GRAHAMSTOWN IN WINTER is freezing, but it doesn’t stop the artists. Or the tens of thousands of other people who descend on the otherwise unremarkable hamlet of Grahamstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape for the country’s annual National Arts Festival. It’s rolling around again this year from 28 June to 8 July, and it’s worth a scenic detour if you’re in the country.
Last year you could get yourself kidnapped by the army (it was performance art, I swear), cover a lamppost in knitting, or hang out with craftsmen from as far afield as Ethiopia and Senegal down in the market district. Or move beyond the daily hijinks to watch much darker performances and installations by the country’s best and brightest before heading over to the jazz arena to catch legend Sibongile Khumalo live.
Many of the performances arrive at the arts festival as polished, huge-budget productions. Others, like the festival’s 2011 closing act, Machitún (below), simply blew in from Argentina and polished up psychedelically on arrival.
So if you’ll be in South Africa near the end of June, the lions and elephant will wait. The artists probably won’t.