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TEDGlobal 2017

Adong Judith: How I use art to bridge misunderstanding

Filmed:
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Director and playwright Adong Judith creates provocative art that sparks dialogue on issues from LGBTQ rights to war crimes. In this quick but powerful talk, the TED Fellow details her work -- including the play "Silent Voices," which brought victims of the Northern Ugandan war against Joseph Kony's rebel group together with political, religious and cultural leaders for transformative talks. "Listening to one another will not magically solve all problems," Judith says. "But it will give a chance to create avenues to start to work together to solve many of humanity's problems."

- Playwright, filmmaker
Adong Judith uses art as a vehicle to drive social change and trains aspiring makers to create art that dares to ask serious questions. Full bio

I'm a writer-director
who tells social-change stories,
00:12
because I believe stories
touch and move us.
00:16
Stories humanize
and teach us to empathize.
00:20
Stories change us.
00:23
When I write and direct plays,
00:26
I'm amplifying voices
of disadvantaged groups,
00:28
I'm fighting the self-censorship
00:31
that has kept many Ugandan artists
away from social, political theater
00:33
since the persecution of artists
by former Ugandan president, Idi Amin.
00:38
And most importantly,
I am breaking the silence
00:44
and provoking meaningful
conversations on taboo issues,
00:48
where often "Silence is golden"
is the rule of thumb.
00:52
Conversations are important
00:57
because they inform
and challenge our minds to think,
00:59
and change starts with thinking.
01:03
One of my struggles with activism
is its often one-sided nature
01:06
that blinds us to alternative view,
01:11
that numbs our empathy,
01:14
that makes us view those
who see issues differently
01:16
as ignorant, self-hating, brainwashed,
sellout or plain stupid.
01:19
I believe no one is ignorant.
01:26
We are all experts,
only in different fields.
01:29
And this is why, for me, the saying
"stay in your truth" is misleading.
01:34
Because if you're staying in your truth,
01:40
isn't it logical that the person
you believe is wrong
01:42
is also staying in their truth?
01:45
So, what you have is two extremes
01:48
that shut out all possible
avenues of conversations.
01:51
I create provocative theater and film
to touch, humanize
01:56
and move disagreeing parties
to the conversation table
02:01
to bridge misunderstandings.
02:06
I know that listening to one another
will not magically solve all problems.
02:09
But it will give a chance
to create avenues
02:15
to start to work together to solve
many of humanity's problems.
02:17
With my first play, "Silent Voices,"
02:22
based on interviews with victims
of the Northern Uganda war
02:25
between the government
and Joseph Kony's LRA rebel group,
02:28
I brought together victims,
political leaders, religious leaders,
02:32
cultural leaders, the Amnesty Commission
and transitional justice leadership
02:37
for critical conversations on issues
of justice for war crime victims --
02:42
the first of its kind
in the history of Uganda.
02:48
And so many powerful things happened,
02:51
that I can't even
cover them all right now.
02:54
Victims were given the opportunity
to sit at the table
02:57
with Amnesty Commission leadership,
03:01
and they expressed
the big injustice they suffered
03:03
when the Commission ignored them
03:07
and instead facilitated the resettlement
of the war perpetrators.
03:09
And the Amnesty Commission
acknowledged the victims' pain
03:15
and explained the thinking
behind their flawed approaches.
03:19
But one of the things
that has stayed with me
03:24
is when, during my Northern Uganda
tour of the play,
03:26
a man approached me and introduced himself
03:30
as a former rebel solder of Joseph Kony.
03:33
He told me that he didn't want me to leave
feeling disappointed,
03:37
due to some of what I considered
inappropriate laughter.
03:41
He explained that his
was a laughter of embarrassment
03:45
and a recognition
of his own embarrassment.
03:50
He saw himself in the actors onstage
03:53
and saw the meaninglessness
of his past actions.
03:57
So I say: share your truths.
04:02
Listen to one another's truths.
04:05
You will discover
a more powerfully uniting truth
04:08
in the middle ground.
04:11
When I lived in the USA,
04:14
many of my American friends
would be shocked at my ignorance
04:16
at fancy Western dishes
like lasagna, for instance.
04:19
(Laughter)
04:23
And my question to them would be,
04:24
"Well, do you know malakwang?"
04:27
And then I would tell them
about malakwang,
04:29
a fancy vegetable dish from my culture.
04:32
And they would tell me about lasagna.
04:36
And we would leave
richer and fuller individuals.
04:38
Therefore, share your recipe truth.
04:43
It makes for a better meal.
04:47
Thank you.
04:49
(Applause)
04:50

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About the speaker:

Adong Judith - Playwright, filmmaker
Adong Judith uses art as a vehicle to drive social change and trains aspiring makers to create art that dares to ask serious questions.

Why you should listen

Founder and artistic director of Silent Voices Uganda, a nonprofit performing arts company, Adong Judith creates art that provokes meaningful conversation on issues often considered taboo.

Notable among her training programs is the annual Summer Theater Directors Apprenticeship, a two-tier program that combines production and training of ten aspiring theater directors. Originally only for Ugandans, Judith has opened the 2018 and future apprenticeships to aspiring theater directors across the African continent, who she believes share the same challenges in practicum gaps.

In 2018, Judith will be in residence at Illinois State University, where she will direct her 2016 social media buzz-stirring play, Ga-AD!, which explores spirituality and the place of women in Pentecostal churches. Her first social change play, Silent Voices, which she wrote after accidentally encountering the inescapable stories of war crime victims in her hometown of Gulu, developed at Sundance Institute’s Theater Lab, received its world premiere in 2012 at the National Theater of Uganda and was described by the Ugandan media as "the spiritual rebirth of theater since its decline due to political persecution of artists by the Idi Amin regime."

Adong’s plays are taught at Ivy League Universities including Dartmouth College and Princeton University, and she recently signed a contract with Methuen Publishers UK to publish Silent Voices in an anthology of Contemporary African Women Playwrights.

More profile about the speaker
Adong Judith | Speaker | TED.com