The British Council, in partnership with the London Southbank Centre, will be bringing the WoW – Women of the World Festival to Sri Lanka on the 2nd and 3rd of December 2017. The festival, which is free to enter, will take place at the National Film Corporation Grounds and is open to all members of the public (including men and boys). What promises to be an exciting weekend, this festival celebrates and empowers women and will have multiple events, performances and workshops running simultaneously catering not only to women but to men and boys too. We decided to meet the curators of the festival and ask them for their thoughts on WoW and why everyone should come be a part of this event.
This is the first time such a festival is taking place in Sri Lanka. When talking to Tehani Chitty (the curator for the theatre and dance programme) who is both an actor and drama therapist, she mentioned the importance of WoW Festival being held here in Sri Lanka – ‘Women of the World will provide a large platform from which to highlight the achievements, talents and experiences of Sri Lankan women in a place where such spaces are too few and far between.’ Subha Wijesiriwardena (a feminist activist, writer/blogger, media analyst and curator of the talks programme) further elaborated on the festival’s importance – ‘WoW will be a space for women to be truly SEEN and HEARD.’ She continued, ‘We are there, we are in every sphere of life, women are in every industry, every domain, in homes, in relationships, in offices; we are there in every part of history, but often we are so invisible. We have worked hard to make WoW Colombo a space where we are not just visible, we are not just audible, we are being seen, being heard and we are the focus!’
Indeed, the programme for WoW Festival has been curated in such a way that women in various industries are given more prominence for the work they are doing. Anomaa Rajakaruna (the curator for the film programme) has travelled extensively documenting the lives of women and children in various communities. A Festival Director for the Jaffna International Cinema Festival and the curator for the European Film Festival in Sri Lanka, she talked about Sri Lankan women and film – ‘We always say there are no women filmmakers in Sri Lanka. Despite that, look at the WOW line up... we are showcasing ten women filmmakers. The Inspiration is there.’ Furthermore, she stressed the importance of encouraging young female filmmakers - ‘Today, there are women who make use of easy to handle and cost effective digital equipment to express themselves, but the most important thing is to create platforms for showcase these expressions.’ Elsewhere the WoW Market (curated by the Good Market team) will, as Amanda Kiessel says, puts the spotlight on ‘amazing women producer groups, social enterprises serving women, and women entrepreneurs from throughout Sri Lanka.’
Men and boys also play a key part in WOW Colombo, and are as welcome to this festival as their female counterparts. From appearing on panels to performing in the music and theatre part of the festival, there are male contributors to WOW Colombo also involved in the celebrations. Women and girls are actively encouraged to bring fathers, husbands, brothers, boyfriends and male colleagues to the festival and there are specific sessions designed just for them. Dylan Prins (a freelance artist, video and event producer and WOW Festival Manager) had this to say when we asked him why he believes it is important for men and boys to get involved with the festival: “Sometimes we get used to stages that are completely void of women and girls. When we talk about providing a platform for amplifying women's voices we are not talking about silencing, alienating or demonising men. It's vital that men and boys are part of these important conversations. Men and boys are more than welcome to take part in the festival, in fact there are workshops discussing masculinity for Men only.”
The festival is also keen to provide something different in terms of the performances audiences will get to see. Venuri Perera (Curator for Dance/Theatre/Live Art) has had a wealth of experience when it comes to engaging in dance, theatre, film, live art, multimedia, site-specific, therapeutic movement and mixed abled dance, performing in places such as Paris, Dhaka, Singapore and Berlin. When we asked about some of her programme highlights she mentioned that ‘At WOW we have two original one woman plays from India. Deepika Arwind from Bangalore with her hugely popular self-written one woman play 'No Rest in the Kingdom' and Ponni Arasu's 'Karuppi The Dark Woman', with each looking at women from very different lens'. Also, we have Vicky Sahjahan who will paint a large mural where the audience can participate and share their stories of everyday violence.’
The arts, in whatever shape or form, has always been an effective tool in promoting womens’ rights. This year, the music programme curated by Ashanthi, the ‘Queen of Sri Lankan Hip Hop music’, features performances and discussions in each language. Ashanthi pointed out that music in particular ‘is a voice to express the deepest emotions you feel which is why it’s the best way to express yourself. For every woman, it is listening to music that empowers you and for some it is creating your own sound with music to empower others.’
Overall though, WoW Festival aims to make the conversations and discussions between women relatable. One special part of the festival is the inclusion of Speed Mentoring. Savera Weerasinghe, its curator explained that she is naturally excited for the possibilities (of speed mentoring) because ‘I am framing it as casual conversations between two awesome women-possibly one who's realized her potential and possible one who is figuring it out or both or neither! I'm always a fan of witnessing the endless possibilities that come out of good conversation! ’ Weerasinghe, the CEO of MSH Packaging Industries and is the founder of middyfund.com, a New York based not-for-profit, also told us that other events we had to look out for were workshops such as Angampora (a Sri Lankan martial art that combines combat technique, exercise and meditation) – ‘It’s a must for self-defense for women!’
Kinita Shenoy (Curator of WoW Bites and current Editor-in-Chief at Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka) sums it up best when asked why she thought people should come for WoW – ‘WOW is an incredible worldwide festival created by brilliant women for brilliant women. Across linguistic barriers, age divides, and interests, the festival this December is curated to have something for every Sri Lankan woman out there! Come, learn something, try something new, or just bask in the sisterhood.’
WoW Festival is free to enter and will be held on the 2nd and 3rd of December at the National Film Corporation. For more information on WoW and the latest programme additions go to www.britishcouncil.lk/wow-colombo or call 011 4 521521.