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Saturday, 7 July 2012

Of concrete Teddy bears and suitcases


By Andrew Mulenga
The thought of a concrete Teddy bear is of course absolutely nonsensical, bordering on absurd.  Teddy bears beloved by little girls (and their mothers alike) are supposed to be the fluffiest and most huggable of toys and to imagine one made from one of the toughest building materials known to man is odd.
In-Transit  by Regardt van Der Meulen
symbolizes 'emotional baggage'
As bizarre as it might sound, concrete Teddies do exist, well at least one does. So do concrete sandals and a sweater and they are all in a concrete suitcase, which in turn is in a concrete exhibition that features concrete limbs, torsos and donkeys.
Roxanne Litchia’s Zipho examines
motherhood and pregnancy
The exhibition is sponsored by South African cement giant PPC entitled ‘Reimagine concrete’ and is being held in collaboration with the Association of Arts Pretoria. It is part of PPCs 21 year old annual Young Concrete Sculpture Awards that honours South African artists who are either beginners or have not been professionally established.
This year, PPC chose 21 of its previous winners to develop 21 sculptures that will be auctioned and the total proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to 21 non-governmental organisations mainly involved with orphaned children and the disabled, as a Zambian one wishes our own corporate houses could take a leaf.
Nevertheless, each artist was given the details of an NGO and was asked to develop an artwork reflecting the NGO’s work in the community.
Roxanne Litchia’s Zipho examines
motherhood and pregnancy
The Teddy bear and suitcase sculpture is titled In-Transit  and artist Regardt van Der Meulen’s statement on the work reads: “The suitcase is a metaphor for the emotional luggage we carry with us, how we try to keep that baggage closed up, and how ultimately the damage inside is bound to come streaming out once that exterior is cracked. The worn exterior of a suitcase tells a story, but you have to look within the suitcase to try and understand what the story is really about.”
The Slave by Phanuel Marka Mabaso
Not too far from In-Transit is a torso in a seductively reclining position named Zipho, according to the artist, Roxanne Litchia. It is a portrait of a young Xhosa woman, who has recently given up her architecture studies to raise an unexpected child:  “Motherhood and pregnancy are two particulars things that are drawing my attention at the moment. On the one hand the most vulnerable members of our society, mothers are also seen as the pillar of strength within the community.”
An equally thought provoking sculpture is 'Knowledge is fragile', Like Father Like Son by Rossouw van Der Walt. With the beauty and precision of classical sculpture, van Der Walt says:  “This partial presentation of the figure sometimes presents the anxiety of entrapment; other times the incompleteness of solitude.
Then there is Phanuel Marka Mabaso’s donkey entitled 'The Slave' which is a blend of aluminium and concrete casting.
“From the time I was a child in my village of Jilongo, I’ve realised that people have exploited donkeys… generally without allowing them to rest. With this sculpture, we have a female donkey with its milk collected in a mug that indicates its use by traditional healers of the past to cure various ailments. My intention is to make people realize the value of donkeys in their environment.”
Of course there are many more captivating works of art in exhibition, but space would not allow mentioning all. Nevertheless, without all due respect, the artists are of exceptional talents and the works are first rate. But observing the work as a Zambian, what quickly comes in to thought is that back home, on a good day, the young generation of sculptures Charles Chambata, Nsofwa Bowa, Kilarenz Albert and the brothers Bisalom and Tom Phiri from the Roots of Expression Studios (ROXS) ensemble can give these PPC artists a run for their money. However, they are not as privileged to be motivated by meaningful initiatives such as the Young Concrete Sculpture Awards because the Zambian corporate community, that is; banks construction companies, mines and mobile phone companies enjoy an infinite ‘social responsibility holiday’ particularly where patronage of the arts are involved.
Nevertheless, ‘Reimagine concrete’ is currently showing at the Transformation Gallery, Albany History Museum in Grahamestown, South Africa and is part of the on-going National Arts Festival 2012 (Read more on the festival next week, only in your Saturday Post).

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