Professional theatre troupe established in 1985 in Abidjan, of Côte d’Ivoire, by Werewere Liking. The Ki-Yi Mbock (“Ultimate Knowledge” in the Bassa language) theatre owes its name to the Ki-Yi group (which began as a research project at the university in Abidjan in 1980), which brings together a non-subsidized cooperative of artists of different nationalities, including sculptors, dancers, choreographers, actors, and musicians, singers, and puppeteers in an independent cooperative. This diverse group is housed in the Villa Ki-Yi, where there is also an art gallery and a theatre. The Village Ki-Yi M’Bock Center for Cultural Exchange is a place of theatrical research and creation, based on ritual models but aimed as practical action.
The artists, both men and women, use the terrace-gardens as a stage, presenting shows, twice a week, showcasing stories and scenes, followed by dinners of African cuisine, which the group members cook themselves. The entire concept aims at developing a modern performance that reinvents and recreates a traditional model of shows presented in homes, the street or a village square for occasions like marriages, baptisms, funerals, or other private or public ceremonies. The group and the associated NGO espouses a pan-African aesthetic and the foundation with which it is linked is a site where over three hundred young people from deprived backgrounds have been educated in arts and culture with a number going on to careers in the arts internationally.
The group, which includes performers from all over Africa, uses giant costume puppets, made of wood and clothed. Stilt puppets have sometimes been directly borrowed from Mali (i.e. using puppets built there) or newly built, but often inspired by Mali-style figures. Attention is given to movement, choreography, visual images, and vocals.
The notion of absolute power is explored in the group’s work: dictators can be all powerful; analogous to the way the almighty deity is seen as the creator of man. An example is Dieu Chose (God Thing), created in 1987. Some performances of Ki-Yi Mbock Theatre are political satires, which take the idea of humans as puppets manipulated by the power holder who deprive them of their freedom. In 1988, the play Les Cloches (The Bells) written by Werewere Liking was presented at the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes in Charleville-Mézières. It dealt directly with present politico-administrative realities, denouncing corruption.
In 1990, the group adapted Sunjata, the Mandingo epic, in collaboration with the French shadow theatre company, Amoros et Augustin, thus enriching its expression. Un Touareg s’est marié à une Pygmée (A Tuareg Married a Pygmy, 1992) explores pan-African themes. Sogolon Kédjou (Sogolon Epic, 2006) explores the story of the mother of one of Africa’s great emperors who was known as “the ugliest woman on earth”, with music by Ray Lema, text by Zaidi Zaourou, and a group of twenty-five performers.
The Ki-Yi Bock Theatre continues to evolve with the addition of new artists who have joined the group over the years.
(See Côte d’Ivoire.)
- Conteh-Morgan, John, and Irène Assiba d’Almeida, eds. “Translating Werewere Liking: Speaking Pictures, Seeing Words”. “The Original Explosion That Created Worlds”. Essays on Werewere Liking’s Art and Writings. (Francopolyphonies 8). Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2010.
- Hawkins, Peter. “Werewere Liking at the Villa Ki-Yi”. African Affairs. Vol. 90, No. 359 (April 1991), pp. 207-222. http://www.jstor.org/stable/722779. Accessed 12 June 2013.
- Liking, Werewere. “Dieu Chose. L’expérience du Ki-Yi Mbock Théâtre d’Abidjan ou l’ouverture sur la marionnette humaine” [God Thing. The Experience of the Ki-Yi Mbock Theatre of Abidjan or the Opening on the Human Puppet]. UNIMA-Informations. 1988.
- Liking, Werewere. Statuettes peintes d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Marionnettes du Mali [Painted West African Statuettes. Puppets of Mali]. “Traditions africaines” [African Traditions] series. Paris: Nouvelles Éditions africaines/Arhis, 1987.
- Mielly, Michelle. “Werewere Liking and the Aesthetics of Necessity: Re-Considering Culture and Development in Post-Colonial Africa”. http://www.southwestern.edu/academics/bwp/pdf/2003bwp-mielly.pdf. Accessed 11 June 2013.