Gandhi’s aura shines for all

2012-01-28 13:06

Out of the hand and scalpel of one of South Africa’s leading sculptors, a poised figure of Mahatma Gandhi looms among the jacaranda trees of Rosebank in Joburg.

But which Gandhi is it?

It is certainly not the lawyer and activist Gandhi with a full crop of hair, who fought against discrimination in South Africa. That Gandhi stands astride, in lawyers garb, in the middle of one of Joburg’s busiest bus terminals in the city centre – an area called Gandhi Square.

The Rosebank Gandhi, created by leading sculptor Anton Momberg, is the almost bald, saint-like figure.

He is Gandhi transformed and realised.

There is no narrative accompanying the statue and no explanation is given.

There are no other pieces to add to the visual message. There is no need.

Momberg’s statue is of a figure of universal relevance that transcends ethnicity and culture. It is a statue of a person and an abstract concept.

It represents a global movement that advocates peaceful responses to violence and a renunciation of materialism.

Momberg’s risen Gandhi is a life-size, eerie mirror-like statue on a podium.

The work has an ephemeral and unearthly quality to it that inspires reverence. Yet, it is a work of dogged realism that is so close to real life that one can almost feel the veins throbbing on his worn hands and aged forehead.

The wrinkles that frame his eyes, earned from a lifetime of struggle to overcome the ego-self and worldly power, exude emotion. It is Gandhi-Ji, the Satyagrahi.

Satyagraha – the life philosophy that inspired the Indian passive-resistance movement – means “truth-force”.

The photo-realism employed by Momberg in his true-to-life depiction echoes this dedication to absolute truth.

Momberg says he read three books on Gandhi and his life philosophy before creating the sculpture, and he was struck by a quote from the world’s icon.

“I was drawn to the statement that to understand truth, one must become lower than dust,” he says.

“Gandhi’s profound humility made a great impression on me.”

This is not the first time Momberg has dabbled in Gandhi.

“I made a small one years ago. But Mark Read, who owns CIRCA, suggested I make larger statue. It was not a commissioned work. It was a work of inspiration,” said Momberg this week.

The miniature stands at the entrance of the Everard Read Gallery across the road from CIRCA. It looks like a collectable, or a curio, something one would place in a shrine.

There is a religious quality to the large Gandhi stature.

This spiritual dimension is captured in the curator’s choices.

The hall in which the statue stands; it is alone, poignant and bare, stripped of all embellishment, representing nothingness. With its back to the poorer southern suburbs of Joburg, it stands facing the rich north – Sandton, to be exact, that monument to materialism in Africa.

Gandhi’s return may not be permanent, though, as Momberg says the Everard Read Gallery is looking for buyers beyond these shores.

The possibility exists the statue may end up in India.

But Momberg says that it would be important to mount such a statue of Gandhi in South Africa, because of the message it holds for the political and social context of the country.

He says: “Our politics have much to learn about non-materialism and humility.”

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