Courtesy Institute for Creative Arts.
Photographs by Rosca Warries
Considering the ongoing debate about which political, religious or social figures should be monumentalized in the South African public space, and which ideals should be kept overlooking the public- I think there is an urgency for visual professionals to reconsider the traditional monument. A necessity has arisen to critically deconstruct the symbolism of this form of commemoration by honestly asking whether there is still space for these kinds of figures to stand, uninterrupted, in a Post-Apartheid South Africa, whatsoever.
Take Flight acts as an alternative monument by drawing on the image of a boxed-up Cecil John Rhodes on the University of Cape Town campus, before being removed in 2015. The impermanent plywood structure built around this symbol of institutionalised racism, became a testament to voices heard. Take Flight consists of two freestanding plywood sculptures of staircases placed in conversation with the monuments of Jannie Hofmeyer on Church Square and Cecil John Rhodes in the Company Gardens, in Cape Town. A series of curated interventions and Live Art performances by artists Nicolene Burger, Duduzile Mathebula, Spirit Mba, King Debs and Kirsten Warries took place after the stairs were installed.
The sculptures (250 x 250 x 90 cm) also reference an intervention Burger did as a third-year Fine Art student at the University of Stellenbosch. She created one plywood staircase titled, Flight (2016), as part of the resistance art residency, Open Forum, curated by Greer Valley. The image of a staircase against a monument of white power, addresses the issues around safeguarding monuments in public spaces which violate and threaten the identities of so many people. Take Flight revisited this idea by inviting Capetonians to reconsider the public monument, not as something that permanently fixes an individual, and the ideas he/she stood for, in the public space, but as points where ideas meet in discussion, art, performance and protest. The big, bulky staircases highlight the renegotiations of identity, policy, relationships and power that underpin the current South African reality.
Take Flight symbolizes the continued destabilization of race prejudice and wealth power-structures necessary in South Africa after 1994. But, it also points to the sad truth of the Rainbow Nation: more than 20 years after the abolition of Apartheid, we are still not an equal nation. Arguing that what South Africa needs in terms of monuments is interruption, questioning, destabilisation and visual change, Take Flight offers a literal platform for this to take place.
Nicolene Burger and Duduzile Mathebula met at a Live Art workshop organised by the ICA in 2019. The two artists connected over a similar enquiry in their practical outputs: “How can art play a role in catalysing and facilitating healing in public spaces?”. Mathebula and Burger have since created work together that engages and expands this question to themes such as womanhood, public memory, rituals, identity and culture, called Take Flight. Take Flight is a series of Live Art interventions (of which the first took place on 19 November 2019 in Cape Town) and written reflections which brings together the two female artists from different worlds. Together through this work Mathebula and Burger contemplate what action might be taken or what might be communicated through their bodies (in the name of art) that will stir conversation and accelerate the cleansing and healing of South African spaces that carry colonial remembrance.
A prominent motivation behind this collaboration is to use their intuitive and emotional process of art-making to question: “Why are you still here?” and insert their bodies through performative action into public spaces where violent histories need to be confronted in the present. They chose Live Art to practice their artistic considerations, because the two artists argue that the body is where the cross between what is private and what is public exists. Our individualistic nature is formed, with a private, separate identity in the body/mind, but as soon as we move into the public space, what is collective is reflected onto and from our bodies. Through Live Art the audience is caught off-guard to relate to “the other” in a new way that commonly involves all the senses. Mathebula and Burger argue that a deeper understanding is instilled from one body to another. Their performances therefore always allow for interaction with the audience through either making the audience perform an action, engage in the making of the work or use more than one scene in viewing the work.
Most monuments are patriarchal let alone colonial in nature. Through the first public expression of Take Flight, Mathebula and Burger expressed their fascination in the idea that “women from different worlds still inherit ‘his-story’?” and wondered together “where is ‘her-story’?”. The silent performance showed (as future performances will) that women have long been here, but that the stories about their pain, labour and lives have not been archived enough in the South African public space. Burger and Mathebula’s interventions highlight the ongoing impact these violent spaces have on the emotional lives of many. The artists make themselves hyper-visible by laboriously creating striking garments in which considered performative action is taken that references different ways women have played a role in healing and connecting people. They stand tall with the colonial relics, boldly obstructing the monument’s view and the of the monument, and ask their audiences to look at them and consider a new vantage point.
Courtesy Open Forum Residency
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 past figures like Jan Marais. In this way, it addresses the problematics around safeguarding monuments in public spaces which violate and threaten the identities of so many people. More specifically, it aims to comment of the ever-present hierarchical structure within the University of Stellenbosch and society insofar as it contributes to this violation through 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.