For our fourth conversation of Unrehearsed Futures (Season 3), we had a pair of exciting activist-practitioners – Kat Purcell and Qondiswa James – who shared about their work, which focuses primarily in intervening in public spaces as a way of engaging with the politics of belonging among various other things.
James described herself as a “cultural worker” interested in public space, how bodies make community and public space, and how solidarity is built in public space. As part of her Master’s at Institute of Creative Arts, UCT, she did a series of 12 interventions around the city of Cape Town to present “these images of workers as living monument, almost to haunt the city with the fact of ourselves, of themselves.”
About her experience of performing something in the public commons, James said she has tried to move away from her perception and idea of what she thinks might happen. “What I’ve really tried to lean into, and I found in the process of doing it, of being in public space, is just to dwell to curate something, curate an image, understand the size that you’re going to go to, to the best of your ability, and not have any pretence about what you think is going to happen,” she described.
Purcell, a trans artist, on the other hand, is one of the many people putting “my shoulder to the work of community reliance in the face of state violence”. In terms of stagecraft, they described a piece of work they had devised with a collective about The Tombs – the colloquial name for the Manhattan Detention Complex, a municipal jail in Lower Manhattan. Having planned it for six months, one of them was dropped off in a cage in the middle of the intersection outside The Tombs, which also houses the courthouse. The people who first began to vocalize about it were people who had been inside The Tombs. Purcell described that as the traffic around them got heavier, people became angry with the performer for blocking the road.
“Eventually, the police came and taped off the intersection in a square,” shared Purcell. “And they had to cut him out of the cage with a stone cutter. And the folks on the sidelines who had stopped to watch were also vocalizing in such a way where they were really getting it and they said, ‘Oh, you have to cut him out to put him in’. Like, you have to take him out of the cage to put him in the cage, because they arrested him.”
STAY TUNED! We will be publishing a long-form article about the talk and the ideas/themes that emerged during the session on our blog in the coming weeks.