The sculpture in the making. Every detail, from the shape of his hands and fingernails to the folds and fit of his shirt, has to be perfect.
(Images: Lorna Reade)
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Wilma den Hartigh
The town of Worcester in the Western Cape is to become home to a new sculpture of South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela. The sculpture, the world’s fifth of the anti-apartheid activist, will be unveiled just in time for his birthday on 18 July.
Although Mandela has retired from public life – he made his last public appearance at the final match of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in Johannesburg – art such as this sculpture offers the public an opportunity to connect with the iconic freedom fighter.
Well known resident artist Lorna Reade was responsible for creating the statue that will be placed in the town’s garden of remembrance on Church Square.
“It was an honour to do this for Worcester,” Reade says.
Creating visual memories
The sculpture, created to celebrate Mandela’s life and 94th birthday, is an important addition to the town’s cultural, political and social history.
“Many people in Worcester have a personal connection with Mandela,” she says. A long-time friend, Bibi, frequently visits Mandela and another resident, Jan Moolman, remembers him from the time when he worked as a skipper who shipped prisoners to Robben Island.
“It was lovely meeting all these people,” Reade says.
She says that artists have an important responsibility to capture the legacy of Nelson Mandela through various forms of art.
“Artists have the privilege of creating visuals of Mandela that people will remember. They make him accessible to everybody.”
A community initiative
The Mandela statue project came about when a member of the community approached the Breede Valley Municipality, the Worcester Business Forum and Reade as the artist.
According to Reade, one of the first ideas was to create a torso, but then they decided that a statue would be a more fitting tribute.
The municipality also came on board, giving its written consent and support for the project.
The Breede Valley Municipality donated R100 000 (US$12 200) towards the completion of the statue.
“This was a generous donation because it wasn’t budgeted for,” she says.
“We then decided to make it a community project and get everyone in Worcester involved,” she says.
Pledge forms were distributed to residents, businesses and even schools were approached to make small donations. In doing this, the community could make the project their own.
An informal Mr Mandela
The 1.8-metre statue, which will stand three metres tall once it is mounted on a base, consists of a metal armature framing, covered with clay. The final stage of completion will be the bronzing of the statue and should be ready by mid-July.
“The statue is of an informal Mr Mandela,” Reade says. He will be holding a walking stick in his hand and will have an expression of compassion on his face.
Reade wasn’t commissioned to do the sculpture, for her it was a labour of love. When the artist took on the job, she used numerous photos to ensure that her portrayal of Mandela is accurate.
Since starting work on the statue in May 2012, she found herself spending many hours on a ladder, or lying on the floor on a cushion, delicately fashioning every detail.
She explains that because the sculpture is so big, people will spend a lot of time looking up at it. This means that every detail that can be viewed from below, from the shape of his hands and fingernails to the folds and fit of his shirt, has to be perfect.
“I spent many hours on my back working on the area under his hand where he grips his walking stick,” she says. “I developed quite a bond with the sculpture.”
She says that one of the benefits of starting on the sculpture in May was the weather. “Starting in May meant that the heat in Worcester had gone,” she explains. “This was good because the clay was easier to work with and didn’t dry out so quickly.”
A time capsule for future generations
The names of all the children involved in the project will be written on a scroll and placed in a stainless steel time capsule, which will be built into the base of the sculpture.
“Children from schools in Worcester have been invited to draw pictures, poems or write letters to Mandela that will be preserved in the capsule,” she says. It will also contain messages from residents.
She says the initial idea was to open the capsule in 100 years’ time, but discussions are still underway as to the exact number of years, which might be closer to 50.