Ruhan Janse Van Vuuren | | Art in South Africa
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Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings


The artists Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren designed the most iconic Monument to Nelson Mandela. The work itself was designed specifically for its location at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. After learning of the work’s location and the date of the unveiling coinciding with the Centenary celebration of the Union Buildings, the artists were inspired by the idea of the work standing as a central focal point that acted as a complimentary aesthetic to the architecture itself. In this manner the symbolism of Nelson Mandela being a focal point of our nation and central to our democratic development was also highlighted.

After site visits and various scamps, the repetitive quality of the shape of the Union buildings could be complimented by the shape of the outstretched arms of the sculpture itself – in this way an atmosphere of restfulness through repetition could be achieved, a feeling of belonging.

The original design for the shirt that the sculpture would be wearing was that of a patterned “Madiba Shirt”, but the clients (Koketso Growth) believed that a simpler design would be stronger. It was requested by the Department of Arts and Culture that the Coat of Arms of the African National Congress (ANC) was placed on the work itself. After much discussion, however, it was suggested (by the artists) that the Monument of Nelson Mandela was to be seen in a universal light, and not as a figurehead for the party. It was agreed, but the fact that Former President Nelson Mandela was an integral part of the ANC’s victorious struggle could not be ignored – the subtle patina choices of the artists highlight his involvement and influence within this political framework. The work consists of the colours of the ANC: the gold is seen on the skin (the bronze), the green is seen in the shirt and the black is seen in the trousers of the Monument.

Regarding the posture of the figure itself, the artists were inspired by Egyptian sculptural history. It was believed that if a sculpture honouring an individual was created and the left foot was in front, it was representative of the fact that the individual would enter the afterlife as royalty. This stimulated the movement that was created by the piece itself. The outstretched arms were a break away from the traditional image of Nelson Mandela (that of the fist). The reason for this choice is that the struggle itself has past, and that the state of acceptance and honourable respect is upon us. This also places the peaceful tone of the work, and indeed Nelson Mandela himself, at the forefront of the viewer’s understanding of the piece. Tolerance and Freedom are found in acceptance of all.

“Working on this project was the most humbling and honourable (to say the least) experience. The opportunity to study a leader of such graceful integrity for nine months was inspiring. The reality of creating a likeness of a man that was truly the father of a nation was uplifting. The possibility of recreating the meaning of the Union Buildings themselves merely by the placement of a Monument was motivational.”

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