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Photography by Marcia Elizabeth

AFROPUNK as a cross-continental meeting point

Many Joburgers, like myself, know the exodus that the city experiences over the December holidays, with most people coming back just in time to unpack their bags before going back to work. For those who go on holiday, the coast is usually the first option. However, over the last holiday Johannesburg saw a slight shift in this migratory pattern that we make so many jokes about. The AFROPUNK festival saw South Africans from other cities choosing to travel to Johannesburg to spend the new year’s weekend rocking it out to local and international talent. In addition to this, a large number of international travelers came to the festival. This included fellow Africans as well as people from the Americas and Europe. From interviews with a few attendees, it became apparent that despite the main motivating factor for being in Johannesburg was the festival, it became a point of departure for other adventures in the city post AFROPUNK. The festival also brought people to Johannesburg because it was the first AFROPUNK held in Africa, which was particularly important for those from other African countries.

“AFROPUNK is more than the lineup. It is culture, inspiration, force. Be yourself. Be free in your own personality or outfit,” expressed Brazilian blogger Maga Moura. Her colourful braids and sparkling full body overthrow caught the eye of many at the festival. Maga shared that she wanted to be the one who is able to represent her Brazilian followers. She attended all of the AFROPUNK festivals that took place throughout 2017, and was most excited to be in Johannesburg as was her first time in the city. She also extended her stay in the city so that she could record spaces and people who have knowledge about South African history. Maga passionately expressed to me her desire to make her trip more than taking photographs at the festival, but also an opportunity to show her followers more aspects of South African culture and history from the vantage point that Johannesburg offers.

Miles Greenberg, who was also in South Africa for the first time, is Canadian born but now lives in France with his boyfriend. They were both in attendance, mainly due to Miles convincing his boyfriend that he needs to share this experience with him. Like most international attendees, Miles was in Johannesburg for the festival. “I have been looking for an excuse to come here for the longest time. For me it was a matter of just showing up. And for me this feels like an important time and an important place for this to be happening. It feels just and it feels on point,” Miles expressed. He also mentioned that his decision to be here was influenced by Nonku Phiri, who he met at a gig in Shanghai. This indicates an additional thread to this cross-continental pollination of people of colour at the festival.

Toby and Adrian Gardner from London also confessed that they were mainly in Johannesburg for the festival, and that this was also their first time in the city. With Toby being half Ghanaian, half Nigerian and Adrian being Jamaican, their outfits communicated the connections they were trying to make with being on the continent. Toby wore an outfit that reminded her of kente cloth, while Adrian wore a traditional Nigerian shirt that was given to him by his brother-in-law who is from Nigeria. “We are here to enjoy all the beautiful people. I feel it [the festival] will be way more laid back. Less about image and more about family and people being together,” they expressed.

Damola Owode, from South West Nigeria, although shy with his words, expressed that he was representing his Yoruba heritage through his outfit. His decision to be in Johannesburg was influenced by his friends wanting to attend and this being a place where he can openly share his traditional wear.

Of course the festival meant that people from various platforms would be sent on assignment to cover specific angles of the festival. This was the case for Shan Wallace and Lawrence Burney from Baltimore. Lawrence is a music journalist and spent time interviewing South African artists, and teamed up with Shan who is a photographer. This was also a special moment for Shan, as it allowed her to share images of her photographs with people in Johannesburg. “I use photography as a form of activism, and a way to share black peoples’ experience.  It is also a way for us to connect,” she explains.

Mariah Matthews shared a similar attitude to Shan, in that she wanted to be able to connect. From New Jersey, she spent a few months at UCT as an exchange student. Her experience at AFROPUNK was a parting gift to herself as she would be leaving South Africa in January. “I always wanted to come to South Africa because of the spirit of resistance that so much of the youth has here. I needed some of that fire sparked inside of me and some of the knowledge from movements such as Fees Must Fall.” For her, being at AFROPUNK solidifies all she has learnt throughout her time in Cape Town.

Cynty, from the Caribbean, has also spent a few months in Cape Town at an internship that extends her studies in Tourism. She and a group of friends from different parts of the world came up to Johannesburg as a way to bring in the new year together because they are far away from their families.

Njeri from Nairobi expressed to me that her decision to be at the festival was based on the fact that this was the first AFROPUNK held on the continent. She has always been drawn to AFROPUNK because of “the music and the movement. The arts element as well as the movement being about Black empowerment.” This was also a moment for her to reflect on the different cultures in Kenya, and bring elements of them to South Africa through her outfit.

Mariette Immaculate is a designer from London. As someone who travels a lot, she shared with me that she documents culture and enjoys being able to represent these various place with the clothing that she wears. Being at AFROPUNK was an experience where she can thread together the places she has been and the new culture she experienced in Johannesburg.

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