Anthea Moys is a performance artist and wants to engage the public in a challenging way.

Anthea Moys is a performance artist working in the public domain. Her day job is as a creative development teacher at Vega Advertising School in Johannesburg. She chatted to Justin Nurse in this week’s edition of The Pied Piper Project.

What’s your story?

I graduated with a masters degree in visual art with a specific focus on structured play in performance from Wits University in 2008. In 2005, I travelled to Switzerland and did a Maps (Master of Arts in the public sphere) course, which was an interdisciplinary course with a focus on artmaking in the public domain.

While there, I became interested in “accidents” – either to witness or embody it.

One day I was walking with my camera and a tripod through a forest. I jumped over a fence and landed neck-deep in snow. I then had to swim out of the snow. It was useful – because I was saving my life – but it also became really fun.

So I then filmed myself swimming a few “lengths”. I shared the idea with others and it then became a collaboration: we had team “Snow Swimming”. I’m a scholar of “play” and my work involves creating these small “interruptions” in the daily goings-on. A well-known example of a mass intervention would be a “flash mob”. A smaller one that I’ve done would be when I rode a stationary exercise bike during the 94.7 Cycle Challenge.


This question of “what if?” guides my practice. Risk-taking is a big part of play. On the bike I embodied the permanent loser, this character who just goes nowhere. It was interesting to see how people reacted to me disrupting what was supposed to be done in a race like that. I got a wide range of responses, from being laughed at to being sworn at.

Engaging the public in a challenging way by inserting myself into these situations where I don’t know what the end result will be gives me happiness. It makes me feel more alive. I’m interested in the links between art and sport and performance: the rules of engagement in play versus the rule of a game.

It’s just like “let’s see what happens when your world and my world collide. Are you cool with that? What’s in it for me to collaborate with you?”.

You almost have to devise a contract for your rules of engagement. Out of that we both learn something.

Body of Work

Boxing Games involved me getting trained by a boxer named George Khosi at his gym in Hillbrow. He and I then developed a bout involving 12 other boxers being in the ring at the same time and moving in the space according to a series of whistle blows.

This turned into a performance/game, which we performed/played on top of a rooftop in the Johannesburg city centre – while our audience watched from another building 19 storeys up. There was no script. The whole experience was really transient.

For a work I did called Nessun Dorma, I relocated my bed to Joubert Park, where I planned to spend the night in a “dangerous” park. I hired four security guards to guard me and worked with two opera singers who sang Puccini’s aria (translated “none shall sleep tonight”).

Why don’t you just get on with your day job?

I know, I mean it’s not financially viable, so why carry on, right? It is something that I am passionate about.

I have these ideas or questions that I then have to execute or test, and I have no other avenue of doing that, other than to perform them.

I want to keep investigating with different communities, learning more about them while also learning more about performance art and play.

It’s not so much about making the world a better place – perhaps it’s even a selfish endeavour – but maybe it will. A film has now been made about George the boxer (called Between Heaven and Hell) and he now also teaches boxing at Arts on Main. One thing always leads to another.

It’s about testing out what it means to be human. It’s curiosity that drives the process. Questions are always more interesting than answers. For me, it’s not about the end result.

Critical reception?

That maybe my work is too frivolous. It’s difficult to work with playful subjects without being criticised. There is so much going on in the world that we need to be quite serious about. We are told we shouldn’t have time for play. We think too much and take ourselves too seriously. We’ve forgotten how to play. If you want to play today, you have to be brave.

How much of what you do is therapeutic?

Play is an escape from the “real world”, but it is also very much a part of this world. I hardly ever play alone, so a lot of what makes play possible is the actual ability to play with others. It is this transaction between people, between myself and others, between art and sport or such that is really exciting to me. It’s an escape, but it’s also an embodied engagement with space, people and action in a very real way.

Are you a leader?

I hope to be and I think I am. Play is very powerful in education and I believe in what I’m doing. I have a team of people who are now keen to play with me and I’m grateful for that.

If I wanted to start a play revolution, I’d have an army of players. Please visit:

* Justin Nurse is a freelance journalist and founder of Laugh It Off.