8 things to do with unwanted statues and monuments

Rhodes will fall, but what about all the other monuments and statues throughout the country that remind us of South Africa’s painful past? Sibusiso Tshabalala and Nadine Botha found eight creative ways to reconsider history.

When Chumani Maxwele, a 30-year-old political science student, threw human faeces over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes that stands in front of the University of Cape Town, few would’ve thought that this would open room for a much-needed debate about the significance of symbols and what they represent in post-apartheid South Africa.

Symbols are important to any society. Through street names, statues and names of places of public significance – like squares and prominent buildings – we venerate key figures in our history for their contributions to society. And in a subtle way, the symbols we choose tell us a lot about that which we aspire to be.

The preceding centuries of South Africa’s history as a nation are filled with accounts of brutal dispossession and marginalisation between different racial and tribal groups. But that’s not all, as Daily Maverick journalist Rebecca Davis noted the “realm of statues is still a man’s world” – meaning that gender is also an important part of this debate.

Do these symbols of apartheid and colonialism, many of which are anchored in their specific time, stay? Do they go? This is the debate that has engulfed Cape Town, swept across the country and even hit international headlines.

What is clear is that symbols that evoke feelings of offense and are reminiscent of our horrid past, need to find new places in the present. But many statues will stay mounted after Rhodes falls. How do we bring statues into our present and initiate an ongoing conversation and debate about their place in history and in our future?

1. Think pink

President MT SteynAydemir present steynDuring the annual Vryfees Arts Festival in 2014, Australian artistCigdem Aydemir explored using existing statues on the University of Free State campus, and around the city of Bloemfontein, to provoke debates on their meaning, relevance and place in post-apartheid South Africa.

Cigdem went all out with the #PinkPresidents and #PlasticHistories projects. She started off by physically shrink-wrapping two statues on campus: the statues of MT Steyn (the sixth president of the then Orange Free State) and CR Swart (the first state president of the Republic of South Africa, from 1961 to 1967, infamously known for playing an instrumental role in passing the Immorality Act).

In collaboration with another Australian artist, Warren Armstrong, Cigdem then developed a free-to-download augmented reality application for these statues that allows them to be viewed in pink through a smart phone or tablet. In addition to this, voices of South African female poets accompany the images.

Reimagining these statues and monuments from a queer and feminist perspective makes Cigdem’s work particularly significant. In her words, the project “aimed to acknowledge the contributions of people from marginalised races, communities and sexualities in the grand narrative of a post-apartheid South Africa”.

One of her most incisive comments about this project sheds light on how history is never static. Speaking about the use of pink shrink-wrapping over the statues she says:

Far from being set in stone (or bronze), [history] is plastic in the sense that it is constantly shaped and moulded based on our new knowledge of the past.

 2. Ironic superheroes

superhero statue 2The Monument to the Soviet Army in Bulgaria is infamous for having been painted to depict pop culture icons Superman, Joker, Robin, Captain America, Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, Wolverine, The Mask and Wonder Woman overnight by an anonymous group of artists. Three days later the painting similarly disappeared overnight.

Since then a number of other temporary artistic protests have been staged using the monument as canvas. And, ironically for communism, it has become one of the hippest places to hang out, a veritable hotspot of “skaters, ravers, rasta and other subcultural groups”. Unfortunately, Russia’s not too charmed.

3. Bring it to life with performance

Infecting the City in particular has made us Capetonians acutely familiar withe how performance art draws people into spaces they wouldn’t usually go and engage with spaces through unexpected narratives. This was artist Athi Patra Ruga’s intention in his “Performance Obscura” work  a the 2012 Grahamstown National Arts Festival.

4. Make a stitch in time

AfricaWP1web3-816x544One of the most widely known means of temporary public installation, yarnbombing has swept the world. In South Africa, the Yarn Indaba yarnbombed the Voortrekker Monument in 2014. And in Cape Town, in 2012, Isabeau Joubert yarnbombed the “Bart Simpson” Africa statue by Brett Murray on St George’s Mall.

In 1998, artist Tracey Rose did it the other way around. Unravelling 25 doilies from her grandmother and coloured women in the area, she wound the threads around a police monument in Oudtshoorn. Although part of the Klein Karoo Kunstefees programme, the local police were fiercely offended and demanded that she stop, eventually using a knife to cut the threads. John Peffer discusses this highly-charged art performance in more detail in Censorship and Iconoclasm: Unsettling Monuments.

5. Put them all in a park

Those that are taken down, need not be destroyed, but can be relocated. In Hungary, Memento Park is alternatively called a historical theme park or an open air museum and is dedicated to all the statues from the country’s communist period. Designed by architect Ákos Eleőd, he said:

This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.

6. Dress them up

465x465q70marikana_street_2aba1In 1999 already, Beezy Bailey dressed the statue of Louis Botha as a Xhosa initiate with a traditional blanket and hat, and face painted with white clay. That he received death threats in the age before social media is an indication of just how thorny and how far back the question of our monuments goes.

More recently, in 2014, two years after 34 miners were killed at Marikana, an anonymous collective of artists swept the east city of Cape Town, dressing statues as miners and renaming streets after the deceased. Said the African Arts Institute’s Jill Williams to the Daily Maverick: “They aimed to give a human face to the number 34 using wording and imagery to evoke a sense of awareness and even emergency.”

Lumen17. Project it away

With projection mapping, high-definition video projectors can be used to display images on buildings and statues that completely mask the original. One of the projects at Open City on Church Square during First Thursdays entails Fabian Humphry ofLumen Concepts doing just that: projecting animations by various artists onto the facade of the Iziko Social History Centre, completely transforming it.

Grave of cecil john rhodes8. Hide them

Two statues of Rhodes – one from Zimbabwe and one from Zambia – have been stashed in the garden behind the national archives in Harare, reports the City Press. However, Mugabe is insistent on leaving Rhodes’s 1902 grave in Matobo National Park untouched as a reminder of the country’s colonial history.

Meanwhile, the removed busts of apartheid leaders, included HF Verwoerd, are stored in the bunkers of the Voortrekker Monument, reported Sean O’Toole in the Mail&Guardian.

Published at the Cape Town Partnership, 31 March 2015

Art and design exhibitors flock to Cape Town

Kendell Geers_Leviathan Stool_1

The luxurious frivolities of art and design are a hard sell in South Africa, which is focused on redressing the inequalities of the past. Where exactly does the word “beautiful” feature in the emerging democracy’s mass rollout of houses, toilets, education and social justice, for instance?

However, boosting the economy and creating jobs — promoting the concept of trade not aid — is what Design Indaba, South Africa and Cape Town’s flagship annual design event, has been doing for the past 21 years.

“It was scary; we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” says founder Ravi Naidoo about starting out in 1994 in a country newly emerged from economic sanctions and with no design economy of which to speak.

Naidoo, who was also responsible for South Africa’s winning bid for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, credits this and other work as having bankrolled the early years. Only in 2004, when it moved into the newly built Cape Town International Convention Centre, added the expo component and signed department store Woolworth as a sponsor, did the event start drawing attention beyond the marketing, advertising and design-orientated professionals.

The idea was that such speakers as Terence Conran, Tom Dixon, Marcel Wanders, Ferran Adrià and Stefan Sagmeister would bring the world to the tip of Africa, and that visitors would hopefully pick up some South African design at the expo to take back.

The 2014 economic impact assessment of the event — which now includes elements of music and film festivals, and is also broadcast live to venues around the country — reported a R385.2m ($32m) contribution to GDP and 1,146 jobs created. Since 2009, the total GDP contribution has been R1.7bn.

The fact that, despite these figures, the creative economy remains difficult to market is shown by the fact that, until last year, Design Indaba pretty much had the run of the city during the last weekend of February. As Alayne Reesberg, chief executive of the Cape Town World Design Capital (WDC) 2014, said in her outgoing media address, her biggest regret was not being able to make an economic case for commercial sponsorships.

The WDC is an initiative of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, a non-governmental organisation that promotes industrial design.

WDC2014’s biggest success was arguably to focus the city and international media’s attention on the last weekend of February.

It helped husband and wife Trevyn and Julian McGowan — interior designers and founders of Southern Guild, a platform for showcasing South African design — to launch SA’s first international design fair, Guild, last year. This in turn spurred the Cape Town Art Fair to reschedule from October, creating a cluster of events at the end of February.

The McGowans established Southern Guild in 2008 after noticing that the South African design industry needed a stimulus to create more high-end, collectable design.

Rather than bringing the world to Cape Town, their focus was to work with individual designers to create very limited-edition works and take them to international fairs such as Design Days Dubai, Design Miami/Basel and London Design Fair. Works such as Porky Hefer’s Weavers Nests and Dokter and Misses’ Kassena series have become widely known.

During the last week of February, the Cape Town Art Fair also grew, extending itself throughout the V&A Waterfront, linking into a public art programme from the under-construction Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, as well as hosting museum and gallery evenings throughout the city and township art tours during the day.

Also taking place was the unashamedly grungy That Art Fair, hosted in a parking garage, presenting the early days of an authentic underground.

“It just makes sense: people can come out from afar and have a lot to do,” says Elana Brundyn, owner of Cape Town gallery Brundyn+, who exhibited at the Cape Town Art Fair.

The art fair’s producer, Liza Dyason, is equally thrilled by the speed of growth of the event run by exhibition and conference experts Fiera Milano. After just three editions, they are ready to seek sponsors and secure a larger venue.

“It’s right in the middle of [Cape Town tourism] season for international and local visitors. And it fits in with the international art fair calendar,” Ms Dyason says.

Design Indaba’s Mr Naidoo is more sceptical about how much competition the local market can accommodate without competitors “shooting each other in the foot”.

However, it is safe to say that interest in design is growing in South Africa. The country may still be grappling with the legacy of its recent past, but the value of art and design to its economy — in terms of the potential boost to GDP as well as simply creating jobs — is beginning to be recognised.

First published in Financial Times, 27 March 2015

Africa rising: Best of Cape Town design 2015

Slideshow

During what was South Africa’s biggest design happening, well, ever, we spotted three key trends at Design Indaba and Guild Design Fair last month: expansion, collaboration and Africa is rising.

Expansion: 2015 saw growth both in the scale of events and in the scope. While Design Indaba has grown year on year for the past 20 years, its inspirational TED-style conference and buyers expo of South African design has inspired a host of side events that extend the scope of design to include music, film and performance.

This year marked the second edition of the Guild International Design Fair with its impressive exhibition of collectable design including the Haas Brothers and Stephen Burks. Fine artists Kendell Geers and Conrad Botes expanded the range of their work into the design realm at Guild, however the Cape Town Art Fair also brought fine art onto the agenda with guest curator Roselee Goldberg of New York’s Performa. The lofi underground event That Art Fair also announces the beginnings of an organic fringe economy, which will hopefully extend to design too in future editions.

Collaboration: The sharing of skills, creativity, resources and experiences was everywhere, from the opera by fine artist William Kentridge and ballet dancer Dada Masilo to the Haas Brothers’s joint venture with Monkeybiz and the launch of the Imbadu Collective of black designers including ceramicist Andile Dyalvane and knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo. Legworks also showed how graphic design can enter the living space with 20 flat-pack carry tables customised by local illustrators.

Africa is Rising: An unprecedented number of speakers from the African continent were on the Design Indaba Conference program, many of whom also showed their work at the Expo. Rather than the traditional African ethnic aesthetic, many of these designers worked in multidisciplinary collectives that engaged with urban realities.

The work displayed at the Design Network Africa stand at Guild similarly found crossovers between traditional craft and urban grittiness. A particularly striking collaboration came from Botswana-based Peter Mabeo and South African designer Porky Hefer, renowned for his weavers nest-inspired swings and loungers.

As these art and design events continued to cluster and accumulate in Cape Town over the last weekend in February, drawing masses of international media and buyers, the city will no doubt become more of a drawcard to designers across the continent.

Published by Interior Design, 17 March 2015

Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort says “Design for your selfie”

sideboard Table Contemporary Solid Wood Mirror 66899 7083341

For years now a similar message has been at the core of Li Edelkoort’s seasonal trend forecasts: the more digital and less tangible our technological lives get, the more handmade and tactile our fashion and home design. This makes her latest “Vanities: The Mythologies of Self” forecast at her annual Design Indaba seminar quite the departure. Not only does it position design and fashion as following, rather than contrasting, the dominant technological trend, but it goes against the physical to elevate the ephemeral, the image, the appearance, the concept of the self.

TrendUnion Lidewij 02“I felt that it was time for vanity because I saw all these people taking selfies,” Edelkoort said, after first reflecting on her previous year’s “Gathering” presentation. Those principles of bringing fabric together in interesting ways will remain with us for a while, but she calls out “Vanities” as “such a huge interesting new domain, where people narrate online their existence. They put themselves on a pedestal, making themselves super and glamorous.”

Edelkoort went on to present about 15 archetypes based on ancient mythologies from the virginal nymph girl and kidult prodigy to the twins who are empowered through a second half, and the hero who is taking physical power outside of the realm of exercise. The muse, the oracle and the legend represented inspirational figures of various ages. The courtesan, the odalisque and the amazon showed strong images of emancipated women.

“My next work will be about the emancipation of everything,” Edelkoort explained, predicting the logical extension of the selfie to its extreme. “Of the animal, of the food, of yourself, of your child, of colors, of textiles, of fashion, of everything needs to be rethought at this point, which is very exciting.”

DSC0835 Kopie Web

In the trend world, Edelkoort’s in particular, fashion is generally the cart that leads the horse and the presentation did not yet offer much insight into how these archetypes would manifest in design—besides more mirrors and the return of the vanity table. There would also be more focus on less things that are better made and more closely aligned with individuals’ archetypal tastes than dominant societal fads.

The elevation of personal identity and a move to the anti-consumer also came through in Edelkoort’s launch of her 10-point manifesto of why fashion is dead. At the core is the villain of mass-production and -consumption, a dampening force that she says has not yet reached the world of design, a discipline that is still defining and distinguishing itself.

First published in Interior Design, 13 March 2015