Words: Eleen Polson / Photos: Alexander Polson (unless otherwise stated)
I remember a kind young dreadlocked man stepping closer, commenting on the perfect sunset with the perfect moon-rise on the other side. Many people were admiring the spectacular view perched on Land Rover roofs or sitting flat in the sand. He said he had travelled much, but that this place is wonderfully balanced, a mirror image on all sides with the Cedar and Tankwa mountains enclosing the plain. The celestial balance in this moment gently underlined his statement. It also confirmed my experience of the magic that pervaded the pilgrimage that many of us undertake yearly to the Tankwa to gather as a clan around bonfires of art at AfrikaBurn.
I am intrigued that the balance of things in this self-organising tribe is noticeable in other areas of male and female creative expression as well. The first is in the feminine art of Burlesque, hosted by the Steampunk Saloon, over years becoming an institution on the program: both as performance and as an opportunity to teach the art to other women.
Although sexy and seductive in nature and celebrating the female form throughout, I cannot but feel in my feminine heart that it embodies the essence of what males desire in the sexual mating game. It utilises male expectations and visual needs and flirts in the way females have been programmed in the years before women could vote. The attire and costumes are also reminiscent of the Victorian era and the industrial revolution which brings its own connotation for the older generations and is at the same time far removed from the experience of the young crowd admiring and playing the Burlesque theater. It reminds me of a gentle balancing act where females choose to come across in a male preferred way and invite the audience to stare and admire – an act of healing for both male and female psyches in this context of affective support, safety and equality.
Another creative form of expression at AfrikaBurn is the beautiful mechanical creations tinkered up by craftsmen, riggers and welders. Mutant vehicles; huge art installations that spew fiery balls through an intricate pipework maze; steam tractors towing little churches. A scissor lift built for airports, transformed into a psychedelically-lit butterfly that adorned the night sky and mesmerised the wanderers, drawing people like moths to a flame.
How tools, electronics and mechanics are utilised for the sole purpose of beauty and entertainment replaces the use of machines for economic or destructive war purposes.
Some machines, like the Dung Beetle Project, eat plastic and produce fuel, while getting the people to dance in the dust to DJ inspiration. On a smaller scale, men are firing up old-fashioned donkey geysers to offer hot showers to the dusty campers. The Greasemonkeys offer bicycle repair services, and the Early Erections crew helps with setting up camps. It is male ingenuity, focused and productive, that offers the feminine quality of beauty, support, care and entertainment in a new way.
Coming away from this experience leaves me feeling whole and refreshed: finding a balance between being and doing; enjoying day and night; resting and actively sweating; doing nothing while making some of the most meaningful connections of my life.
Yin and Yang in a beautiful dance.