Inhabitant – Mission District, San Francisco

Inhabitant is a site-specific performance that was conceived for urban spaces undergoing demographic and economic change. The work was initially developed in Johannesburg (2011), and then rearticulated for Istanbul (2011), a second site in Johannesburg (2012), and San Francisco (2014). Through each articulation, the work continued to involve an intensive site-specific research process culminating in street actions and a political gathering where the issues of the individual neighbourhoods were addressed – always countered or partnered with the dancers’ movement and the possibilities of light in the area.

In San Francisco, the Mission District was the site for the project’s research and where Inhabitant was performed. The Latino neighbourhood was undergoing a significant class shift with the influx of workers from the tech industry buying up property. This created an increase in tensions between long-standing residents and new gentrifiers as the neighbourhood became economically inaccessible to the locals.

The work is carefully orchestrated to create points for the spectacle – the speeches and the arrivals or departures of the dignitaries: the base facade – to intersect with the ordinary. The performers intentionally blend in and out of the crowd and passers-by become complicit as spectators, drawing attention to everyday encounters: the movement of people through the site, during a subtly shifting lightscape, beginning at dusk and continuing through nightfall. The audience will most often remember the spectacle, forgetting the ordinary, waiting for something to begin, making small talk that fills the time, and watching others to see where to look. The work speaks to the performance of bureaucracy as a superficial gesture to democratic and inclusive processes within city planning and management.

Created by choreographer Sello Pesa, Vaughn Sadie, and the Ntsoana Contemporary Dance Theatre, Inhabitant features long-time company members Humphrey Maleka and Brian Mtembu.

Inhabitant was co-presented by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Galería de la Raza as part of Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa and Live Projects 4.