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National Arts Festival: Anthea Moys and the beautiful game

For a long time the Standard Bank Young Artist gongs covered only four categories: jazz, dance, visual art and music. This year, to catch up with the trends, the bank added another genre – performance art. The inaugural winner was Anthea Moys.

Her performances go under the name, Anthea Moys vs the City of Grahamstown (treasure this moment, you are never going to see Grahamstown described as a city ever again). The daily performances involve Moys against the people of this city: footballers, karatekas, chess players and other areas she knows little – or was was the case last night – nothing about.

In an artist statement, Moys declared: “I love this art form because it is immediate. It takes art out of the gallery or theatre. It’s art that uses the body; and I have always felt that I am more expressive with my body than with my words.”

It was on this premise that she faced Maru, an amateur Grahamstown football team formed in 2010, in a testing encounter that stretched the sinews of her “expressive” body.  There were, shall we say, a few difficulties: until recently, Moys had never played football. (Judging from how she played, it’s not clear she had watched much of the game). 

And – as suggested by the number one emblazoned on her red shirt – she was going to face, on her own, 11 fit men who regularly play football. To prepare for this she went through a three-month training regime in which she was taught the basics of the game.

By the end of the first half (just ten minutes long), a tired, out of breath Moys was already 5-0 nil down. The supportive “oohs” and “aahhs” and “come on, Anthea” shouts from the gathered crowd weren’t helping much.  By then she must have been rethinking the statement where she said “for me, there is something pure and powerful – almost spiritual – about connecting with strangers by learning the rules of their games”. Her opponents weren’t really trying to be nice and accommodating.

This forced a reaction: from the assembled fans, including myself. So, grabbing a red T-shirt, I joined perhaps 17 other “players” (some of them who had never played football before) to defend the underdog. I doubt I did much on the field. The game itself was a chaotic, free-for-all festival of mislaid passes, misses and howlers.  I doubt our “team” managed to string even two passes together. It made a sorry situation worse. We really gave football a bad name. But we were loving it. Another six or so goals were shipped in.

Later, poring over the game, Moys casually said that this had proved to her that football is a team sport. Well, I am not sure about. It was Diego Maradona who won Argentina that world cup in 1986. And it’s not like we – initiates into Team Moys – had done much to remedy a bad situation.

Later, as I made my way into the “city” I was thinking that this was, easily, one highlight of the festival; but that could be because my first love is the game.

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Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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