Review: Live Art Network Africa Gathering 2023 – intensely immersive experience – presented by the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) at UCT

I was privileged to experience performances, presented as part of Live Art Network Africa Gathering which took place last week and weekend, in Cape Town February 16-19, 2023. Live Art Network Africa (LANA) is presented by the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) – an interdisciplinary institute based in the University of Cape Town’s Humanities Faculty.  LANA was established in 2018, to promote Live Art (aka Performance Art) on the African Continent. LANA took place at a conference at UCT’s Hiddingh Campus, with performances in various locations in Cape Town. As always, there was no charge to attend, although bookings were required. Yes, you may be reading and thinking – “well- it is over – it is too late.” Correct, this edition of LANA is over but the ICA regularly presents multi-disciplinary events, so keep an eye out for ICA events. There is always a great deal of discourse, with humans connecting and wonderful dialogue, listening and learning.

On Saturday, February 18, I made my way down the stairs to Clifton 2- a beautiful pristine beach in Cape Town – sheltered from the wind- a spot for leisure seekers. Clifton consists of four beaches – one to four. Although the beaches are public and there is no charge to access them, Clifton is sited in an area of extreme wealth and privilege, with premium real estate. The water in the Atlantic is freezing but sun seekers are undeterred.

Documentary film maker/cinematographer, Simon Wood (he co-directed the film, Girl Taken) and his wife and partner, Dr Meghna Singh (academic/artist, film maker) presented their VR film, Container at LANA, as part of their site responsive/specific performance, In the Wake– on Clifton 2. They co-directed Container.

Wood and Singh are multi-disciplinary creatives. Container, brings multiple practices into the frame of this chillingly intense film which jumps off a Portuguese slave ship which sank in 1794, with 212 slaves on board. The hands and legs of the slaves were bound, shackled. As the ship went down, they could not escape. At the core of the film, is slavery: Humans trapped and shackled beyond escape and it segues into present day slavery – modern day capitalism in the fake branding sector, with people slaving away, sewing designer goods for a pittance. This is dovetailed with men being pleasured by women in exotic locations. It is an arresting piece of film and the VR mode of viewing, transports one into the murky depths of the ocean, tangled in seaweed.

It was creepy, viewing the film at Clifton 2, on a beautiful February summer day, with many leisure seekers oblivious to what remains under the sand (probably bodies from the ship). Chatting to a group of people, as we made our way down the stairs, they were totally disinterested. They were at Clifton to “do a ceremony”. On the beach, many sun seekers in their cozzies, were intrigued and lined up to view the film. Viewing through virtual reality headsets, in the blistering heat, well, I felt that everything was closing in. I felt that I was drowning, that I could not breathe. Container is brilliantly filmed. One is literally sitting in the seaweed, the human factory of slavery and a massage parlour. The film is a heightened non-verbal narrative documentary (played by actors). It is voyeuristic. We are hemmed into a container, shut-out from the beach, headsets on. We must watch through our goggles. There are no distractions. I felt very uncomfortable and indeed therein lies the power of this film, to transpose and plant that viewer in the confines of being contained and enclosed, with no escape.

Container was screened at the 78th Venice International Film Festival and Tribeca Festival 2022. Presenting Container at LANA, February 2023, on Clifton 2, with the remains of the shipwreck, one is forced to engage and confront dark and uncomfortable secrets. Here, we are in 2023, on this stunningly beautiful beach and we have to ask- what does this mean – this buried past and how do we distil this in the wake of all that remains, now, 2023? I did not know about the slave shipwreck. Now, I do know. Cape Town is a stunningly beautiful city. What do we make of that which is buried in its wake of its past, in spots like Clifton? Buffered against that is that many do not see and experience the beauty of Cape Town and places like Clifton. They live in poverty, in makeshift shacks in townships and informal settlements, in a landscape which is definitely not beautiful. They slave away and have no access to transport to get them to Clifton. Clifton is another country.

The film’s start-point is the shipwreck but slavery, human trafficking, and trans-actionality of humans- that is universal. All over the globe, there are leisure and pleasure seekers, who are oblivious to history and/or who do not want to know about what is contained in a space. Watch pop-up videos here with Meghna Singh and Simon Wood: and

Here is a clip from Jelili Atiku’s performance, I am a Fish From the Sea, which started off at Krotoa Place, St George’s Mall (outside Woolworths) in Cape Town’s CBD: Jelili Atiku is Nigerian and lives in Lagos. His performance had to be delayed because of visa issues. Watch the video, where he talks about “freedom”. Who is listening and who should we say is calling (to quote Leonard Cohen).

Container: Simon Wood and Dr Meghna Singh, Feburary 18, 2023 Clifton 2, Cape Town. Container was screened in VR format on the beach, as part of their site specific/responsive performance, In the Wake, presented at Live Art Network Africa Gathering 2023. Pic: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen. Watch pop-up vids: and
Freedom: Jelili Atiku’s performance, I am a Fish From the Sea, which started off at Krotoa Place, St George’s Mall (outside Woolworths) in Cape Town’s CBD, presented at Live Art Network Africa Gathering 2023. Pic: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen. Watch a clip here:

✳Related coverage on Live Art Network Africa Gathering 2023: