Cape Town is no stranger to controversy around the diversity of its publics. The plural ‘publics’ signals the ongoing complexities of a stratified society, anxious to find moments of singular coherence and communitas. Recent outcries around some examples of public art, and the range of opinions proffered, mark territory that can be as hazardous as it is rewarding. Increasingly we are being forced into confronting something we have possibly avoided for twenty years: that 1994 did not signify automatic oneness, one thought, one way, one view. And the tears are showing.
Art in public spaces affords us moments of dreamy enchantment. But it does often offer doses of reality – both in content as well as all that comes with being so exposed and vulnerable to these ‘publics’, pulling in different directions. An artwork inside a white cube gallery can be experimental and controversial, but ultimately enjoys a certain safety and controlled viewing. Out in public, works navigate scrutiny that is unparalleled and artists are made supremely vulnerable as audiences respond in ways that are unexpected, simply because there is no accounting for who will show up, no accounting for the range of publics. This is of course the lure and wonder of this form.
The Festival grows this year to include a curatorial panel rather than a single curator. Farzanah Badsha, Nadja Daehnke, Mandla Mbothwe and curatorial intern, Mandisi Sindo, bring perspectives from a range of disciplines and contexts. Ultimately, public art can’t be any one thing and the City as a space of investigation, of play, of enchantment, of reflection and of debate will continue to be made manifest in the variety of work – both reflecting the sharply contrasted publics that populate Cape Town, as well as affording moments of that elusive coherence and oneness.
Jay Pather: Festival Curator