I’ve never been to Burning Man or Afrika Burn. While I theoretically love the idea of hanging around in a remote desert for a week, living communally and photographing incredible art, I’m not keen on the meticulous planning and preparation such an expedition entails. So when I heard there would be a Brixton Burn — a mini burn, so to speak, in my soon-to-be home suburb of Brixton — I quickly signed up to attend.

Sculpture ready to be burned at the Brixton Burn
A tinder-filled sculpture by artist Neo Monnapule, ready to go up in flames for the Brixton Burn.

The burn took place on a Saturday night beneath the Sentech Tower, in a community performance space that used to house a controversial monument to Irish volunteers who fought in the Anglo-Boer War. It was freezing cold (literally below freezing, which is not a common occurrence around these parts), the earth was bone-dry, and the late winter winds were punishing. We weren’t sure the burn would happen at all under those conditions. Thorsten and I considered sneaking away before dark.

Luckily we stayed. The fire marshal eventually gave the go-ahead, with strict orders for all the spectators to stand upwind. The burn turned out beautifully (albeit slightly anxiety-inducing). And I had a great time photographing the festivities.

There was a dance performance before the fire, put on by the Well Worn Theatre Company and the Shade community youth program in Brixton. There was tasty local food and a fun community vibe that Brixton events have become known for. I’m so happy it all worked out.

The Brixton Burn in Pictures

Burn artwork and Sentech Tower
Looking up at the Sentech Tower through one of the burn sculptures.
Burn sculpture in Brixton
Such a cool sculpture. This one wasn’t burned so I hope it will stay up for a while.
Masked child at the Brixton Burn.
One of several masked munchkins preparing for the pre-burn performance.
Masked dancer
I’m not sure what the storyline of the performance was but it was really fun to watch. The paper mâché masks were amazing.
Dancing at Brixton Burn
Scary.
Kids in masks at the burn
Munchkins awaiting their cue.
Here they come!

The burn itself was thrilling, both visually and because it instantly made us warm.

The start of the Brixton Burn
A few seconds into the burning.
The sculpture caught and burned really quickly.
Spectators gathered around the fire at the Brixton Burn
Cell phone shot of the Brixton Burn
Neo
As the fire died down, I noticed I was standing next to Neo Monnapule. I didn’t have time to really speak with him — it was too cold and chaotic to talk — but I imagine it must be both exciting and bittersweet to watch your artwork go up in flames.
The end of the burn
Just like that, it was finished. The sculpture was totally gone in about five minutes.

We nearly froze to death during our short walk home (I’ve officially become a cold-weather wimp) but it was worth it. I’m hoping for warmer weather at next year’s burn.

Thanks to everyone in the Brixton community who helped put together such a great event.

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