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18.04.2016

Take me to Tankwa Town

As the dusty wonderland beckons once again, four friends play AfrikaBurn dress up

Words: Rosie Goddard | Photographs: Sabrina Scott

Spectacular, surreal and visually intoxicating, driving into AfrikaBurn can feel as if you’ve stumbled across an otherworldly utopia where interpretive dance classes, naked men riding unicycles and makeshift desert cocktail stands are the order of the day. Never in my life have I felt such a need to master time and space so that I wouldn’t miss a second. Still working on that one…

If there was ever a place to be your most exuberant self and let it all hang out, it’s this week-long arts festival in the Karoo. From troupes of multicoloured revellers dancing around a double decker bus, to Mad Max-inspired vehicles and supersized installations that reach for the heavens, it’s a liberating, mind-boggling experience that’s hard to put into words. (Don’t worry, this isn’t the part where I suggest we eschew capitalism in favour of a money-free society in which home-brewed kombucha and origami hearts are the only currency.)

While its exclusive nature can’t be denied (cue comment about the Southern Suburbs here), there are some things that Afrikaburn does incredibly well. From the meticulous attention to detail put into the costumes and art works, to the generosity of complete strangers in this temporary desert town, the whole experience leaves you feeling wonderfully overwhelmed and somewhat enlightened. Oh wait, maybe that was the tea from a few tents back.

In celebration of this unique event and its eccentric attendees, we photographed and spoke to four friends as dedicated to making the annual pilgrimage to the Tankwa Karoo as they are to dressing up in unique, often handmade creations. As the dusty playground beckoning once again, these are some of the outfits they’ll be donning to wander the expanse of the playa. The best part? There’s no trend, no look, no set of steps on how to get Afrikaburn style. You wear whatever makes you happy, whether that’s a ballgown, an intergalactic space costume, or nothing at all.

Erin Katzeff

Favourite AfrikaBurn memory?

Last year, The Spirit Train parked off and began to gather this expansive, electric crowd. Some DJ in a cape and a zorro mask was playing and in the distance, something started to burn. People began to notice and soon the crowd was moving towards the flickering light. I remember turning back to watch thousands of people walking towards the blaze, illuminated by the flames, all drawn to the fire. There was this tangible, collective energy, a hum in the air, a communal joy and urgency. It was a pretty spectacular moment.

Don’t forget to bring…

As many wet wipes as you can carry and a good pair of boots.

Best theme camps?

The Red Tent, a magical feminine space for shared love and healing. The DMV also do the most incredible job each year. They’re the reason I know how to expertly change a bicycle tyre.

Favourite art work/installation?

I loved Danny Popper’s ‘Reflection', a torso, with this contemplative face and outstretched arms resting on the desert floor, all crafted from wood. I also really appreciate the smaller, quieter works created by lesser-known artists. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon about a hundred green apples, all laid out in the shape of a giant star. In the middle were enamel bowls of fresh water with more apples bobbing in them. It was the perfect offering. I sat in the middle and splashed my face with water and ate an apple. Simple and beautiful.

Go-to food/snack in the desert?

Energy Bars. Water. Lots and lots of water.

Best Burn gift you’ve ever received?

The best gifts are the simple ones – the sharing of a drink, a hug, a compliment or a brownie, all given without expecting anything in return.

Erin wears a handmade bralette and and an assembled feather headpiece, layered jewellery, a Frida Khalo-inspired headpiece and layered red items.

Dominique Le Roux

Best moment at AfrikaBurn?

When the sun’s setting and you look into the horizon and see the silhouettes of people walking, leaving little dust clouds behind them. The colours in the sky are also unbelievable, there’s this gradient of oranges that can’t be explained.

Don’t forget to bring…

A pumped-up mattress.

Favourite mutant vehicle?

The trusty VW disco-ball van, named Tony “Lovebus” Manero. Spotting this little guy catching the light as he rides along in the distance is just fantastic.

Favourite art work/installation?

The butterfly last year was pretty incredible, especially as it was a silent burn.

Go-to food/snack in the desert?

Definitely scrambled eggs in the morning and a good-old toasted cheese as an afternoon snack.

Best Burn gift you’ve ever received?

A beautifully hand-carved wooden keychain that I’ve held onto for years.

Dominique wears dresses that she made herself, a Superbalist floral skirt, a faux shearling gilet and a Superbalist faux fur jacket.

Nabeeha Mohamed

Favourite AfrikaBurn moment?

It would have to be controlling the flames on The Spirit Train as people danced all around in 2015.

Don’t forget to bring…

Water.

The best outfits you’ve ever seen?

The green army men.

Favourite art work?

The ABRACADABRA installation – a large-scale suspended and hanging light and sound installation that used ropes, kites, flags and geometric shapes to provide swings, nets, coves, dance floors, levers and hammocks etc. It was created to entice individuals to move, connect and immerse themselves in the experience.

Go-to snack in the desert?

Chocolate Steri Stumpies.

Best Burn gift you ever received?

Receiving cherry pancakes at sunrise from two very happy, naked older women.

Nabeeha wears a dress, kimono and jewellery that she handmade for her line Maison Meso as well as some thrifted boots. 

Tessa Britts

Favourite AfrikaBurn moment?

A highlight over the last five years would be when we burnt our theme camp’s installation. We’d built a giant totem pole and a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into its creation. I was made Fire Marshall (God knows why), and together with the rest of our camp, I watched it burn to the ground while dancing around the glowing embers.

Never go to Afrikaburn without…

A spare tyre.

Best art car?

The days of the double decker party bus were amazing. I spent many a night that quickly turned to morning dancing on top of it.

Favourite art work/installation?

A glowing heart that a friend and I discovered in the middle of the desert. It was so incredible, we kept coming back to it.

Go-to food in the desert?

Eggs and bacon with a Bloody Mary for breakfast has cured even the worst of my Burn hangovers.

Best Burn gift you ever received?
A hug from a stranger when I lost my friends in the desert.

Tessa wears a handmade carnival-inspired headpiece, a belted kimono and a block-printed scarf and skirt from India.