TRIPPING: Its a mad, dusty journey.
TRIPPING: Its a mad, dusty journey.
Rhino roadhog.    Photo: Sean Furlong
Rhino roadhog. Photo: Sean Furlong

THE annual Afrikaburn festival peeps its eyes at us from next week, making an appearance in our consciousness now, while the bigger crowd of Burners has been fully aware and getting prepared for the last six odd months. For the newbies and those seemingly few Capetonians who haven’t yet confirmed their attendance, Afrikaburn is an enormous festival set in the heart of the Karoo dessert, in Tankwa.

As an African sibling of the American Burning Man festival, Afrikaburn is an arts event celebrating art, life, togetherness and being alive, with a focus on large scale artworks. Often taking weeks and entire building teams to erect, the artworks are burned at the festival, creating extraordinary scenes and photographic opportunities.

Afrikaburn, like Burning Man, has a socio/environmental/economic mission statement and culture which provides principles of awareness for the event, sub-events, and participants involved. In line with this, respect to all people (regardless of background, ethnicity, religion) and to the environment is expected, and a culture of sharing is expected and encouraged.

This has proved mostly effective in the last few years in creating an environment which is more supportive and humanitarian than some other festivals. The community-focused approach here is more prominent than at, say, most trance parties (where it is still evident to various extents, however).

This year’s theme, “The Gift”, underpins the sharing and neo-socialist culture. “This year’s theme asks to us to contemplate the gift. As Marx would have it, to look beyond the object to the myriad of elements that make the object happen… What is art? What is happening in the making of the gift? What is the gift? What is the gift economy? What is the work of the gift after it has left the makers hands? “When gifts circulate within a group their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake and a kind of decentralized cohesiveness emerges.” says Lewis Hyde. The inner gift is the object of our labour and the outer gift becomes a generator of relationships, of culture. A commerce of spirit and creativity; a connective environment.”

This year’s theme was developed by AfrikaBurn co-founder and current Creative Art portfolio lead, Monique Schiess. Last year’s theme was the playful choice “The Trickster”, while this year’s theme allows for both a deeper meaning and a playful interpretation. “The gifts in Tankwa Town are alchemical glue, multi-layered; at once moral, playful, aesthetic, mythological, whimsical”.

Critics have questioned Afrikaburn as having community service and upliftment as a main feature. There has also been some backlash to the high ticket prices which increase annually. Perhaps the event is best viewed as a celebration and festival of arts for its own sake, and for the simple purposes of fun and beauty, with participants being encouraged to be kind in all ways, with no branding and products being promoted. It is simply a space of kindness that is created, for paying festival goers to enjoy.

AfrikaBurn’s aim is to be radically inclusive and accessible to anyone. The touchstone of value in our culture will always be immediacy: experience before theory, moral relationships before politics, survival before services, roles before jobs, ritual before symbolism, work before vested interest, participant support before sponsorship. Nothing is for sale but ice at the event. Nothing. There are no vendors, no advertising or branding. It just doesn’t fit in. It’s not even a barter economy – it’s a de-commodified zone with a gift economy that’s about giving without expecting anything in return”.

Beyond the artworks, several other features also take prominence, namely music, mutant vehicles, and theme camps. Although a set stage line up is only confirmed close to the event date, there is a history of very good bands and DJs performing on an array of stages, as well as in spontaneous settings and camps. Themed camps are made by participants – read festival-goers – as everyone is encouraged to participate. Mutant vehicles are vehicles which come alive as artworks and move in any which way.

One of the new features is the WTF Guide. “…The WTF is an A6 booklet designed to fit in your pocket so you’re able to easily answer the most frequently-asked question in Tankwa Town – “WTF is that?!?” – when you’re exploring... our new & improved event guide that replaces the gate handout.. Puzzled by the big ‘B’ marked on a number of artworks? Those are burns. All theme camps and artworks will be numbered and coloured for easy reference to their respective listings on a handy A3 pull-out map”.

The gift of the natural dessert, of space, of strangers, and of talents is there for you to enjoy, and for you to give.