Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic Presidents

Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic Presidents

Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic Presidents

Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic Presidents

Synopsis

How does South Africa deal with public art from its years of colonialism and apartheid? How do new monuments address fraught histories and commemorate heroes of the struggle? Across South Africa, statues commemorating figures such as Cecil Rhodes have provoked heated protests, while new works commemorating icons of the liberation struggle have also sometimes proved contentious. In this lively volume, Kim Miller, Brenda Schmahmann, and an international group of contributors examine statues and memorials as well as performance, billboards, and other temporal modes of communication, considering the implications of not only the exposure but also erasure of events and icons from the public domain. Revealing how public visual expressions articulate histories and memories, they explore how such works may serve as a forum in which tensions surrounding race, gender, identity, or nationhood play out.

Excerpt

On March 9, 2015, about a dozen protestors gathered in front of a sculpture of mining magnate and politician Cecil John Rhodes on the campus of the University of Cape Town. Among them was a politics student, Chumani Maxwele, who donned a luminous pink protective helmet and adorned himself in sandwich boards with the words “EXHIBIT white arrogance U.C.T.” on his front and “EXHIBIT black assimilation U.C.T.” on his back. Calling for the removal of the statue, the protest culminated in Maxwele tossing a bucket of human excrement at it.

The work in question (fig. 0.1), which sculptor Marion Walgate completed in 1934 and which was given as a gift to the University of Cape Town by the Rhodes National South African Memorial Committee, was intended to commemorate the benefactor of the land on which the university’s primary campus had been built. Comprising a full figure about one-and-a-half times life size and set on a pedestal six and a half feet in height, it showed Rhodes seated on a bench and contemplating the vista of Cape Town before him. a verse about Cape Town by Rudyard Kipling had been engraved on the sculpture’s plinth:

I dream my dream
by rock and heath and pine
of empire to the northward
ay, one land
from LION’S head to line.

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