Order the summer edition here

Recurring return on Black Box

"How much fascism can we tolerate in a democracy?" Asks one of the actors present with the Ways of Seeing theater piece on Black Box in November.


I have been assigned to report from the trial process to a freely chosen documentary theater. Pia Maria Roll and Marius von der Fehr are working on something new, so it's not hard to choose. I've worked with both in the past. The duo stood behind the internationally successful intervention artwork National Apology in 2015, so I have high expectations.

Now they are in collaboration with Sara Baban and Hanan Benammar Ways of Seeing. The play looks at the links between power, racism and right-wing extremism in Norway, and is looking at the Black Box Theater from 21. to 30. November.

The tests take place at Trafo on Tøyen. In the hall next door, the music from Blåfjell resounds, as a racism analysis for children: "If everyone can see things from two sides…." But here two perspectives are not enough. With four strong artists gathered in an experimentally flat structure, it goes towards a polyphonic expression. Hanan and Marius come from the visual arts and I guess the title is also a greeting to the late John Berger and his legendary BBC series – Ways of Seeing – which criticizes the one-eyed perception of reality in the Western perspective.

Personal narratives as narrative framework

I come in as an observer just as the process faces some crucial road choices. The research material is extensive and something must be selected for the remainder to be readable. They talk about the project as a reversed pilgrimage. The journey is a metaphor for theoretical exploration, but also refers to physical journeys – such as Saras and Hanan's journey to Norway from their home country.

When they suggest in the program that the work should be linked to the greatest NATO exercise of all time on Norwegian soil, the imagination is turned.

It is wary to formulate the broad thematic span from racism through Islamophobia, surveillance, terrorist terror, civil war to NATO and criticism of capitalism, so I ask if they can briefly tell about the primary impulse where the work began?

Pia: «There was a big dark shadow that hung over the rest of society: Racism. And development has gone so fast, it's like a whole new era. Then we asked ourselves the question: Is it possible to gain power in this new era. without being racist? We have been conducting extensive research on this topic for over a year now, in light of two historical events that have been of great significance to Hanan and Sara: the Revolution in Algeria and the Revolution in Rojava in Syria. "

Marius: “We have asked ourselves: What people and networks are driving this development? And why? What interest do they have in it? And what does it do to society and what does it do to us? ” Much of the work process has been about mapping these people and the networks, and in the performance we will present our analysis based on artistic processing of the information we have collected. We have found some links that can explain how Islamophobia in particular is emerging in Norway. "

The personal stories of Hanan and Sara serve as a narrative framework and provide concrete vantage points to look at the material from. Hanan says that they are working on her deceased father being manifested on stage as a ghost. Pia shows pictures from a more scenic work with the encounter with the ghost. I ask if it is intended as a Hamlet variant? Something is rotten in the state of…?

Hanan replies "No – not Hamlet." The ghost does not point to who has come to power in a criminal way. Sara objects that, well then: "it's just like Hamlet." The ghost helps you see more clearly. Moreover, the audience will interpret it as a Hamlet reference when the father ghost enters a theater stage. It is discussed how the ghost should be formulated and what are the best methods to arrive at it. Should an improvisation be made or a proposal written that explains why the use of violence is sometimes legitimate and necessary to achieve a higher goal?

Hanan objects that her father would never have said such a thing and follows up with a series of reflections on how Frantz Fanon's interpretations of violence and activism have been notoriously misunderstood and misinterpreted.

We do not see things as they are, but as we are

Pia, Marius and Sara go to a side room to work on a specific scene I am not allowed to see yet. I ask Hanan to talk about his perspective on the work:

"How much fascism can we tolerate in a democracy? For a year, when we had a second period with right-wing populists in

the government felt Sara and I that now that limit has been reached! And so we started this project by taking a closer look at the right-wing populists. What really happened after Breivik? ” She asks.

"Racism is not only in the explicit, it permeates in different ways at different levels, and it is much easier to spot, when you look with the eye from the outside. And this is related to capitalism and class differences. Capitalism depends on racism to survive. In order to benefit other people, you have to create a story that makes them inferior, less human. "

The quartet gathers for coffee. Sara has not said much yet, so I ask about her approach to work. She says: “I came to Norway as a child or youth, and I did not come voluntarily. I am in Norway as a result of imperialism and colonialism. What they did to my people, who have now become a minority in many countries, but are really a people of many millions – eight times Norway, at least. We have been divided between many countries. That is why we do not have many rights, very basic human rights. A lot of it is about cultural restrictions, that we can not speak our own language, have Kurdish names, for example. "

"And that is why we had to flee Iraq as well," she continues.

"The Kurds should be decimated, and therefore it provokes extra when Jens Stoltenberg supports Turkey's invasion of Afrin, which they actually call 'operation purge', and then Stoltenberg goes and takes Erdogan by the hand and says' I understand you! Turkey has the right to self-defense. ' And then I just feel like… »

"I am in Norway as a result of imperialism and colonialism." Sara Baban

Here, the conversation is interrupted by the arrival of former Supreme Court Judge Ketil Lund, head of the Lund Commission, who wrote the report on how the power elite conducted extensive surveillance of the left in Norway during the Cold War. The ensemble embarks on an improvisation in which Lund turns his gaze back to the power elite and shows on a provisional scenographic map how concentrated geographically the people in power who benefit from the racist currents live.

I am left really curious as to what Sara wants to do to Stoltenberg in return for his support of the Afrin massacre. Especially in light of the last time I saw this quartet in action at Dramatikkens hus, where they made a promise to do something criminal, something that could really shake the state. I know it was a completely different project and a completely different context, but it still jokes in the back of my mind – accompanied by Indian harmonium, bells and Hanan's hypnotic violin. When they also suggest in the program that the work will be connected to the largest NATO exercise of all time on Norwegian soil, the controversial Trident Juncture, the imagination is set in motion. How will they intervene artistically? I hope to see the answer to Black Box from 21.-30. November.


Ways of Seeing – Black Box Theater 21. – 30. November. By Sara Baban, Pia Maria Roll, Marius von der Fehr and Hanan Benammar. See www.blackbox.no for updates on the debate structure around

avatar photos
Marius Kolbenstvedt
Theater director and writer. Resident at Nesodden.

You may also like