Art imitates life.

Posted: February 23, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

  First published in The Weekender, 21 Feb ‘09 

by:  Astrid Stark

On a sweltering February afternoon we make our way the Castle of Good Hope nestled in the heart of Cape Town.  At the gate a man with a serious moustache and long grey beard gives us the lazy eye.  “They’re expecting you,” he barks, looking at the narrow cast-iron door leading into blackness. He points his tin cup at us and sneers, “And tell them to replenish my supplies.”  He storms off, army fatigues flapping wildly.


Through the dark door and out into the bright light I nearly crush two tiny chicks and a pig called Ludwig, the philosopher not the composer, fighting over a crust of bread.  Inside the building a pencil-thin woman is knitting. On a desk next to her rests an AK-47 and a handful of landmines.  A pair of Kudu horns is mounted on the wall. So begins the debriefing of a performance piece that will be heating up the City streets from 21-27 February during Africa Centre’s Infecting the City 2009 (ITC).   It’s a festival of site-specific performance works, curated by writer, director and designer Brett Bailey, whose work includes iMumbo Jumbo and Third World Bunfight.

Performances such as An Histrionic at the Castle of Good Hope will not be staged in theatres but in sites like public squares, fountains and moving vehicles.  Brett Bailey describes these acts of art as, “fleeting monuments to the historical moment we live in.” 


The broad theme that underlies the festival is Home Affairs.  According to Bailey, the works on the program are, “artistic responses to the complex and often disturbing issues of human displacement and migration that characterises our society.” 


The festival logo is taken from the tragic photo of Ernesto A. Nhamuave (the Burning Man), who was burned alive during xenophobic violence in 2008.  The festival organizers urged artists to delve into the issues surrounding home affairs and Zenophobia, and thereby deepen our understanding around these complex topics; lest we ever forget Nhamuave and everyone that he represents today.


Three collaborative works around the Home Affairs theme are titled Limbo, Amakwerekwere and Exile.  Each piece is the result of the collaboration between four artists:  two South Africans, one from a Southern African Development Community (SADC) country, and one from beyond the SADC borders.


Amakwerekwere, a derogatory South African term to describe African immigrants, explores xenophobia and its underlying causes; inequity, scarcity of employment and prejudice. It’s a 30 minute performance at Thibault Square.  What makes this special is that it’s a free event which allows people, who may never visit the theatre, to enjoy a professional performance.  


The Artistic Director of Jazzart is one of the collaborators of Exile which will haunt Cape Town’s iconic Adderley Street Fountains.  The performance raises questions around our national identity. It asks the question a lot of refugees have to deal with during their every waking moment.  ‘What if the only home we have is nowhere, and all that’s left are our memories, dreams and the stories within us?’


Limbo explores the suspended reality of exiles in South Africa:  red tape, endless queues, visas, social grants, lack of access to health services and education, bribery, intimidation and arrest.  It is another free performance held daily in Church Square.


Site-specific theatre is still relatively new to South Africans. It allows the performers’ ideas and bodies to interact with the spirit and physical form of a place. It allows the audience to experience performance art in engaging spaces that are alive with history.


The theme is dark, introspective and challenging but some performances such as An Histrionic, uses satire to illustrate challenging ideas.  Visitors to this performance are invited to, ‘pick the scabs of history’, during a tour of the Castle of Good Hope.  Anne Historical, Koggelman die Kierievegter (aka the scary guy with the beard), and Betty half-teef will take patrons on a cultural tour to explore the invisible workings of ‘this bastion of colonialism.’


A note worthy event is Talking Heads; speed dating for your brain.  A bell marks the time and guests get 20 minutes to engage in four intimate interactions with, among others, a nuclear physicist, ecologist, cosmologist and sex worker. There are only 120 tickets available for this event.


The festival has initiated the Take a Child to Art program whereby the corporate sector is sponsoring scholars who will be taken on a guided tour of the city during the performances.  Afterwards the students from Arts and Culture Focus Schools will analyse the experience in a workshop.


At the end of our debriefing, Koggelman die Kierievegter invited us to a ‘potjie’ to celebrate the birthday of Ludwig, the philosopher pig. Over dinner we met his seven adopted children, a string of dogs, pigs and goats, and tried to make sense of our own realities within the perimeters of our city.  But that is a story for another time.  


During the festival, visitors may enjoy a number of free and ticketed events, which affords everybody the opportunity to be part of street theatre, and just maybe you will meet some great characters along the way.




Photographer:  Astrid Stark

Photographer: Astrid Stark


photographer:  Anthony Strack

photographer: Anthony Strack


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