Pele: It’s beautiful, but is it art?

2010-06-11 16:48

I can feel it – and hear it – as well as the next Bafana Bafana

fan, but I won’t pretend I know my Kaka from my Pele.

As for the offside rule, my colleagues have been trying to explain

that one for weeks.

But as an arts writer I didn’t think I’d be called upon to do much

soccer writing – that’s where I was wrong. Yesterday I headed for Melrose Arch

to do a little soccer hobnobbing – with Pele.

Under the guidance of South African artist Athol Moult, the former

soccer star has created 35 original works. They tell the tale of his

extraordinary rise from selling peanuts on the streets to buy soccer boots, to

refusing to endorse alcohol and tobacco products in respect for his position as

a worldwide role model.

At the Melrose Arch venue he was whisked in to do the media

conference, where he good-naturedly chatted about the project and his life. The

crush of journalists and hangers-on, however, made it hard to get a glimpse of

the compact man.

In answer to a question about his brand, he said: “Of course I

realise the importance of my name. At 17 I played my first World Cup and through

travelling I started to know people, so I understood how important I was for my

country, my family and my friends in spreading the good stuff.”

Celebrity art is problematic as it usually makes up in star-power

what it lacks in artistic integrity. However, The Art of Pele exhibition is easy

to like – a brightly coloured collage of an extraordinary life.

Moult’s trademark is “visual conversations”, and this exhibition

works as a pictorial version of the player’s biography.

Bold colours and simple drawings, each work includes an explanation

of the experience that informed the creation. Rich soccer crazies will perhaps

shell out the $1 500 (more than R10 000) for a signed chapter of this man’s

legendary life, although I doubt many real African fans can dig that deep.

The only downer was that the pushy enforcers around the event were

in stark contrast to the star artist’s relaxed attitude. There was barely a

chance to look at the pieces before everyone was herded out and informed that

only those planning to buy something would be allowed back in to browse. That

was that, then.

Meanwhile, the rest of Melrose Arch was making Pele’s closing

statement, “Football puts people together”, true. There were Mexicans in

sequinned balaclavas bearing their flag; one of the international news channels

was directing a diski dance audition; a trio of tourists were tasting the local

wine they’d just chosen with delight; and another group were having their

picture taken with a waiter from a restaurant on the square.

Diplomatically, Pele didn’t endorse one team – instead he said his

dream would be for Brazil, his home, to meet an African team in the final,

saying the players must be “strong in their minds because football is a box of


As for me, dressed in Mzansi’s colours, I have an illustrated

soccer rules book, all my fingers crossed and I am ready to see if soccer is

art, as the fans around me would have me believe.


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