Rising out of the urban concrete jungle of Johannesburg comes a bold, new tribute to the women of Joburg in the form of the 10-storey (30 metre) Ndzundza portrait in Braamfontein.
The unique ground-breaking portrait is set to become an icon in the Johannesburg landscape and serves as a bold tribute to the women of Africa’s most vibrant city.
Commissioned by City Property as part of their commitment to rejuvenation and urban renewal of the Johannesburg city centre, the Ndzundza/Nzunza Portrait rises up alongside the North City House building in the trendy neighbourhood of Braamfontein, showcasing a blend of modern, traditional and cultural values inherently found in all of Africa’s women.
“When we started the upgrade of the building, the building was covered with old mosaic style tiles. We investigated possible options including cladding, texture and a public art piece. We wanted something that is proudly South African and speaks to the energy that encompasses Jozi,” says Jeffrey Wapnick, managing director of City Property.
“The architects approached renowned artist Hannelie Coetzee and her concept was tied back to the original mosaic on the building. We loved the modern spin on it while still embracing the history about the Ndebele people.
“We have always used public art to start conversations about inner city rejuvenation. We’ve done numerous pieces in Tshwane but this impressive mural is our first major public art contribution to the city of Johannesburg. Our substantial investment through the upgrade of this property and the mural on the façade speaks to our confidence in the area and the city.
“We believe firmly in our vision of urban rejuvenation, creating an environment where the people of Johannesburg can eat, work and play, and this is part of our goal of creating an inner city centre through our properties that not only make Johannesburg proud, but will also showcase its uniqueness as an exceptional, vibrant and energetic part of Africa.
The huge 170m2 (5.7m x 30m) relief sculpture covers 65% of one wing of the commercial building and was created out of more than 2 000 plates, specialised tile adhesive, mesh, nails and anchors, and required months of planning.
During her research, Coetzee discovered that the Ndzundza Ndebele lived in the Highveld from the 1630’s until the late 1600’s. Like the spirit of Johannesburg today, they embraced a cultural inclusivity which often welcomed other ethnicities, such as Swazi and Basotho (p46. Forgotten World, Wits Press). Traces of this lifestyle were discovered on pottery that dated from the 17th century and through oral history research. That explains the use of crockery as the medium and Braamfontein as the perfect location.
Coetzee also studied Tshilidzi Mavhunga’s architectural graduate thesis focusing on hair salons in the city which brought to her attention how older traditional hairstyles are serving as inspiration for current, trendy hairstyles. Mavhunga shortlisted the trendiest hairstyle Instagrammers for Coetzee to consider. TheNdzundza/Nzunza Portrait, celebrates how hairstyles from different cultures are being rewoven and expressed in new and current ways.
“I had an idea of blending the historical elements of the Ndzundza with the city landscape,” Coetzee said.
“The use of the monochromatic blue and turquoise crockery plates, saucers and bowls make the mural more abstract. Accented elements are in yellow and white crockery. I sourced it from various potteries and ceramic factories.
“I am thankful for an opportunity of this scale. The City Property team gave me the wonderful opportunity to work with complete conceptual freedom on a piece of this magnitude and intricacy.
“What makes it also quite unique is that the majority of the experts and artisans were mostly women – from the mosaic artists and assistants to the project manager and the electrical engineer. We thought it would be very appropriate to do the unveiling on Women’s Day as we celebrate the power, diversity and excellence of women.”
Wapnick explained the complex planning process that was necessary to make sure the iconic artwork rose to its prominence on the side of the building.
“We were thrilled to work with Hannelie again. As a photographer she understands depth, pixels and composition, which is seen in her other work as well. We have worked with her in the past at the 012central precinct with public art pieces such as Tant Koek and Gill Marcus/Kindloos. We appreciate her creative process, her in-depth research and how she uses a piece of the research to produce a thought-provoking piece. This is what makes her such a remarkable and unique visual language artist.
The successful installation was an easy task. The conceptual design took about three months and installation 10 weeks.
“The massive mural was laid out on a vacant floor at the building and the team had the challenge of working on a vertical sculpture in a confined space. Although pottery pieces were sourced, they had to manufacture the smaller pieces themselves from shards from the same pottery. Coetzee drew the outline of the woman on a grid, each piece with a unique code to fit onto the adhesive sheets. The grid pattern had to be attached in sections of not more than 500mm x 800mm at a time because of its weight.”
A team of more than 50 technical advisors collaborated to engineer the artwork on the façade. The relevant input from extensive projects team had to be considered. Besides the scale and weight of the art piece the team had to consider how it would be affixed to the building, natural elements such as sun and hail, waterproofing, methodology, longevity and future maintenance. As some saucers and bowls are faced down to facilitate specific tones, it had to be drilled into the wall, filled with adhesive and sealed afterwards. Screws, nuts and bolts also had to be treated for rust and the team also had to consider how they would have to deal with the expansive joints of the building. Leading tile adhesive company, TAL prepared 2.6 tonnes of bespoke charcoal adhesive with grout and water resistance properties. Customised bags were produced to ensure the team could work on the mural in sections without the adhesive hardening, resulting in limited waste.
“This spectacular portrait is our gift to the people of Joburg to enjoy,” Wapnick concluded.
The mural was unveiled on Women’s Day and is located on the corner of Melle and Jorissen Streets in Braamfontein. The mural is illuminated at night.
*The alternative spelling of the title is inclusive of differing views from the community.