Making history in the park

Balisa Ntloko

 GLOWING:  NMMU arts students, from left, Namhla Mbalane, Owen Tarr, Amy Verheul and Luke Lombard, with Mellaney Ruiters in front, make the final touches to one of their beautiful creations in Trinder Square, Central. Picture: MIKE HOLMES
GLOWING: NMMU arts students, from left, Namhla Mbalane, Owen Tarr, Amy Verheul and Luke Lombard, with Mellaney Ruiters in front, make the final touches to one of their beautiful creations in Trinder Square, Central. Picture: MIKE HOLMES

A PUBLIC art project on Trinder Square in Central is part of a project to beautify the Bay’s inner city and at the same time help to keep creative arts graduates from leaving for bigger cities.

A brain-child of NMMU music, art and design director Mary Duker and colleagues David Jones and Marcus Neustetter, the project started in November last year.

This public art initiative is “one of a number of projects in the Bird Street-Belmont Terrace creative precinct, which is undergoing a major facelift”, Duker said.

Half a dozen students from NMMU’s arts faculty are on site as designers and sculptors, working with ceramics and mosaics, and a professional architect, Jacques Nel, is overseeing their work.

Duker said she was enormously excited to see students and graduates involved at this level, “producing a professional creative product, working to earn a living, contributing towards the growth of a craft economy and, most importantly, working as part of a project that is intended to regenerate the heart of our city”.

The benches were inspired by famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s mosaic benches and other creations in Barcelona.

“But more importantly, they are inspired by something much closer to home – the roots of the giant fig trees that ring Trinder Square and by our own indigenous flowers like the clivia, the aloe and the pincushion protea.”

According to Duker, the involvement of fine art, craft, design and music students and graduates in the project will encourage them to remain active as entrepreneurs and creative practitioners in the city “rather than migrating to the bright city lights of Johannesburg and Cape Town”.

Nel said the importance of public art projects was vested in seeing the team “take interest and ownership in making our community safer”.

The benches were constructed by fine art post graduate students Luke Lombard and Mawande Mase. They worked with Nel using “green” construction methods, sculpting the forms using welded wire-mesh structures – known as gabion baskets – and then filling them with salvaged rocks, before cementing the surface ready for the mosaics.

The floral mosaic designs were produced by botanical artist Amy Verheul and the whole team worked under the supervision of Mellaney Ruiters, a ceramics masters student.

When Lombard was recruited to the project, he initially saw it as an opportunity to gain some work experience with “something that comes by very rarely” in his field of sculpture.

To date, the group has finished one bench and this has inspired them even more.

Lombard said that now that he has seen the end result of his and Mase’s work, “it feels good to know that our creations will not only beautify the park and our city, but will last forever”, the 24-year-old said. For undergraduate student Namhla Mbalane, who is working on the mosaics, “being part of something this historic is humbling”.

Once the project is completed the community will see “eight beautiful, bright, glowing, uniquely structured and decorated benches, each representing an aspect of the local floral kingdom”, Duker said.

Better lighting, a renovated ablution block and new grass are some of the upgrades being done.

Once the project is completed, residents of the area will have the pleasure of playing soccer there in the evenings.

“Because the benches encircle the central playing field area, it is hoped to see the park functioning as a people-friendly family space.

“It will be welcoming to the children and families who live in the area, as well as providing an attractive and unique environment for tourists to visit,” Duker said.

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