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Jay Pather

Choreographer | Curator (Live Art)
Sept-Oct 2022 | March 2023

Michael Hammond/UCT

  • Performing Arts
  • New York
  • Washington, DC

” I am interested in the body’s attempts at maintaining balance and order in the face of rampant chaos, deeply intimate shifts that speak to the desire to surface “

As part of Albertine Dance Season 2023


I grew up in apartheid South Africa. From an early age then, I had a visceral sense of apartheid and its ravages on my communities. Sustained coloniality, race and class, separate development based on the color of one’s skin had a direct effect on my early art making. Activism and politics became inimical to the action of making art.  This did not end with the fall of apartheid in 1994. Since then, my commitment in all my work has been to consider its context and its affect. The navigation of the world’s care and lack of care of whole communities is a central impulse in my work. From here choreography, curating, developing teaching strategies and then creating platforms and opportunities for the development of new work by young artists have all been part of the same continuum.   

My performance work in the latter part of my career has been inspired by and interacted with urban sites, beginning with a series of works titled Cityscapes, Home, and State of Grace set in various parts of South African cities.   Marking ten years of a democracy that had failed its people, I began to use site as an ironic comment on the subject I was working, for ex.  Qaphela Caesar, based on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar set in the old Johannesburg Stock Exchange. 

Also interested in embodiment and the impact of violence on the body, I used large scale projections of anatomical drawings to contain the several sections of a travelling work titled Body of Evidence. In the same manner Blind Spot commissioned by the Metropolis Biennale for Copenhagen, explored in a three and half hour walk from the immigrant ghettoes to the central city, themes of migration and displacement.  

I have edited a book Acts of Transgression, Live Art in South Africa and in the process of another one, Restless Infections, Temporal Public Art in South Africa. My writing helps consolidate and reflect on the range of artistic and educational work.  


Jay Pather is a Professor at University of Cape Town, directing the Institute for Creative Arts. He is a performance theorist, choreographer and curator. He curates the Infecting the City Festival; the ICA Live Art Festival and the Afrovibes Festival (The Netherlands). Artistic works include Qaphela Caesar, a deconstruction of Julius Caesar, at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Recent publications appear in Routledge Companion to Art in the Public Realm and a book, Transgressions, Live Art in South Africa.  He served as a juror for the TURN Fonds and on the Board of the National Arts Festival of South Africa. He was recently made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.  

The residency has two parts: First a choreography called surface tension – a site specific interdisciplinary choreography created for the public sphere. In this research I undertake to create kinetic, visual and textual layers that emerge from testimonies from South Africans around maintaining order in fields of chaos. Chaos and apocalypse are of course  relative – from micro aggressions eliciting chaotic thoughts to large scale events such as the Anthropocene precipitated by a global voraciousness and neglect. In this work, led more by the former, I am interested in the body’s attempts at maintaining balance and order in the face of rampant chaos, deeply intimate shifts that speak to the desire to surface, defying and confronting the absurdities, blind spots, savagery and brutality of contemporary politics. My research in the United States and specifically New York City will be in two areas. In the first instance I shall be engaging with the Black Lives Matter Movement who have characterized the assault on Black bodies as ‘named and unnamed wars’. The specificity of this characterization has resonance and in a country like South Africa that has not shifted from being the most unequal country in the world even after 28 years of democracy. I shall also work with Archival as well as contemporary evocations of installation performances and public spheres, forms that have developed in the United States and again specifically in New York City. 

 The second part of my residency will involve the curation of contemporary Live Art from several countries on the African continent and the diaspora, in collaboration with various spaces on the East Coast of the United States probing issues of ritual, gathering, activism, intimacy and utopias, under the broad title the earth still shakes. This will coincide with the launch of the Live Art Network Africa (LANA), where a broad network of African Live Artists that also engages with African Diasporic artists in the United States is envisaged.  For this I shall be working to curate the works in such spaces as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, the Brooklyn Museum and others. 

For my choreography work I shall be working with a range of artists and technicians. For the curation I shall be working largely with the Smithsonian Museum, Washington, DC, The Space for Creative Black Imagination at the Maryland Institute for Art, Baltimore, and possibly Brooklyn Museum, New York. Both my own creative projects and choreography as well as my curation of Live Art interface with urban spaces and its entanglements. Cities on the continent of Africa are amongst the fastest growing in the world. New York City offers congruence and dissonance. I am particularly interested in how Live Artists’ work, subject matter, methodologies and affect from the African continent resonate with the work of artists in the Diaspora given the current, global precarities around race, migration, and unsettled homes. 

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