An Open Letter to TEDxStellenbosch by KOLEKA PUTUMA

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Dear TEDxStellenbosch Organisers

I trust this finds you well

I am writing to you concerning your request to publish my TEDx talk with the exclusion of my last poem “WATER”. The talk, which was filmed at the TEDxStellenbosch “Think. Experience. Discover Africa” event on 05 September 2015, consisted of three of my poems which were all selected to begin a dialogue around the event’s theme, and draw attention to a movement such as #LUISTER which was and should have been at the centre of the town’s focus and conversation (including the TEDx event).  My form of articulating thoughts or ideas is through the spoken word medium. When invited to give a talk in the form of my preferred medium: poems, there was no conversation about the kinds of poem(s) I was permitted or not permitted to share. Prior to the event I emailed one of your team members an outline of the nature of poems that I would include in my talk. Thus, I find your unwillingness to publish the entire talk and the subjection of my intellectual property to censorship disturbing and disrespectful, to me as an artist and my right to create and perform (however subjective) truthful and thought provoking work. Inviting me onto your platform with the knowledge of the kind of subject matter(s) my work deals with should have a) either hindered you to invite me, and b) have the “censorship” conversation prior to my agreeing to be a part of your event, in which case I would have declined, as I do not believe that work should be diluted or washed down in order to appease people’s sense of comfortability and avoidance of conversations people often do not wish to have, particularly in the context of a predominately white environment such as Stellenbosch and the TEDxStellenbbosch event where artists such as myself are the minority and most times non-existent.
Furthermore, the below statement/rule is one I received in our recent correspondence concerning the decision to “cut” my idea/talk in half. This rule being made apparent post the talk is negligence on your part and does not assist in my prep for TEDxStellenbosch or even decision making to perform at the TEDxStellenbosch.

“No commercial agenda…Avoid pseudoscience… No talks with an inflammatory political or religious agenda, nor for polarizing “us vs them” language. We seek to build consensus and provide outside-the-box thinking, not to revisit familiar, unresolvable disputes on these topics”

I feel that suggesting to remove/cut the last poem “WATER” from my talk, in order for TEDx to upload the video, is an act of diminishing my time, craft and intellect. I also hope that you realise that through this suggestion you also endorse and are complicit to the privilege the community of Stellenbosch assumes when deciding what is said, by who and how. Through this suggestion you subject artists such as myself, who speak openly and honestly about black pain, and stench of colonialism which still lingers and breathes in our city, to artistic oppression. In light of this, I hope in future you consider not inviting an artist whose work touches on sensitive and current socio-political issues to deliver a talk on your platform that has policies which are against freedom of speech.

This letter is a request that you do not upload my talk at all, as I cannot associate my work with your platform or your ideas around what is worth or not worth sharing.

Kind Regards
Koleka Putuma

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8 responses to “An Open Letter to TEDxStellenbosch by KOLEKA PUTUMA

  1. Reblogged this on University of Broken Glass and commented:
    Whiteness (as in white fragility) shows its colours at Stellenbosch again… How can we not problematise such things? I comment Koleka Putuma, one of the greatest young poets in South Africa at this point for calling this out… We must stand strong, and call out such things out. Stellenbosch is suffocating for anyone who isn’t white, student movements such as Open Stellenbosch have been saying this, and have been trying to break this. Koleka’s poem “water”, which she refers to in her post here, is an amazing piece… and it needs to be heard, read, and felt!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have so much respect for you and highly commend how you’ve been consistent with the refusal to water down your work to suit the audience you find yourself sharing it with. These colonists need to swallow your Water as it is or drown in it if it’s too bitter a truth for them. The poem is a masterpiece!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have so much respect for you and highly commend how you’ve been consistent with the refusal to water down your work to suit the audience you find yourself sharing it with. These colonists need to swallow your Water as it is or drown in it if it’s too bitter a truth for them. The poem is a masterpiece

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Stirring up spaces with poet Koleka Putuma | The Daily Vox·

  5. Pingback: VIDEO: ‘Water’ by Koleka Putuma | Word N Sound Live Literature Co.·

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