Multiple Iteration: From Stellenbosch to Cape Town to Spain
THE BEGINNING: CONCEPTUAL REASONING
This sculpture named ‘Flight’ was put on the Rooiplein in front of the Jan Marais statue on Monday the 17th of October 2016 around 08:30. As an artistic intervention with the past, this sculpture visually the ways in which we still commemorate passed figures like Jan Marais. In this way, it addresses the problematics around safeguarding monuments in public spaces that violate and threaten the identities of so many people. More specifically, it aims to comment on the ever-present hierarchical structure within the University of Stellenbosch and society insofar as it contributes to this violation by denying access and opportunities to those who are historically deprived. Flight, therefore, interrogates Jan Marais and that which his presence resembles by asking truthfully: “Isn’t it time to get down?”. It was removed by University Security 90mins after installation.
I got the idea for my sculpture project during my second year of study and was encouraged to submit a proposal for an Open Forum residency. Although the university initially approved my artwork, tensions surrounding the #FeesMustFall protest led to its withdrawal. Nevertheless, with the help of fellow students, we carried the sculpture to the Jan Marais monument and allowed people to climb it, creating a powerful protest art piece. Unfortunately, after 90 minutes, private riot police hired by the university arrived and formed a barricade around the sculpture. Eventually, the university removed the artwork, citing fire hazard concerns. However, I believe that the university's reaction to my sculpture highlighted the fragility of whiteness, and it led to further work on the topic of public commemoration.
In 2019, I proposed the same concept of plywood staircase and public performative intervention with monuments to the ICA for Infecting the City, Live Arts festival. I proposed creating two sculptures this time, placing one in front of Cecil John Rhodes and the other in front of Jan Hofmeyer- creating a conversation between these two statues and linking the public space between them. This time, I wanted to actively mobilize what I had learnt from the collaborative activations from the 2016 iteration. So, I proposed having more planned interventions with the monuments while the staircases were in front of them. After my proposal got accepted I invited Duduzile Mathebula among other artists (I will share each artist's marvellous engagement separately) to join the intervention that was to take place in and between Church Square and the Company Gardens in Cape Town. Dudu and I did the first performative intervention of the day.
Take Flight is an art installation that offers an alternative to traditional monuments in post-Apartheid South Africa. The impermanent plywood structure built around the image of Cecil John Rhodes on the University of Cape Town campus acts as a testament to voices heard. The installation consists of two freestanding plywood sculptures of staircases, placed in conversation with the monuments of Jannie Hofmeyer and Cecil John Rhodes in Cape Town. A series of curated interventions and Live Art performances by various artists took place after the stairs were installed. Take Flight offers a literal platform for interruption, questioning, destabilization, and visual change in public spaces that carry colonial remembrance. Through this work, the artists contemplate what action might be taken or what might be communicated through their bodies that will stir conversation and accelerate the cleansing and healing of South African spaces. The big, bulky staircases highlight the renegotiations of identity, policy, relationships, and power that underpin the current South African reality.
Photographs by Rosca Warries
Intervention 1: Dudu & Nicolene
In 2019, I proposed creating two sculptures of plywood staircases and placing one in front of Cecil John Rhodes and the other in front of Jan Hofmeyer in Cape Town, South Africa. I invited other artists to join the intervention, and we built and installed the sculptures. However, on the day of the performance, the staircase in front of Cecil was missing. We later discovered that the structure was removed by the Company Gardens manager, who thought it was vandalism. I and other curators managed to have it reconstructed, and the performance went ahead.
Our performance aimed to open and cleanse the space between the monuments and sculptures, with a washing basin of water symbolic of cleansing the colonial past. It was also about women claiming public space and asking for their stories to be archived. I and other artists created striking garments and carried out a silent, meditative, and considered performative action that involved walking around the two monuments and splashing water on the ground and monuments as we passed. The performance aligned with a protest against gender-based violence, and a youth choir was singing a powerful song of female struggle at the end of the performance.
Intervention 2: Spirit Mba
Spirit was the first to climb the wooden staircases and perform poetry with a megaphone. However, upon arriving at the semi-reconstructed staircase, she was disappointed and expressed her frustration at not being able to climb up. Her emotions and poetry visualized the effects of institutionalized racism and colonialism in the space. I asked her to reflect on her contribution to the project.
"Landmark was a performance piece about land redistribution. I wanted to start a conversation on that. I grew up in a clustered environment, and even though I got explanations from different people whilst growing up, I never understood why things were set up that way. Until I learned about the Apartheid laws, especially, the Group Areas Act. Creating laws that enforced the separation of people based on their race was inhumane! By collaborating with Nicolene, the work became more elevated. It helped to visually point out WHO I was protesting in the poetry. It gave a strong point of reference that some of the characters who were involved in these inhumanities are giant statue figures still towering over our society. And my question is why are they still there?"
Intervention 3: King Debs
King Debs did his intervention after Spirit Mba and just as the staircase was reconstructed in front of Cecil John Rhodes. I found this fascinating as the medium he employed was spray paint. I asked him to reflect shortly on why he chose that medium and why ‘Rise Azania’ as text:
“In terms of the aerosol mediums, I am always aware of maintaining the integrity of the medium. As a non-performance artist for me, it was about finding the space between the collaboration and the public space itself. I went in after you and Dudu because I wanted to bring in that element of protest that is really ingrained in the medium. Finding the grey area between vandalism and ‘public art’. I used the mantra ‘Azania Rise’ to cement the idea of protest in the space. ‘Azania’ is a protest name for South Africa based on the Steve Bantu Biko school of thought in terms of black consciousness. Referencing this mantra was a way for me to bring reimagining and reawakening into the space so that we can imagine different figures on those pillars.”
Intervention 4: Kirstin Warries
Write this in first person: In the 2019 'Take Flight' intervention, Kirstin Warries invited people to reflect on the slavery monument and the statue of Jan Hofmeyr in Church Square. She printed a large pink cloth and allowed people to write their observations and opinions on it. The cloth was then wrapped around the statue, but it was more complicated than expected. A group of artists and dancers performed an improvised dance and eventually helped with the wrapping. The result was a striking and abstract artwork on the statue, which had to be cleared from the public realm after the intervention.
TAKE FLIGHT GOES INTERNATIONAL (TEASER VIDEO ABOVE)
This audio-guided ‘walkshop’ takes participants on a journey of considering city spaces as holding constructed histories and narratives. It aims to create a space for these histories and narratives to be inclusively reconstructed. The audience follows two female performance artists’ verbalized, internal processes while they perform the act of walking in South African cities. Encouraging the contemplation of the meeting between the private and the public sphere.
The destabilization and visual change brought about by this audio walkshop, guiding bodies to walk in cities with a conscious intention to tell alternative stories are how we imagine changing narratives. A prominent motivation behind this collaboration is to use or intuitive and emotional process of art-making to question: “Why are/is you/it still here?” and interject our bodies through performative action into public spaces where contested histories need to be confronted in the present.
Prompts: -Take a journal and bottle of water with you. -Find a place in Catalonia where a monument is in sight or a space accessed by many tourists- like a public park. -Decide on a repetitive route that you can walk over and over during this walkshop (like a circle or pendulum route). Imagine your repetitive walking cleansing the public space. -In the pauses between the reflections of the two performance artists reflect on what was said- look at the space around you and imagine a new and more inclusive public space. -After the walkshop is finished, sit down in the space and journal/mind-dump about what the walkshop stirred in you.
Music contributors: Matthew Blommetje (Uhadi); Thabo Krouwkam (monochord, guitar, and vocals); choir (unknown, coincidentally they performed on the day we did the first iteration of Take Flight in Cape Town)