I was working late last Thursday and had the TV on kykNET (having watched Chef Reuben Riffel’s new ‘5 Sterre met Reuben’ fresh herb cooking program) when I saw an eTV news broadcast, which reported on a toi-toi demonstration outside the Stellenbosch Town Hall at the inauguration of the new urban art installation. The local ANC branch members were protesting against the R800000 spent on the new art work erected by internationally renowned Stellenbosch-based landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe in honour of former President Nelson Mandela.
When I arrived at Clos Malverne on Friday morning, to attend the opening of the pop-up art exhibition ‘A Void in the Landscape‘, I bumped into Strijdom, recognising him from the TV news broadcast, and we had a long chat about the Stellenbosch Town Hall transformation, and the publicity it had received as a result of the demonstration. Strijdom’s artwork ‘Heaven is a place on earth’, angel wings erected on street lamp-shaped posts in the Clos Malverne vineyards outside the restaurant, is part of the Clos Malverne exhibition.
I had wanted to meet Strijdom ever since Casparus Restaurant opened two years ago, as photographs of his urban art are exhibited in the restaurant, which once was my favorite. The future of the restaurant is sad, it becoming a student steak and pizza restaurant with a new name, with Chef Etienne Bonthuys cooking. Gone will be his fabulous sauces and dishes.
I joked with Strijdom that the demonstration was an excellent PR move to publicise his new public art work. The demonstrators felt that the project cost could have been far better spent on the Kayamandi township in Stellenbosch. Strijdom said that he only received R60000 for his work, the balance of the monies going to the repainting of the exterior and interior of the Town Hall, the removal of the parking bays and the flagpoles in front of the Town Hall, the erection of meditation benches allowing one to sit quietly and appreciate the art work and the impact of Madiba, a new lawn, and a long strip of wording running up to the statue, being the powerful words spoken by Mr Mandela at his inauguration in Pretoria on 10 May 1994: ‘Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another‘!
I was fortunate to have had Strijdom explain the artwork before I went to see it on Saturday, otherwise it would not have been clear, there being no description or explanation about it on the site. The art structure has two linked surfaces, one facing east, with a map of the east side of our country, and including Mandela’s birthplace in the Transkei and his home and workplace prior to his incarceration in Johannesburg, over which a steel cutout has been placed on the Town Hall side of the sculpture. On the West side the map reflects the Western Cape, and the three prisons in which Mr Mandela spent a large part of his life (Pollsmoor, Robben Island, and Victor Verster – now Drakenstein), facing Plein Street (below). Strijdom explained that he had given the steel a rust look, to tie in with a rust-coloured detail on the Town Hall, but I could not see this on the building, it having been so freshly painted. Strijdom said that the spotlights in front of the Town Hall have been removed, and the columns are now backlit, so that the Town Hall resembles the White House. The colours of the lighting can change for specific themes. The artwork is also lit up at night from both sides.
I had a lovely chat to a lady who also came to admire the artwork, and I told her about the meaning of it as I had heard it from Strijdom. She said that she was proud of Stellenbosch for having erected this wonderful monument to the most unselfish leader our country has ever had, and that as an Afrikaans person she was proud of it being in her town.
What is interesting about the artwork is the multi-faceted dimensions of it, and how the map and the steel look different in representing Mr Mandela depending on how close or far away one is from it. The Deputy Mayor of Stellenbosch, DA Councillor Martin Smuts, is a big fan of urban art, and as he serves on the Board of Cape Town Design NPC, the company executing Cape Town’s reign as World Design Capital 2014, which means that we can expect more interesting urban art in his municipality in the next year!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage