Cape Town is infected with public art

30 January 2015

Cape Town’s city bowl will be transformed into an entrancing outdoor art gallery and theatre – where there is always something to catch the eye and performances are free – during Infecting The City.

It’s a vibrant and innovative annual public arts festival that “strives to bring exceptional, socially engaged performance and visual art out of theatres and galleries and into the communal spaces of Cape Town’s central business district – transforming the city centre into an outdoor venue, where art is free and accessible to everyone”, say the organisers.

Infecting The City runs from 9 to 14 March this year, with the art happening along specific routes through the CBD. There are daytime and night time routes, appealing to office-hours workers and night-time party people, as well as pieces that pop up unexpectedly across the city.

Some of the routes are planned around hubs of activity – “central spaces that will be activated for the whole day with various installations, participatory artworks and performances”. And beyond the scheduled performances, artworks run throughout the festival; there are also artworks that are mobile, without time or place, and can only be experienced if stumbled upon.

All performances are free; the principal partners are the national Department of Arts and Culture, Spier and the City of Cape Town.

“Whether you are an active participant or more detached observer, whether you participate in a route as a planned activity or come across a moment of performance in your everyday use of the city, the hope is that you will be able to engage with the spaces of Cape Town in ways that will be transformed by your experience of public art,” says the organisers.

Infecting The City 2015, they add, has been designed to be fun and entertaining, as well as politically charged and challenging. It features South African artists, as well as artists from the rest of the continent and abroad.

Programme highlights

The programme includes Living Room Dancers by Swiss choreographer Nicole Seilers. Audiences are invited to view dancers through binoculars as they dance simultaneously in the windows of a block of flats.

Johannesburg artist Sandile Radebe’s Colour Me In presents an old city map that includes the lines of racial segregation and asks the viewers to redraw and colour in the city they want to see.

Nicola Elliot, the recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance in 2014, presents Chalk. It explores how the delineation of chalk can change meaning. A few players meet to have a “very ordinary” dance-game within the unstable demarcations of a shifting and busy section of the Cape Town CBD.

Jacqueline Manyaapelo and Khayalethu Witbooi ask some important questions about South Africa’s education system in UnEducated. Berlin artist Hilla Steinert and Elize Vossgatter, from Cape Town, make connections in The Braid by plaiting a braid using grasses they have collected. Audience members are invited to contribute materials to plait into the braid.

An Africa Centre initiative, Badilisha Poetry X-Change is both an online audio archive and a Pan-African poetry show delivered in radio format. The largest online collective of African poets on the planet, Badilisha has showcased and archived over 350 Pan- African poets from 24 countries.

For Infect The City, it takes a poetic expedition to unearth Cape Town’s lesser- known stories. The guided walkabout attempts to add new perspectives, insights, narratives, rhythm and rhyme to the temperament of a city that is known for its tensions and its possibilities. Cape Town poets Blaq Pearl, Genna Gardini, Khadija Tracey Heeger, Kyle Louw and Mbongeni Nomkonwana have been commissioned to write poems that will speak directly to a selection of themes including education, transportation and homelessness.

Photographer and filmmaker Brent Meistre, the winner of the first Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum’s Biennale exhibition, presents Analogue Eye: Video Art Africa, Mobile Drive-in & Pop-up Cinema.

It pays homage to the traditional drive-in experience and early projectionists such as Sol Plaatjie who, travelling across South Africa, took the moving image to the people. Analogue Eye takes video works from the gallery to meet a wider audience in unexpected public platforms and spaces. Video Art Africa is a curated screening consisting of three programmes of diverse video artworks by 37 artists about, from or on the African continent.

Other works explore social issues and events such as Marikana and the 2014 kidnapping of 273 girls in Nigeria, and other artists include Zee Hartmann; Wojciech Gilewicz; Sanjin Muftić; Siphumeze Khundayi, Sonia Radebe and Sethembile Msezane; Vincent Chomaz; Velvet Spine; Wesley Pepper; Luthando Mthi; New World Dance Theatre; New Moon Collective; Rhodes University Fine Art Department; Jazzart Dance Theatre; Jnr; and Lesiba Mabitsela.

Infecting The City is a project of the Africa Centre, an international centre for creativity, artistic excellence and intellectual engagement that uses “Pan-African cultural practice as a tool to: manifest what otherwise would only sit in our imaginations; release new ideas and make them freely accessible to receptive audiences; and ensure that people living on this soil can define for themselves what is possible and what their reality looks like”, it says on its website.

Its other programmes include Artists in Residency, Everyday African Urbanism, Talking Heads and WikiAfrica, all of which “celebrate and encapsulate what it means to be in Africa today and what is conceivable for 21st-century Africans”.