Art & Truth-telling: Toto Kisaku’s Requiem for an Electric Chair

Toto Kisaku in “Requiem for an Electric Chair,” Photos: Nosrat Tarighi

Each second in our life counts.

In 2015, Toto Kisaku escaped from death row in the Democratic Republic of Congo and fled to Connecticut, where he was eventually granted asylum in 2018. The crime for which he was sentenced  to death by the electric chair: his series of one-man plays detailing the real-life horrors of disinformation and child abuse by local churches and the government’s complicity. “I used art as a weapon. What is destroying my country is the silence. I wanted to give people on the ground the possibility to change their condition,” he said.

Yale Schwarzman Center, along with Yale’s Council on Middle East Studies, is proud to present Kisaku’s one-man play Requiem for an Electric Chair that tells the story of his persecution as a truth-teller. 

Challenging the boundaries between performance and daily life, Kisaku explores themes of faith, family, and courage through the lens of oppression and poverty. The play explores Kisaku’s detention experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with mannequins on stage standing in for the cellmates whose faces he could not make out in the dark. The story culminates with his harrowing escape and journey to the U.S. and exposes audiences here to the plight of many African immigrants escaping corruption, collusion, and authoritarianism. 

“I want to show people what happens to people who are waiting to be executed. Two minutes before you are executed, what are you seeing? What are you thinking about the world?” he said. “Requiem reflects a reality that people are ignoring. People hear about people being incarcerated and executed, but they ignore what’s going on inside the human being in that moment. I want the audience to know that each second in our life counts.”

I want to show what happens to people who are waiting to be executed… What are you seeing? What are you thinking about the world?”

“What is going on today in the Congo is unacceptable because there are families torn apart—mothers don’t know where their sons are, where their husbands are. They are kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned, killed. Requiem is not my story anymore. It’s the story of people who are in this kind of place tonight, people who are still living in these kinds of places,” lamented Kisaku. “It’s to open the minds of people who are still ignoring that those kinds of things exist... that 12 million Congolese people have died in 15 years… that people will be killed tonight, and they will be killed tomorrow. That’s why we have to tell the truth.”

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