Madiba Shirt Sculpture (2015)

Mary Duker, Principle Lecturer in the School of Music, Art & Design at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, headed this project. I provided managerial and practical assistance in the design and execution of the wire design that clothes the shirt’s frame.

Below is more information of the project as explained by Mary Duker:

“In 2014 I, along with the ceramist and head of the ceramic department, Bianca Whitehead, responded to a nationally publicised call by the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) to submit a proposal for a public sculpture. The competition organisers called for an artwork that would ‘reflect the broad principles and values of NMU and the role it plays in the Metro, the Eastern Province and South Africa’. There was an expectation that the site-specific piece ‘should be interesting enough to hold the space and attention of people moving past it’, and that it would ‘reflect the nature of its environment in close proximity to University activities’. They wanted an innovative work which was ‘easily understandable’, yet at the same time ‘conceptually relevant’ to the site and to the university.
We proposed a beautifully crafted shirt form, with an ‘industrial’ welded framework or skeleton, supporting a skin of handcrafted wirework and richly coloured ceramic tiles. In our response to the project brief we set out to interpret the university’s values visually and to convey a sense of association with Nelson Mandela, after whom the NMU is named, We wanted the work to be a bright centrepiece in a student gathering place, a constant and inspirational reminder of the values embodied by the leader whose name the NMU bears, and a celebration of being Afri-
can. We intended the shirt form to evoke a memory of the gently sloping shoulders of the elderly Nelson Mandela.

Given this opportunity to design a ‘metaphoric’ artwork for installation into a learning-centred campus environment, we wanted to make a visual statement with our shirt – one that would set it apart from the standard public art on campus tropes such as the ponderous and serious representations of leader-heroes. We hoped that, in its quirkiness, it would have appeal to a wide range of audiences.
From the outset we envisaged working with a collective comprising of students, academic disciplinary specialists and technical experts. Together we would set out to marry concept, design, twenty first century fabrication approaches, (computer aided design (CAD), machine tooling, laser cutting), and handcrafting in both wire and clay.”

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