You’ve probably heard of Burning Man, but you may not know that there’s a smaller, more intimate version held in South Africa. It’s called AfrikaBurn, and it’s one of many regional burns that take place all over the world. Normally about 11 000 people gather in the South African desert for a week, although this past year it was limited to about 7000 due to COVID restrictions.

The event is based on the same principles as Burning Man: It’s a celebration of art, music, and self-expression. Nothing can be bought or sold here, with the exception of ice. Attendees are expected to bring everything they need to survive out in the desert, and more to gift to others. For many, a week living in this alternative, experimental place ends up being a transformative experience.

These 23 photos show what AfrikaBurn is all about.

1. The ilukuluku Temple of Curiousity

Photo: Jessica Devnani

The temporary community of AfrikaBurn is known as Tankwa Town, as the event is held in an area of the Tankwa Karoo desert in the Northern Cape province. Many larger-than-life art installations are scattered about. This particular one is the ilukuluku Temple of Curiosity, a giant, multi-level structure that you could climb and explore. At night, and sometimes even during the day, it transformed into a pumping dance floor.

2. People who give with the expectation of nothing in return

Photo: Jessica Devnani

Gifting is one of the main principles of AfrikaBurn. The idea is that everyone brings something to give and expects nothing in return. It can be a tray of candy, as this man here was offering, or something less tangible, like a workshop or a performance. The feeling of a complete stranger handing you a cold beer or a handmade necklace that then leads to a conversation and possibly a new friendship is what makes AfrikaBurn so special.

3. Modified vehicles that roam the desert

Photo: Jessica Devnani

Mutant vehicles are also a huge part of AfrikaBurn. Several of these modified vehicles can be found roaming the desert. Some have massive sound systems onboard, creating a mobile dance floor wherever they go. This sailboat-like one is known as the Flying DutchMan. Sunset is a popular time when many come out to dance and mingle, before heading back to camp to prepare for the night ahead.

4. Vehicles converted into roving mobile dance floors

Photo: Jessica Devnani

The BOOMBOX is one of the most notable mutant vehicles at the burn. This giant mobile boombox has some amazing LED lights timed with its beats all night long.

5. Commemorations for past AfrikaBurn locations

Photo: Jessica Devnani

This was the first year that AfrikaBurn took place on a new piece of land called Quaggafontein. This installation is called the Tree of Stories, and was built to commemorate the old site. A colorful LED light pattern moved up and down the tower at night.

6. Historic AfrikaBurn scenes and memories with an elevated view

Photo: Jessica Devnani

If you ventured inside the Tree of Stories, you’d see dozens of these scenes depicted from the last 13 burns. Each one symbolizes the stories and memories of the past. You could climb all the way up the tower for a closer look at each one. There was also an amazing view of Tankwa Town from up top.

7. People doing aerial acrobatics

Photo: Jessica Devnani

Walk around AfrikaBurn at any time of day and you’re bound to see people doing awesome things. This woman was putting on an amazing aerial silk performance. Afterwards, she instructed passer-byers on basic techniques and simple moves that they could try. Participation is another key principle at AfrikaBurn. Everyone is encouraged to contribute and to try new things.

8. Artwork that changes depending on how you look at it

Photo: Jessica Devnani

This artwork is called Twisted Da Vinci by the Die Brandnetels Collective. The look of the piece changes entirely depending on what angle you are looking at it from, as well as the time of day.

9. There were even dinosaur sightings

Photo: Jessica Devnani

You never know what you’ll see at AfrikaBurn next. One moment you might turn around and find a herd of dinosaurs charging at you. The most random things happen here. Many people also experience synchronicities. The culmination of all these odd events makes you question reality.

10. Dreamy art installations

Photo: Jessica Devnani

This installation was based on the idea that AfrikaBurn is a place where dreams turn into reality. There is so much freedom, possibility, and creativity here. But everything starts as a dream.

11. Theme camps

Photo: Jessica Devnani

Theme camps are another big part of AfrikaBurn. Le Petit Paris is one of the most well-known ones. They gift c\Champagne and pastis every evening around sunset, along with some groovy beats. This, of course, always draws a huge crowd to the landmark Eiffel Tower. Other theme camps gift everything from pancakes to freshly squeezed juice.

12. Incredible wooden installations that are eventually burned down

Photo: Jessica Devnani

This large wooden installation was known as The Other Thing. The light and shadow patterns it created at night were extremely cool. Near the end of the week certain art pieces were burned down, including this one.

13. Colorful light displays on mutant vehicles

Photo: Jessica Devnani

The BoomiCorn is a mutant vehicle that can be spotted from miles away due to the laser coming out of its horn. This particular night a group with LED balloons were gathered around it, adding some color to the dancefloor.

14. People playing a wide variety of musical genres

Photo: Jessica Devnani

Although a lot of the music at AfrikaBurn is electronic, you can find a wider variety of genres if you know where to go. It’s always a treat to come across a live band performing. Trombonist Mthimkhulu Katlego Stuurman, also known as Umuthiomkhulu, is seen here performing with a band called L8 Antique. They played at various theme camps throughout the week and at times even jammed alongside DJ’s, creating a cool fusion of sounds.

15. An artists take on COVID-19

Photo: Jessica Devnani

This installation is called Corvid by Tundra Dunckley. It explores concepts of disease, death, life, and the afterlife. In the background is a piece entitled R.I.P. 2022. It was created in honor of Antoinette Murdoch, a South African artist who passed away due to COVID. Many of the artworks here have deeper meanings. Attendees are given a booklet called the WTF Guide which gives information on all the artworks, theme camps, and events throughout the week.

16. Art that tells the story from nomadic farming to industrial methods

Photo: Jessica Devnani

This piece is known as Tiers of the Tanwka by the Bergkamp Collective. It is a kinetic mobile installation created from scrap metal found in the Tankwa Karoo region. It is based on how sustainable nomadic farming practices were replaced with more industrial methods. The piece symbolizes the history of the land that AfrikaBurn is held on.

17. Displays of radical self expression

Photo: Jessica Devnani

Radical self expression is a principle of the event and attendees take this very seriously. Almost everyone dresses up in funky costumes. For many, it’s a chance to dress however they want and be whoever they want without judgment. These two futuristic-looking guys are posing in front of The Vaginarium of Dreams, a giant vagina-shaped slide.

18. Scorpion-like vehicles

Photo: Jessica Devnani

At AfrikaBurn you are not allowed to drive in a normal car for safety reasons. All mutant vehicles must be registered and licensed to drive around. This scorpion-like vehicle was just one of many. Seeing the creativity that goes into some people’s rides is definitely a highlight of the burn. Those with a few extra seats are usually happy to give you a lift if you ask.

19. An openness to expressing the full range of emotions

Photo: Jessica Devnani

AfrikaBurn is not all rainbows and sparkle ponies, as they say. A week out here doesn’t come without its challenges. Willem wore this shirt as a reminder for everyone to feel whatever the event brings them. He mentioned how many people experience unexpected emotions, feelings of sadness or loneliness for example, in a place where you’re seemingly supposed to be having the time of your life. AfrikaBurn is about accepting whatever may come.

20. A nod to the symbols of South Africa’s Indigenous people

Photo: Jessica Devnani

The Clan seen here is the central icon and effigy of AfrikaBurn. It is a symbol that has been depicted in ancient rock art of the San people, South Africa’s Indigenous people. Elders of this community have approved of the use of its imagery and have even attended the event in the past.

21. The burning of the wooden effigy

Photo: Jessica Devnani

On the second last night of the event the Clan is burned, similarly to how the Man is burned at Burning Man. The tradition of burning a giant wooden effigy started at the first Burning Man on Baker Beach, San Francisco, in 1986. The Clan burn is the culmination of the week. Many start to run around the fire naked as it burns to the ground.

22. Magical sunrises every morning

Photo: Jessica Devnani

Sunrise is one of the most magical times in Tankwa Town. Many stay up all night dancing, making new friends, and roaming the desert. As the sun comes up, you feel a connection with everyone else around you who has also made it through the night. The light puts a beautiful glow onto everything and you begin to warm up after a night of near freezing temperatures. If you go, you must stay up to see at least one sunrise.

23. The final temple burn

Photo: Jessica Devnani

The temple is a sacred space in what is otherwise quite a hectic place. Throughout the week people leave messages and other significant objects inside. You’ll find everything from messages to loved ones that have passed, to inspiring words of wisdom, to very personal stories of trauma. On the last night of the event the temple is burned. For many, this symbolizes letting go. It’s an emotional time that also signifies the end of a week filled with new connections, lessons, realizations, and growth.