The creation and appreciation of public art is still an incredibly restricted affair in Cape Town, South Africa. Commissions are generally awarded to established artists who have gained entry into networks from elite institutions, and favoured sites are in the city centre.
The African Centre for Cities’ project, Public Art and the Power of Place, is a concerted effort to shift this locus by funding the work of artists in areas that contribute to a fuller representation of the city. As project coordinator Rike Sitas explains, the project aims to “trouble the kind of dominant narrative of what makes up a city, especially an African one.”
The projects selected for funding respond to this call in diverse ways. This is the first of six interviews with each group of artists, who share their interpretations of public art and the power of place.
Amasokolari – Placing comedy in Khayelitsha
A few months ago, Siya Seya and a team of comedians began hosting Amasokolari stand-up comedy nights at the Lookout Hill tourism centre in Khayelitsha. Seya and his team’s vision is to further infiltrate Khayelitsha by taking comedy to the streets as well as discover new talent for their shows. Along with fellow comedians and project members King Khotla, Tsepiso Nzayo and Khanyiso Kenga, Seya wants Khayelitsha residents to begin to “trust” stand-up comedy: not only as a new form of entertainment, but even for some, as a potential career. This trust can go a long way to informing identity and cultivating self-reflexivity. Seya believes that encouraging his fellow Khayelitsha residents to laugh at themselves can build awareness and a shared identity in a place he feels is still largely characterised by division.
Urbanafrica.net’s Megan Tennant interviewed Siya Seya about Amasokolari comedy before one of his shows at Lookout Hill. In the following quotes, he shares his hopes for the project and thoughts on how humour has the power to shape a place.
There has never been stand-up comedy in Khayelitsha. When people think comedy, they think America, Trevor Noah, and English. Now we’re trying to make sure that people can laugh in their own language by encouraging Xhosa comedians to get on stage.
The only thing that comedy needs is an audience. I’ve been writing comedy in Xhosa, in the township, but we’re struggling to get audiences to come into venues. I saw the funding call for the ACC’s Power of Place proposals and it took some time, but I kept looking at it and finally thought, “We can take comedy to the streets. How about we go to the audience, to where they are – in taxis, in trains, where they stay, in malls, everywhere?” That’s when I decided – “This is it! This is what we really need.”
One of my plans is to perform stand-up comedy in a taxi. I’ll pay the fare for everybody so that they have incentive to listen. There are always characters on a taxi that everybody knows. They know nothing [formally] about stand-up comedy but they know how to make people laugh. We’re looking for those people who don’t know how talented they are and don’t know that they can make comedy a career. I’m going to get on a taxi and do what they do, to show them.
People here are very, very serious. There are divisions because we’re all from different areas in South Africa and we hang out with people who are from the same place. People in Gugs [Gugulethu, a neighbouring township], for example, have a history of Gugs – they will tell you a story about Gugulethu. There’s not that kind of unity here – people from Khayelitsha don’t have that pride. Every person that comes to Khayelitsha is new to Cape Town.
A lady who found out I would be running comedy shows at Lookout Hill told me, “You must sell this thing ‘proper’!” She explained that only 30% of people were born here, unlike the other 70% who are not from here. She believed that we don’t really know what we have in common other than pain.
There’s a lot to write about. But I must make sure I don’t cross boundaries. The most serious issue is crime. Crime in Khayelitsha has many layers, and a lot of it occurs because people here are too close to one another, especially in the shacks. I’m scared to talk about crime: during this winter there were burnings; people took the law into their own hands. I also can’t write material about our divides. I’m from East London but I won’t make fun of someone from the Transkei, for example, because there’s a perception that people from some places think they’re better than others.
I write about things everyone in Khayelitsha will understand. One of our events will be at the mall. Some shoppers stay in houses and some stay in shacks. But everyone will identify with my material because everyone who stays here was once in a shack at some point. Or, many people who are in a house, at least, have had a relative coming from somewhere else and they had to buy them a shack so they could stay somewhere. Either way, we’re all connected in that manner.
Khayelitsha is well-known for a lot of negative things. In a place that is characterised by bad news, stand-up comedy will make us look at the stories that are being told about us and will make us laugh at ourselves, especially at some of our priorities. This is going to empower a lot of people. And that’s where the power of place comes in.
Siya Seya, King Khotla, Tsepiso Nzayo and Khanyiso Kenga host Amasokolari comedy nights monthly at the Malibongwe Restaurant at Lookout Hill tourism centre. More details can be found on their Facebook page.
Photo: Siya Seya, of Amasokolari Comedy. Credit: Bert Pauw
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