Over the last few months I’ve engaged with the 21 Icons work several times – on SABC 3, at formal theatres, on the internet an now at the first public showing of the collection.
Sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, the film and still photography of Adrian Steirn is not about him at all (and he has a whole string of awards to his credit). In a curious way it is not even about his subjects. The curator, Harriet Pratten, has titled the exhibition well in Portrait of a Nation.
Visitors to the exhibition can access a 21 Icons smartphone Augmented Reality app which will serve as an exhibition guide. We oldies might as well learn to use this technology because it is becoming a common way of interacting with art. Certainly I have been advised that at least one of the exhibitions I want to see at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown next month will make use of this.
Each portrait has a pithy title and an explanation of the circumstances in the photograph. This whole project was assembled with love and respect, not only for Nelson Mandela’s whose photograph, A Reflection of Dignity, has been sold and the money donated to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital fund, but for every person in the series.
The work is often startling, FW de Klerk, Nadine Gordimer and Desmond Tutu get playful treatment.
Sophia Williams de Bruyn, Kumi Naidoo, Lilian Cingo, George Bizos and Ahmed Kathrada are delicately handled.
Hugh Masekela, Johnny Clegg, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, John Kani, Gcini Molope, William Kentridge and Helen Sibidi are reverently treated as iconic artists, but the love they share with their audiences (viewers) is palpable.
Gary Player and the late Phillip Tobias join with Evelina Tshabalala, Karel Benade and Zackie Achmat share vibrant and useful lives an passions for what they do with us.
21 Icons. People we know, admire and love.
Mercedes-Benz South Africa are the sponsor of the Portrait of a Nation exhibition because they see it as an alignment with their value system based on integrity, respect, passion and discipline. On display is the red 500 SE Mercedes-Benz allowed their workers in their East London plant to build for Nelson Mandela as a gift on his release in 1990. While Mercedes-Benz provided the materials, the labour was a gift of love from the workers who built the vehicle in their own personal time and without pay. The “Madiba Car” was presented to Nelson Mandela on 22 July 1990 at a political rally at the Sisa Dukasha stadium in Mdantsane, near East London.
Also on display during the exhibition is the Beaded Benz, a life-sized representation of a C-Class Merc made of wire and beads by six bead artists, Teddy Mutasa, Khayalethu Nqono, Eddie Jange, Johnson Sithole, Busani Sibanda and Mziwoxolo Makalima in East London. They used 11 kms of wire and three million beads. It is truly wonderful to see.
This exhibition is well worth seeing. In August I will bring you the stories of the women in this series. And then later, perhaps, the men – they don’t deserve to be overlooked. This is a fabulous series and I hope it brings you as much pleasure as it brings me.
The exhibition can be seen at the Museum of African Design at 281 Commissioner Street in the Maboneng Precinct from 9 – 5 daily on Tuesdays to Sundays until 17 August 2014.