Child martyr to be bronzed

2014-05-02 00:00

WELL-KNOWN Durban sculptor Hannah Lurie is adding the finishing touches to a sculpture of child martyr Valliamma, the 15-year-old heroine of Mahatma Gandhi’s 1913 passive resistance march in South Africa.

Valliamma died shortly after being released from a Pietermaritzburg prison. This year marks the centenary of her death.

The sculpture was inspired by another Durban personality, author Aziz Hassim, who died in June last year. Its creation is a tale of generosity and public spirit, although, like the child martyr’s life, it has not been an easy road.

It all started when Lurie read a newspaper article that Hassim, who had written the book The Agony of Valliamma, had wanted a sculpture of her done. A donor was to fund the project but reneged on the deal. Lurie contacted Hassim with an offer to do the sculpture and now recalls his excitement at the time. He told her that he had to go to Johannesburg but would call her as soon as he returned.

She never got the call. A week later she heard from a mutual friend that he had died of a heart attack on that trip.

Lurie decided to do the sculpture as a tribute to Hassim and started her work, but it almost got scuppered along the way. It seems that other groups took an interest and wanted proprietary control over the project. In the coming months, she was to hear from different people and was given different instructions.

In the course of her work, she had come across a drawing of Valliamma by renowned Durban artist Nanda Soobben. However, the instruction from one of her visitors was that she should not look at Soobben’s drawing as “it was not Indian enough” and did not resemble a picture they had of her, said Lurie, who hung onto her copy of the drawing.

Eventually, all those who had initially shown interest in the project never returned. Lurie nevertheless continued working on the sculpture, unsure of its future. Then a chance meeting once more changed the fortunes of the sculpture. Lurie was at the opening of an exhibition when she met Soobben.

She sought him out to ask him about his drawing and told him about the sculpture. Soobben later viewed the almost completed work and decided to play his part in the project. Lurie, in keeping her undertaking to Hassim, is not charging for her work and Soobben will pick up the tab to get the sculpture cast in bronze, ensuring that the agony of Valliamma will be on display shortly.

ACCORDING to the Life With Art website, Hannah Lurie studied part-time at the then Natal Technical College under the tutelage of sculptor Mary Stainbank.

She works in bronze, terracotta, polyester resins and cement fondu to sculpt figures, portrait busts, abstract pieces and jewellery.

Lurie previously did two bronze sculptures of the 1860 Indian indentured labourers.

She said at the time they were first displayed, in the early days of her marriage, she and her husband lived in the Glenashley Canefields, and this formed the foundation of her research into farming and the labourers themselves.

Her work includes sculptures of John

Medley-Wood (founder of the Botanic

Gardens), Andrew Grindrod (founder of Grindrod Unicorn Shipping) and theatre doyenne Professor Elizabeth Sneddon.

Her pieces can be seen in many corporate and public galleries in South Africa.

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