Urban art through the eyes of Joëlle Sambi

Gilles Bechet

In Maison chaos, Joëlle Sambi portrays a 100-year-old woman who lists every act of violence she has experienced in her life. The violent fresco by an anonymous graffiti artist in the streets of Brussels caused a short-circuit in her head.

The first time Joëlle Sambi saw the biblically inspired fresco depicting a killing that never happened, it was as if there was a short-circuit in her brain. “I saw what I wanted to see, what I expected to see in a public space.” One after another, Caravaggio paintings sprang to mind. Instead of a reference to the Sacrifice of Isaac, she saw Judith Beheading Holofernes, in which, to save her besieged people, Judith assassinates and decapitates an Assyrian general after having seduced him.

“When a woman commits a violent act, it is judged more severely, as if we do not have that right, as if violence is not legitimate for us.” Many consider violence a major feature of her texts. She finds this surprising. “I have been told that there is a lot of violence, but there are also lots of other things: love, kindness, tenderness, rebellion, and hope. When a woman attempts to protect or defend herself, she shows kindness towards herself.”

When a woman commits a violent act, it is judged more severely, as if we do not have that right, as if violence is not legitimate for us

Joëlle Sambi

However defined, the theme of violence is revisited in her new show Maison chaos. “A 100-year-old woman, reading a long letter, tells the story of every instance of violence she has experienced in her life and how she learned to duck and weave her way through the violence of the patriarchy.”

Joëlle Sambi's poetry is bursting with images, she is very visual. In the city, however, what grabs her, what speaks to her, is not images but words. “When I am out walking, I observe a lot, I look around, at the words that are written and the little stickers. I am fascinated by the bits of paper and the words you can decipher on the walls of clubs. Sometimes, people reply to each other and it's like a whole alternative language emerges. It gives colour to a place and, depending on what I read, I can guess what kind of place it is.” In Joëlle Sambi's texts, words can cut like blades, and you cannot lift your hands to prevent their blows from reaching your ears.

In Maison chaos (3 > 13/4, Théâtre National), Joëlle Sambi draws on poetry, slam, classical singing, electronic music, video, and sound


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