswa Wanner, Niq Mhlongo and James Murua, and Tsitsi Dangarembga and Asante Lucy Mtenje. The panels focused on the feminine side of the art the writers produced and their own opinions on the place of feminism in art and the wider world. Here is some video we recorded with our trusty cellphone.
Saturday, November 23, Story Club Arts Cafe
It wasn’t just people sitting around talking about the issues as many performances were witnessed. At the end of the first day, everyone made their way to Story Club Arts Café to hear poetry and music performances from several artists like Lily Banda, Chris Msosa and many others. Below is Lily Banda giving her performance that evening.
Sunday, November 24, The Madsoc Theatre
On the Sunday, there was the reading marathon conducted by Awurama Ng’oma. In this innovative session, poets and other writing types were encouraged to come on the stage and read two minutes of any work they had either produced or that had influenced them. Over an hour, we witnessed poets and prose writers come through and read their work which featured feminist themes as well as every day topics that mattered to those presenting. That was one of the most enjoyable sessions at the whole festival.
There was also an open mic session called the Feminart Spoken Word where poets shared their poetry and blew away all that attended. At this event we saw that Malawi has as much talent in poetry, if not more than, as many of the recognised capitals of poetry on the continent.
Another highlight was the performance by singer, songwriter and poet Lily Banda. Banda can only be described as a Malawian combination of Beyonce, Ciara, and her own personality with her high energy show. Here is a sample of that show from the singer’s YouTube channel.
There was a film screening of Wanuri Kahiu’s popular movie Rafiki that was well received by the audience at the Madsoc Theatre on Sunday, November 24.
At the closing ceremony, Lilongweans had to say goodbye to the many new friends that had been made at the festival. Giving speeches were festival director Shadreck Chikoti and chair Zilanie Gondwe. You can watch the speeches below.