‘Make the streets a space for artistic expression, outside of galleries’

The Indoni Dance Arts and Leadership Academy group is taking park in this years Infecting The City arts festival.

Khanyisile Mbongwa remembers, from as young as six years old, getting up early every day to travel to school in Green Point from home in Gugulethu.

She remembers always moving through the city but never feeling a sense of belonging.

That was one of the main reasons she decided to become a curator at Infecting The City, a free public arts festival that takes place in Cape Town and is presented by the Africa Centre.

Ms Mbongwa, who lives in Green Point, says public art can play an important role in changing people’s mindsets.

She said she started as a performer and was inspired by what arts practitioner and former Infecting the City curator Jay Pather, was doing for the public art scene.

“It was about how we think about space in the city in relation to the body. My first encounter with Infecting The City was in 2008 when they had a problematic logo of a cockroach. At the time there had just been xenophobic attacks. I wanted to see what this festival was doing with what the city is and how the festival opens up the city to people.

“As someone who has always travelled to the city from the township, going to school and seeing the different landscape, it was about asking what our rights are and the relationship that the city has with black labour.

“Black people migrate to the city every day as labour and are treated as that. People catch the first train in Khayelitsha at 5am to be at work at 7am. You see the trains filled to the brim and I was one of those kids who was squashed in there.”

One of the festival’s creators, Leila Anderson, said the festival began in 2007, conceived as a way to “infiltrate the city, which is not necessarily a space for artistic expression, outside of galleries and theatres”.

“It is to celebrate and challenge the narratives of South Africa.

“You can feel in the city that there are policies that are put in place to push forward a status quo.

“We have the most obviously segregated and spatial layout in South Africa. Some people lived in the city for generations and were moved out while others were always moved out.

“We don’t want Cape Town to be an island. We hope that it becomes more of an integrated piece of South Africa.

“Art in public spaces can plant seeds. It is about making visible all the different bodies that make these spaces visible, not just in terms of employer and employee.”

Ms Anderson said Noordhoek, where she grew up, was a highly segregated microcosm. The city, she said, was also distant for her but in a different way. “Everybody else moves in and out of Cape Town and it means different thing to them.”

One of the groups taking part in this year’s festival, is the Indoni Dance Arts and Leadership Academy. One of the dancers, Mesuli Nale who lives in Khayelitsha, said the festival was a great platform for them.

“It is a great opportunity that we are getting in terms of getting seen by kids who are studying in Cape Town.

“They don’t see most of the things that we do back in Khayelitsha. There is a lot of talent there but it’s not seen by people.”

He added that being involved in arts and dance also helps keep young kids out of trouble.

“Most of the kids my age are smoking or involved in gangsterism, doing things that won’t take them on the right path. I want to show people what we have and what we can do as the young generation. We still have the hope that the young ones can change. It is also focusing on changing the souls of the elders. When we perform we don’t only do it for fun but to heal the hearts of people.”

Another performer in the group, Noxolo Magadla, who also lives in Khayelitsha, said their work was about inspiring children.

“When they see us they get inspired and want to do what we do. To be at Infecting The City is a great opportunity because we really like to show other young people what we have.”

The name of the piece that they are performing at this year’s festival is called Ikhaya which means home.

“There is a place called home and Cape Town is our home. We want to show what’s happening in the city by performing art.”

There have been some issues with funding the festival in the past and Ms Mbongwa believes that more needs to be done by government.

“There is a lack of funding in the arts. Everything is measured in terms of economic value and the creative spectrum is not seen as valuable. The things that we do have intangible value. I always feel like Infecting The City is a call for resistance, a resistance to neo-liberal thinking about how we structure cities and how everything has to be turned into industrial spaces.

“Public art asks us to pause. Life is so fast but it asks us to pause, breathe, sit down and listen to yourself.”

Ms Anderson added that it was also about shifting, even for a moment, your daily routine. It is about taking a moment to experience something different.

For details of the full programme of the festival, which runs until Saturday April 8, you can visit www.infectingthecity.com