Mary Moynihan tells Nick Awde how she hopes the events will shine a light on the work of human rights defenders around the world
This September, the Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival makes its 11-day debut, showcasing the work of human rights defenders in Ireland and around the world – past and present – and the role of the arts in promoting it today.
It’s a timely move, says Mary Moynihan, artistic director of Smashing Times. “Because of the transnational nature of the work we present – working across Europe and our multidisciplinary approach to projects involving a range of structures – the move to implementing an arts and human rights festival seemed natural.”
Organised by Smashing Times and Front Line Defenders, both Dublin-based, the festival runs from September 19 to 29 in venues across the city including the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Science Gallery Dublin and Mill Theatre Dundrum.
“The aim is to have presentations from a multidisciplinary perspective – theatre, film, music, comedy and visual art, with a strong emphasis on arts-based workshops,” says Moynihan. “We particularly want to bring artists together to generate discussion on intersections between the arts and human rights, and to have artists themselves generate ideas for future festival events.”
As a company committed to using the arts to promote human rights and make theatre accessible to a range of communities, Smashing Times had wanted to produce this festival for several years. Things clicked when human rights organisation Front Line Defenders put on the Dublin Human Rights Festival in 2018. Smashing Times took up the conversation, with the result that the two organisations are co-producers of the new festival.
The programme features a range of theatre, as well as theatre-based workshops exploring equality, positive mental health and well-being, conflict resolution and storytelling. Many of the events were selected based on collaborations already established between Smashing Times, Front Line and practitioners, human rights defenders and organisations in Ireland and overseas.
‘We have partnered with arts organisations across Europe exploring themes such as refugee and migrant solidarity, women in war and anti-racism work’
Smashing Times brings with it a long legacy of focusing performance on human rights. “We have partnered with arts, cultural and civil society organisations across Europe exploring themes such as refugee and migrant solidarity, women in war and anti-racism work,” says Moynihan. “It’s a range of innovative projects and yet they often remain ‘invisible’ in the media. A key part of the festival is to make the work more visible and to invite in a wider audience.”
One of the highlights is Belgian theatremaker Frédérique Lecomte, who will lead a workshop on her method for theatrical practice in conflict zones such as Burundi and the Congo. Based in Brussels, Lecomte’s Théâtre et Réconciliation company uses performance to empower marginalised or vulnerable communities and to promote conflict resolution.
“Theatre is often the one place we go to on a voluntary basis to hear someone else’s story – to step into someone else’s shoes,” adds Moynihan. “We can tell stories that inspire or challenge, we can enable alternative stories to be told, stories that are forgotten, hidden or denied.”
It’s proving a workable model even before the launch of the event and there are plans to establish the festival annually. “We are already talking with artists for a programme in 2020 and will put out a public call later in the year,” says Moynihan.