Art for our heritage

2013-01-27 10:00

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Joburg set to house the world’s largest parade of sculptures. Charl Blignaut reports

‘The Eiffel Tower of Joburg” and “our own Sphinx of Giza” are some of the phrases half-jokingly dropped by talk show host, documentary producer and now heritage activist Dali Tambo.

He uses them to describe the scale of his latest project, the National Heritage Monument in Nasrec.

A sea of 400 realistic, life-size struggle heroes will be depicted in bronze, all in motion and forming a throng as if at a protest march.

Xhosa king Hintsa is mounted on his horse, writer and activist Sol Plaatje is getting on his bicycle, some are holding up placards, others are armed with traditional weapons. All are moving forward.

At the back are figures from the 1600s, including Griqua leader Adam Kok and the Khoi chief David Stuurman.

The parade includes individuals from each region and era. Makhado, Dingane, Bambatha, Charlotte Maxexe, John Dube, Olive Schreiner and Steve Biko are all accounted for.

Right up front are the likes of Helen Suzman, Chris Hani and other recently deceased leaders.

When the time comes, Nelson Mandela will be placed at the head of the procession.

The 400 figures were selected after a research project undertaken by leading historians and heritage experts.

“When I did a documentary on the history of the ANC, I noticed that many of the historical characters who did heroic things to stop the dispossession of their land, who were the Madibas of their age, were not known today,” said Tambo at his home this week.

“I felt the story needed to be told of this long road that was walked to democracy. Learning about our history gives us a sense of self.”

He adds that South Africa’s existing heritage monuments are still predominantly products of the white experience and the imbalance needs to be addressed.

“In fact, you can go all over the world and you will find incredibly few sculptures of Africans anywhere.”

Forty South African sculptors are working on the project, which is being financed by both public and private funders, and could easily, at market value, run into a figure of R100 million.

Realistic bronze work is traditionally dominated by white artists, but Tambo says he has five black artists working on the project, which has a mentorship programme attached.

“By the end, we will have trained 20 new black sculptors,” he says.

Twenty-five sculptures have already been completed, the first of which were previewed at the ANC’s conference in Mangaung late last year and received positive attention.

Another 25 sculptures are currently being made.

Installation of the “world spectacle” will begin next to the FNB Stadium in the middle of this year. The sculptures form the spine of a park that includes a learning centre, water features and vignette gardens containing vegetation from the different communities that make up South Africa – from Chinese to Xhosa, Greek to Venda.

The land is owned by Public Works, and the project will be overseen by the department of arts and culture.

The public will be charged a small entrance fee.

“There will be picnic spots and trails where people can cycle and jog. People come to watch concerts and matches at the stadium. We want them to hang out in the park before and after. People can come there and get married, and their ancestors will be there too,” enthuses Tambo.

“But apart from social cohesion and national pride, what we’re creating is a major new tourist destination for domestic and international visitors. We’ve gone for this scale because it will become known throughout the world. Nasrec has a transport hub.

“It’s a bridge between Soweto and Johannesburg. Visitors will start here and then go to see the Apartheid Museum, Hector Pieterson Memorial, Mandela House and the like.”

Education is high on the list too. “But we want people to be learning things while they’re being entertained. Heritage is the show business of history.”

Visitors will be able to move between the sculptures and even hug them if they like.

They will be able to use audio devices or apps on their smartphones to download the story of each figure – told by an actor in the voice of the person depicted.

Tambo says the new monument will be completed in about five years’ time.

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