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Infecting the city

Art is set to take centre stage once again in downtown Cape Town in the form of Infecting the City, a public arts festival that will transform public spaces into spectacular outdoor entertainment venues, showcasing a range of inspiring art forms.

Following the successful Investec Cape Town Art Fair earlier this year, the Central City’s growing, vibrant art scene will be further enhanced when Infecting the City takes over the CBD from 18 to 24 November 2019. The six-day festival, hosted by the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) in association with The Africa Centre, will infect the CBD with art and challenge people to think differently about urban spaces and how they are used. Ranging from music, theatre, dance, poetry performances and visual art installations, Infecting the City interacts directly with audiences on the street.


This year’s theme emerged from over 100 proposals. It is workbased in classical African tradition, involving an exploration of how African performance and rituals work inside an urban environment. Festival founding curator and ICA director Jay Pather says it “is also to create atmospheres of cleansing and interiority within these commercially driven, materialistic spaces”.

Joining Jay as a curatorial fellow is internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer of African indigenous and cross-cultural dance, Elvis Sibeko, who brings extensive experience with traditional African productions. He will be curating two programmes.

The festival will also tackle pertinent social issues such as women empowerment, with productions that are not only performed by women but also curated and directed by them. “Women traverse a thin line of security in our public spaces. Foregrounding these issues in a public space is essential. And no amount of bringing this to the fore and in public will be enough,” says Jay.

ITC Curators Jay Pather (far left), Elvis Sibeko (far right) with members of Soundz of the South


In the past, Infecting the City has seen people experiencing flash mobs on St Georges Mall, the Philharmonic Orchestra performing inside Cape Town Station, acrobatics on Thibault Square, performers suspended from tall buildings, opera on the balconies of Adderley St and giant puppets striding down a rose-strewn Church St.

The 2019 programme promises to be as thrilling with works ranging from the entertaining to the highly political and conceptual. Included in this year’s diverse programme are top South African and African artists from Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, the Eastern Cape, Zimbabwe and Namibia, who will be joined by international acts from the Netherlands, France and Switzerland. From vertical dancers on city walls to performance activities in parked cars, Infecting the City 2019 will activate city spaces from the Castle of Good Hope, to PLAY Cape Town Station, the Heerengracht Fountain, to St George’s Cathedral and beyond. 

The festival will comprise four routes showcasing 40 local, national, international and collaborative works that will wind their way through the cityscape. There will be two daytime routes from 12h30 to 16h30 and two evening routes from 18h00 to 21h00.

“Something rare happens when intentional audiences encounter and experience emotionally charged work alongside those ‘accidentally’ passing by, to or from work, having lunch or visiting tourist sites,” says Jay.


Public art has always been part of who we are on this continent and in this country, given our history of public ritual, public protest and celebration, Jay notes. Infecting the City is a small attempt at engaging with historical and contemporary narratives relevant to the city and its people.

“As our environment becomes more trying, riddled with complexities and debates around land, poverty, race, safety and security and the environment, there is growing insularity. But public art creates the circumstances for emotions to be stirred, and for discussions to take place publicly. Public art combines the intimacy of art with the public encounter.

“Infecting the City creates a space for issues to be raised and debated, which is needed in the country, now more than ever. More than 20 years into democracy, South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world, and spaces where we can feel and think together are becoming increasingly important.”

IMAGES: Infecting the City