Let’s Danceby Bongani Kona / Images by Paris Brummer / 12.03.2013
It’s nearly nightfall and I’m staring at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes (with the plaque that reads: 1855–1906 “here lies your hinterland”) in the Company Gardens. Tonight he doesn’t look as dour and humourless as JM Coetzee. UCT grad student Kira Kemper, working with two seamstresses, has dressed the old colonial Englishman in comic attire: a greyish suit stitched from satin and velvety fabrics and in his right hand, a glittery party hat. “It’s supposed to be a sort of random interruption,” Kemper says of her installation, Cecil John Rhodes: From Cape to Camp.
It’s a theme which threads through day one of Infecting the City, the Mother City’s Public Arts Festival. For three hours, together with a crowd of about two hundred onlookers (office folk, arty types, students, random wanderers), I’ve been crossing between the Company Gardens and the Iziko Museum trying to connect everything, from Antoine Tempé’s life-size photographs, Let’s Dance, to choreographer Mamela Nyamza’s provocative dance piece Okuya Phantsi Kwempumlo (The Meal). So Kemper’s idea of public art as a series of random interruptions seems quite apt. The point of it all, I guess, is to disrupt our everyday routines and attitudes; to challenge our understanding of what it means to live in this space and time. And more obviously, it’s also to free the arts from its traditional middle class milieu (theatres, galleries, museums) into public spaces accessible and open to all the city’s residents.
SAXIT!, a quartet of saxophonists made up by Joel Benjamin, Jade de Waal, Simon Bates and Gareth Harvey, kicked started the evening with an easy-going set of original compositions spliced with South African jazz standards. Pity very few bystanders seemed to take an interest in Antoine Tempé’s large black-and-white images of African dancers, on display at the same time. The French photographer’s work, I think, is one of the strongest pieces on show.
Judging by applause, Gugulethu-born dancer Mamela Nyamza’s Okuya Phantsi Kwempumlo (The Meal) suffered no such setback. It’s an allegory with a strong anti-colonialism message; a three-person cast representing three generations of women, who refuse to be ashamed of their cultural heritage. The 30-minute dance recital turned out to be a crowd favourite together with Marcus Neustetter’s Erosion; a performance which involved twenty thousand glow sticks being swept down the stairs of the gallery with microphones attached to the brooms to amplify the whoosh and clatter, causing an astonishing spectacle.
From then on I’m not sure I know what happened. The energy seemed to dissipate, or people just got hungry and meandered off to look for something to eat and perhaps something alcoholic to drink. Between Here and There (Cape Town), a video projection by Canadian Tiffany Carbonneau, failed to draw a sizeable number of people. When I walked past on my way home she was standing alone. Likewise at Angelique Kendall’s Mnemosyne, the audience lingered for only a few minutes before they started getting twitchy and drifting away.
Luckily we get to do it again tonight and maybe Cape Town will display a bit more staying power.
*Infecting the City Program B kicks off tonight at 6pm. Check out the full itinerary here.
– Vox Pops –
“It’s so good because some people don’t get a chance to experience art.” – Ruzzy Waza, graffiti artist.
“I really like public art, I’m a street performer” – Elize Deguere, who also works as a clown and a musician.
“Putting art in the gallery limits the amount of people that get to see art.”- Bronwyn Katz, student.
“I think there should be public art all year round. There should be a space for public art without having to apply for permission.” Leonard Shapiro, co-creator of the I benefited from Apartheid t-shirts.
*All images © Paris Brummer.