Panga Management is really pleased that The Africa Centre, The Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts and Cape Town Partnership will be hosting a half-day conference on developing a much-needed public art policy for Cape Town. ( not really enough time , let’s be honest ,but better than a poke in the eye with a pitch fork) . For more details click here, this article falls into PM’s recommended reading list, SO READ IT.
As you know Panga People, PM is very interested in seeing an effective public sculpture policy put in place for many –many- many reasons. Today’s post however will bring to your attention, just one pressing situation that needs to be protected against. This situation is one that all corporate sponsors and political penny-pushers/ spin doctors wish to sweep under the carpet. Though PM respects and understands the necessity, and the value, of corporate involvement in many aspects of the arts, PM is also very well aware of the danger of corporate propaganda being sheathed in the vessel of a public sculpture/art.
Take this artwork below as an example. During PM’s amble through the KZN Botanical Gardens (see previous post) Panga Management came face to face with an artwork that was part of the Cop 17 public art blah- blah. Made by Nicci Fourie, the sculpture illustrates the silhouettes of a group of children ( more than likely laser cut out of metal and painted grey) following a circular movement inwards , with the kids queuing in front of an open book (under glass) . The book seems to be pages and pages of children’s drawings bound together. At first glance what one is faced with is a reasonably well made, illustrative/safe/ save the children, support romantic childhoods of innocence intervention, (AKA- conceptually a gaping wound of lack) but pleasant enough for the sentimental viewing public. However things are about get very goddam sinister. The plaque attached to the sculpture has the artist’s name and the text Proudly sponsored by Sappi (hence the paper inclusion PM assumes). What’s the problem? You might ask.
Well Let PM break this piece of corporate propaganda down for you. Cop 17 (AKA Save the planet for our children) + sweet sculpture of childhood innocence + Sappi = at a time when Durban and the world is focusing on saving and protecting the planet for the future of our species (children), Sappi sponsors an artwork placed in the public eye that reinforces an illusion of its commitment to a clean, green planet. Except is Sappi clean, green and good? No. As the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) one of PM companions for the days excursion pointed out, Sappi is one of the largest pollutants of water in South Africa, and the BFG should know being that he is one of most knowledgable people around when it comes to environmental stuff. It did not take PM too much finger grease to find stacks of articles on-line about what Sappi is doing to the environment click here for one.
So what we have is a sentimentally positive monument to Sappi. Telling the story of how Sappi really cares …aghh bless Sappi’s recycled, cotton socks! Except that story is a lie, and this public sculpture is a monument expressing Sappi’s corporate propaganda, and that, Panga people , is a huge ethical problem. PM is not sure whether the artist thought through their involvement, or just decided not to bite the hand that feeds , but really dude……… you have been compromised with your very questionable ethical decision to be involved in this context.
So back to the public sculpture policy for Cape Town. There needs to be a very clear inclusion in the policy that protects against public sculpture being used as corporate and political propaganda. Cause if those who have the money (corporates and politicians) have their way, then their marketing teams will have a field day punting their propaganda to the public in the guise of public art.