Andries Botha lives and works in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He has exhibited widely internationally. Lecturing at the Durban University of Technology since 1982, he has championed the visual arts in the community with the founding and chairing of the Community Arts Workshop (1984-6), the forming of the NGO Create Africa South Trust (since 2002), the Amazwi Abesifazane Trust (registered in 2008) and the Human Elephant Foundation (2009).
In this conversation he talks about his art work, “The Three Elephants”, commissioned by the city of Durban and the dispute that arose later when an ANC (Africa National Congress) councillor complained that the elephant is a symbol of the opposition Inkatha Freedom Party. “In the week of 8 February 2010 the ANC put a halt to the finalisation of the artwork. It has been claimed that the elephants are an IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) symbol. The artwork was two weeks from completion.” From Andries Botha website.
Creativity is an integral part of democracy and must be protected
Conversation transcription below
“The migration of elephants, like the migration of people, involves competing around borders, boundaries, that are now leading to a closing inner vision nationally and internationally.”
“Law must always prevail, and even if it is a small entity or a small person, the rule of law has always to prevail. Especially the law which protects the vulnerability of creativity.”
All images published in this article are taken from the Facebook page Save-The-Durban-Elephant-Sculptures
Tiziana Casapietra: I would start the conversation with your Elephant project.
Andries Botha: I was commissioned by the city of Durban to do initially 3 life size elephants, with probably the addition of 3 or 4 more. They have seen a project of mine on the beaches of De Panne in Belgium part of the Beaufort Triennale) and they got excited about that. My proposal was the idea of an art work that began to address, in a public space, various issues, such as environmental issues, issues of coexistence and intolerance.
When I made them and I put them walking into the sea at De Panne, hundreds of thousands of people responded to these elephants, children, adults, intellectuals, working class people, as if the elephant had the capacity to cross multiple boundaries of discussion. The elephants have been voted the most popular artwork. These discussions were quite sophisticated, from the pure celebration of joy, to the role of the art work within the public space, to the conservation metaphor, to issues of migration and population, to issues of recycling, to issues of coexistence and intolerance. All of these issues where kind of embraced, and subconsciously unbeknownst to me, by these elephants metaphors.
Given the urgency of the debate around the environment, I thought: would not be interesting to place these elephants in the world as metaphors for these discussions, without being ponderous, methodological, or didactic. We can set up discussions about the presence of massive animals that happen to coexist with us as part of a technological meltdown and are increasingly threaten. So my postulate was that if we were able to generate the future of these animals, it meant that our intellectual systems were capable of modicums of tolerance which is currently absent.And I mean tolerance, not only of all living things, but also mostly people. Because the migration of elephants, like the migration of people, involves competing around borders, boundaries, that are now leading to a closing inner vision nationally and internationally. So this is the subtext, but what I really wanted to do was to enter this debate through people’s joy and their sense of wonderment to be in the presence of a life size elephant which happens to be a work of art. In a way to brake the boundaries to the artist’s world, migrating outside the boundaries of the studio or the museum in order to be able, with a certain combustibility, to enter the public space.
This is what they wanted to commission from me. But given the combustibility of the political space in South Africa, it was not long before multiple ownerships, unregulated, unconstitutional cavalier behavior resulted in the termination of the contract in an unlawful manner that led me to challenge the defense of the elephant and the art work within the constitutional framework of South Africa thus embracing issues of the moral authority of the art work and secondly the freedom of speech and of course intellectual property.
TC: I do not understand why this all happened.
AB: The issue was this. There is an opposition, a black political party, which has the elephant as its logo and the dispute was all about this. Despite that fact that the elephant is the most powerful and sexual symbol in Africa. Thus I have put the city and the government on notice that I will personally admin the individual capacity to defend this, even if it meant going to the highest court in the land. This of course resulted in its own combustibility, the authority of government was seriously challenged, it was also challenged within the framework of race and identity, blacks against whites, where in fact the real issue was quite simple. It was about power and lawlessness and the rights for us to live within a constitutional democracy. For me law must prevail, and even if it is a small entity or a small person, the rule of law has always to prevail. Especially the law which protects the vulnerability of creativity. Creativity is an integral part of the language of a fundamental democracy. So if we let that go as if that is not important, we negotiate the foundation principles. It was all about that principle, in addition to the fight around the protection of the elephant, the work of art, but also the democratic principle. It went on for three years and it was stressful but finally we won the case.
TC: Are the elephant installed now?
AB: No. The court victory was a week and a half ago. Now I am in discussion around the rebuilding of the elephants.
Thanks to Janine Zagel for the kind support in the editing of this article and video.