Having never been to Gugulethu before, I was a little nervous to go – two whitey females, one in a wheelchair – we seemed to be the epitome of sitting ducks when it came to talking about targets for crimesters. Would we be safe? It turns out that my nerves were completely misplaced. I felt more welcome on the busy, dusty streets of Gugulethu than I do walking down the tarred and manicured streets of my Southern Suburbs street. Everyone was friendly and helpful and we had multiple offers of assistance in getting my wheelchair over bumps in the road and up onto pavements.
Instead, what I saw was art, spilled out onto those ramshackle streets that are so (embarrassingly) unfamiliar to me. Dancers on street corners, poets in playgrounds, pictures hung on walls and an audience made up of those of us there specifically for the Kasi-2-Kasi Public Arts Festival (the minority) and people off the streets (the majority) – kids in their swimming costumes standing in front of their gates, taxi drivers stopping in the middle of the road, passing cars filled with people craning their necks to see.
Mandisi Sindo did a wonderful thing. One of the curators involved in Infecting The City (see my previous post), he’s bringing the same concept onto the streets of Gugulethu (and, hopefully, many other areas). Art in this country is so often inaccessible to so many and this is making it not, and that is just a lovely thing.
To see a homeless man transform into a beautiful dancer (Stoan Move Galela), telling the story of a wise man who lives outside the home affairs building in Khayelitsha; to bump down a stony road between houses and shacks, stray dogs stopping to watch, children at gates, led by a giant puppet, to a street corner with a group who burst into song; to watch two dancers move so fluidly and gracefully on a busy street corner; to listen to the beautiful clicks and inflections of isiXhosa; to watch five girls dance on a tarred incline in the 35 degree heat, an ode to migration… What a privilege.
Did I feel threatened at any point? Yes. On one corner, the spectacular giant puppet who led our little herd of spectators came quite close to me and a tiny girl standing next to me howled in fear, hiding behind my chair and clinging on to my arm. We shared her feeling of threat before she peered around the chair and we laughed together at the lovely puppet.
Was my space invaded? Hell, yes! For the migration dance, we all gathered on the hot pavement over the road from the ‘stage’ – an inclined tarred road leading up to six houses. It was sweltering, so we squashed as much as we could under the shade of the young trees. Mid-dance, a young boy standing right next to me with his hands behind his head rested his elbow on my shoulder. I looked at his young face. He was utterly enthralled.
And that is what art is all about.