One of the most innovative and controversial presences at the Grahamstown festival over last few years has undoubtedly been Brett Bailey and his Third World Bunfight performers. Both the controversy and innovation are associated with his use of what can be called shock aesthetics, as well as with the subjects dealt with in the plays which he describes as ‘worlds in collision’. Looking at some of the pre-and-post-production shots, one gets a sense of what he means when he says, ‘I have quite a crude aesthetic ... but I can see what’s beautiful underneath the shell’ (qtd in Smith, 4). Often these do not represent actual scenes from the plays, but offer suggestive, highly stylised, yet literally embodied images either as freeze-frame tableaux or moving spectacle. For example, the 1999 festival brochure advertising The Prophet depicts Abey Xakwe, the protean actor who appears in many guises as central figure in most Bunfight productions, here playing Nongqawuse, posed on top of a hill, Christlike, with arms outstretched. (Se figure 3, p. 256.) Observing the hill more closely one sees that it is composed of aesthetically intertwined corpses, seaweed and cattle skulls. Such visual metaphor yoking together Christian sacrifice and the history of the Xhosa Cattle killing is typical of Bailey’s work which symbolically and literally intrudes onto culturally sacred ground. However, again typically, this particular image is not necessarily a connection explored in the play itself.
Flockemann, Miki, Spectacles of Excess or Threshold to the ‘New’?: Brett Bailey and the Third World Bunfight Performers, Kunapipi, 24(1), 2002.