HEAR WORD! Launches United Nations Evening of Performance

MAR 13, 2018

After closing in Cambridge, HEAR WORD! Naija Woman Talk True continues to reach international audiences. On Sunday, March 11, 2018, the United Nations’ General Assembly Hall filled for a performance of HEAR WORD!, presented as part of “Unity in Diversity: An Evening of Art & Hope with Nigerian Women.”

Convened by the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations, “Unity in Diversity” celebrated female Nigerian artists in anticipation of the 62nd session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. Beginning March 12, this year’s session focuses specifically on empowering rural women and girls. Sunday’s event, which culminated in a fully staged presentation of HEAR WORD! also featured a reading by author Dr. Queen Blessing Itua of her new book We Art the Blessings of Africa and a screening of two short films by filmmaker Nadine Ibrahim.

Before the performance, HEAR WORD! director Ifeoma Fafunwa joined Itua, Ibrahim, and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for a panel conversation. All three guests emphasized the importance of the arts in creating cultural changes that work in tandem with policy initiatives.

“I found that when you experience live a true story, you can empathize, and you begin to see yourself inside the story,” said Fafunwa. “You can ask yourself where you are a victim, or where you are a perpetrator, where you are perhaps a gatekeeper of patriarchy… And there’s a simple shift in your perception of what is possible, and of what you may not want to tolerate any more. The performance shifts the audience’s understanding of their own potential for change.”

Originally presented as a limited engagement at the Harvard Dance Center in 2016, HEAR WORD! returned to the A.R.T. for a full run in January 2018. Fafunwa is also in residence as a Fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study through the 2017/18 academic year, working on a new project entitled “Who Would Choose to Be LGBT and Nigerian?”

Featuring an intergenerational ensemble of leading Nigerian actresses, HEAR WORD! combines song and dance with intimate portraits of women across Nigeria. Inspired by Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls…HEAR WORD! examines the factors that limit Nigerian women’s potential while celebrating their capacity to break barriers of silence and change the status quo. The production was a phenomenon in Nigeria, giving sold-out performances at theaters and universities across the country, as well as pop-up presentations in rural locations.

Following the presentation of HEAR WORD!, H. E. Prof Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Permanent representative of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the UN, invited H. E. Fatima Kari Mohammed, Ambassador of the African Union to the United Nations, to give closing remarks.

“This evening was not just about entertainment,” she said. “I think each and every one of the artists here tonight shared an important message with us. As women, the ‘other half’ of our population, we have work to do. We need to catch up, and we must do this together. Unity in Diversity goes beyond tolerance. It’s about understanding the other: men understanding women, women understanding men. Black, white, Asian, African, European—we must see the benefit of the difference of the other in order for us to understand the benefits of having a peaceful and united world.”