UP Museum’s Glamorous ‘Rain Goddess’ – Rethinking Femininity

Posted on September 21, 2022

The University of Pretoria’s Hatfield Campus has a striking new artwork outside the Old Merensky Building, named ‘Rain Goddess’ which is beautifully imposing and attracting loads of attention on campus.

Every once in a while, the University of Pretoria (UP) is fortunate to receive a corporate art donation or a significant long-term loan that transforms our campus landscape. The purpose is to bring art to the students and students to the art as part of their daily campus life and this is the responsibility of the University of Pretoria Museums. Today, as you walk down the iconic Tukkie Lane past the Old Arts Building, passing by the Old Merensky Building which houses the Villa sculpture gallery you may notice a very large, new striking, and bold female figure. She is lifting her arms and face upwards towards the sky and heavens. Titled, ‘Rain’, or also known simply as Rain Goddess is a 1950s bronze sculpture by the South African artist Willem de Sanderes Hendrikz (1910-1959). This work was generously given to the University of Pretoria on a long term by Nedbank Limited. 

De Sanderes Hendrikz commenced the creation of his work on ‘Rain’ whilst in South Africa but actually completed it in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He also exhibited a plaster of Paris form at the impressive Middelheim Art Park in the city of Antwerp in Belgium as part of the International Exhibition of Sculpture 1900 to 1950, known from 1953 onwards as the Middelheim Biennale. The imposing work and his style in this material already drew major attention in the art sector. Today, Middelheim is a fascinating sculpture open-air museum that comprises a signature 30-hectare park and exhibition space with over 400 works, home to an eclectic collection of sculptures from different epochs and styles spanning more than 100 years of visual arts. 

The city of Antwerp at the time offered to purchase the work from the artist, however, the plaster of Paris work was accidentally damaged, and they never bought it. De Sanderes Hendrikz took additional time to repair the damage, rework the mould and simplified the hair and facial features of his female form, making her body more symmetrical. After he had completed the work, he finally cast in bronze in South Africa- giving her greater significance and longevity for his alloy metal as his chosen material. Rain Goddess has travelled and been exhibited throughout South Africa, in many major cities ranging from Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Johannesburg and now finally Pretoria, where she is now exhibited publicly at the University of Pretoria. 

De Sanderes Hendrikz was mostly known for his architectural sculptures and he often produced artworks that were mostly site-specific, i.e. within a courtyard or by a fountain. Rain Goddess has received the most opinions from art critics than any of his other works- this is a powerful statement intended by the artist and his depiction of the female form. Rain Goddess is intended to be positioned outside and depicts a resilient woman. As a goddess of rain, she appreciates water that falls from the sky as a natural force. The figure is powerful and confident in her body language. Her femininity and nudity do not make her fragile, but rather stronger. The artwork’s nude form of art expresses so many social issues such as gender oppression, patriarchy, sexism, and oppression in the workplace and in society. By poignantly placing her as part of the UP Museums landscape on campus aids in creating an all-inclusive, diverse, accessible and conducive environment of ‘museums beyond walls’ and hopes that all who admire her will enable women to take control of their lives. 

This artwork is one of the University of Pretoria’s most significant art works in recent years and symbolises that women can be as strong as they want to be and is on the Hatfield campus to generate debate about current social commentary on women and their invaluable roles in society. Rain Goddess is intended to pay tribute to women and demonstrates metaphorically, women’s resilience and empowerment. For further information, please email: [email protected] or come visit the Old Merensky Building and to view the work at the UP Museums on the Hatfield Campus.

- Author Lelani Nicolaisen & Sian Tiley-Nel
Published by Lelani van den Berg

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