Internationally known South African artist Angus Taylor has built two massive sculptures with the help of students and community members at Moja Gabedi, the University of Pretoria’s (UP) growing community engagement project.
For about 100 years, Moja Gabedi stood as an empty, unsightly lot in Festival Street, not far from Hatfield Campus. But last year, UP’s Community Engagement Unit transformed what was once an unofficial rubbish dumpsite into a lush garden, with vegetables, trees and flowing canals. Moja Gabedi also provides therapy to anyone in the community who might need it. In neat wooden huts, students and interns, under the supervision of professionals, offer free occupational, play and art therapy.
Unit Manager of Community Engagement Gernia van Niekerk says that getting involved in the community is part of UP’s strategic plan, and that engagement with society and communities flows from the University’s teaching and research functions.
Taylor decided to be part of the Moja Gabedi project when he visited it last year. While he spent most of 2019 travelling far and wide, he says, “South Africa is my home, and this is the place where I want to give back to the community. We are living in a capitalist economy, not in an economy of giving.”
He works with an extraordinary range of natural material, from granite and red jasper to the orange soil found near his studio in Pretoria. “One can gift rock and soil,” he says. “That is why I use materials that are abundant. They have no commercial value; they also reflect the diversity of our geology and the diversity of our people.”
The two sculptures at Moja Gabedi – one made of rock and the other of compacted soil – both depict a young man that Taylor knows personally. With the help of community members as well as students who are doing their 40-hour compulsory community service as part of the curriculum, these two sculptures are now complete.
“It is hard, intense work,” says Taylor. A steel pin is drilled into each piece of stone or rock; these pins are then welded together into a steel frame. Paper is used to fill the spaces between the rock, then concrete is poured into the mould. The finer details like the facial features are chiselled; the whole face is built from the inside outwards. The compacted soil sculpture is made of moist soil and grass, which is literally pounded together until it is hard. “It is a whole body and brain experience,” says Taylor.
The sculptor also invited those who helped with the project to visit his studio, which, according to mechanical engineering student Ruben Grobler, was an unforgettable experience. Grobler and four other students asked to be involved in this specific community project because they knew of Taylor’s work.
“His life experience and what he shared with us were amazing,” says Grobler. “To see how he works and thinks is truly something special. He creates so many opportunities for others. One just wants to learn more from him about life – Taylor not only shared his skills; he is a mentor.”
The students also helped to plant cycads and work 17 tons of soil into the earth. “We are young and fit, and it is good to be part of a culture of giving back,” adds Grobler.
“Learning how to weld from Angus was important, because he will try to build similar artworks from a mould in his community,” says community member Trompie Bokhali. “I have learnt a lot at Moja Gabedi.”
Van Niekerk adds that over the past few months, a small amphitheatre was built where UP’s Drama Department performs plays about social issues. The next endeavour is to construct a small teahouse. It seems the work at Moja Gabedi never stops.