>>>One of the greatest parties on Earth
Photo: ©Shanna Jones

One of the greatest parties on Earth

Once a year, in the middle of the South African desert, a short-lived town devoted to art is set up for the sole purpose of having fun. There are no rules in AfrikaBurn.
T
he deserts of Tankwa Karoo National Park (South Africa) and Nevada Black Rock (United States) are more than 16,000 kilometres away from each other. What links these two faraway regions? Firstly, their semi-desert climates. Secondly, they are both the setting for two of the planet’s ‘wildest’ festivals: Burning Man (the original) and AfrikaBurn (the South African version). Once a year, thousands of people come to these temporary towns in the middle of ‘nowhere’ to unleash their creativity and have a good time. A very good time.
AfrikaBurn has an open-minded spirit, free from restrictions.
Photo: ©Shanna Jones

Ten years of AfrikaBurn

AfrikaBurn revolves around a main theme each year. This time round it's X, as a Roman numeral for ten and as the letter that stands for an unknown quantity. A tribute to the festival's tenth anniversary, reflecting both the past and what is yet to come.

It all started on a San Francisco beach in 1986 when a group of friends met to celebrate the summer solstice. As a party finale, they burnt the wooden effigy of a man. So, Burning Man was born. In the 90s the festival got so big that it had to be moved to a more ‘open’ location in the Nevada desert. Since then, the event is attended by some 70,000  ‘burners’, which is how festival goers are known, and tickets are usually sold out in minutes, a far cry from the secrecy with which the festival was shrouded in the early years. In fact, some gurus in Silicon Valley have been accused of devaluing the festival by erecting huge temporary mansions in the desert.
AfrikaBurn’s history is more recent. The first event was held on African soil in 2007. Smaller in size, the ‘little brother’ of Burning Man attracts around 10-15% of the audience attending the US event, although it’s drawing more visitors every year, and all kinds of nationalities. The 2016 festival is being held from 25 April to 1 May in Tankwa Karoo National Park, around 300 kilometres north of Cape Town. Every participant gets a passport with a very clear message: “Dance, groove, scream, shout, cartwheel, cavort naked and howl at the moon freely and without hindrance”.
Some of the large-format artworks are taken to urban settings once the festival is over.
Photo: ©Ludovic Ismael

Hostile environment

Nights in Tankwa Karoo are usually very cold, while daytime temperatures can easily soar to 40ºC (in the shade). You reach this desert after following a sandy track for more than 100 kilometres with no sign of civilisation.

London DJ Ali B, who was at AfrikaBurn in 2011, describes the festival as “one of the greatest parties on Earth”. The premise is simple: a temporary town given over to any kind of artistic expression you can think of, plus the ones you can’t think of too. The place is full of costumes, performances and mutant vehicles for getting around the camp. The organisation only supplies ice to participants, as all other needs (food, drink, bedding) are the responsibility of each burner. There are no traders or sponsors. It was set up by a non-profit organisation whose purpose is to coordinate this event once a year. Around 11,000 tickets have gone on sale for this tenth edition. The temporary camp will be set up once again around the central figure, which burns as the festival finale. AfrikaBurn is the brainchild of the artistic expression of a community of volunteers. With no rules, but with eleven commandments. They include participation, exchange of gifts and respect for the environment, which means leaving no trace behind so the desert reverts to being just that, desert.
The outfits and props seem to have come straight out of a film set.
Photo: ©Ludovic Ismael

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