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Art, Culture

The Sculpture Vandal

by Matthew Blackman / 05.11.2011

In a response to the recent vandalizing of Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe’s sculptures, on the Sea Point promenade, DA Councilor JP Smith has warned that, “if the vandal is caught, I will ensure that we prosecute him (I suspect, though, that it is a “her”) to the full extent of the law.”
The acts of vandalism seem to have started shortly after the art critic Linda Stupart published an article on Mahala addressing some concerns she had over the sculptures. Her article firstly queried the City’s public art policy, which she claimed seems to allow for only the affluent to exhibit their work in public spaces. She did, however, later go on to question the artistic value of the Prinsloo-Rowe’s work Walking the Road.

Mr. Smith confirmed that the City’s policy, with regards the exhibition of public art, was that “any and all artists” can exhibit work, “as long as it does not cost the City anything and they undertake their own maintenance”. He went on to say that there was “no Public Art Police” but rather “there is a general by-law provision that says you cannot display items without the consent of Council.”

Prinsloo-Rowe’s sculptures have now been vandalised on three separate occasions by a person who seemingly objects to their aesthetic value. According to Mr. Smith, who is a member of the Mayoral Committee for Safety and Security, “we are investigating the person who we suspect of engaging in the vandalism. A charge is being laid with SAPS of malicious damage to property. We are also getting assistance from the CCTV cameras in the area.”

Councilor Smith went on to say that the “aggression and antipathy of one or two people in the ‘artistic community’ relating to these statues has been most perplexing – even to the point of my suspecting mental illness with one of them.”
When contacted for comment Ms. Stupart – a well-known feminist critic who is studying a PhD in London at the world-renowned Goldsmiths College – said that she was surprised to hear that “a woman” was suspected. She also wanted to make it clear that she in no way condoned the vandalism of Prinsloo-Rowe’s Walking the Road, despite her criticism of it as an art work.
In an email from London she said: “I am sorry that Ms Prinsloo-Rowe’s work has been so mindlessly destroyed, an action that is violent and unacceptable. It was never my intention to incite people to vandalise the work. Rather I felt it was important to point out that the work is there because of Prinsloo-Rowe’s economic advantage rather than its artistic merit. There are, however, issues [that need to be addressed] of both transparency and transformation with regard to the Sea Point Council’s decision to erect the sculptures, as well as the decision for the work to remain.”

Seemingly echoing Ms. Stupart’s sentiments DA Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, recently stated, at the selection of Cape Town as World Design Capital for 2014, that design can be used “as a tool for transformation”. Mr. Smith has gone on record on several occasions saying that there is a lack of policy surrounding public art. Since Ms. Stupart’s article many people seem to be questioning, on various social medias, the lack of vigorous deliberative democratic structures under the current system.
In a statement form the Visual Arts Network of South Africa Mr. Ruarc Peffers acknowledged that, “the seeming lack of screening process that characterises the current public art paradigm in Cape Town is problematic. What is required is a rigorous and transparent policy that foregrounds quality and artistic excellence such that this may result in the installation of art that all Capetonians (and South Africans) can be proud of.”

Both VANSA and Mr. Smith are known to be actively involved in trying to initiate and formulate policy surrounding public art. However, there seems little doubt that, even with this policy in place, it would stop a certain Cape Town based vandal from venting “her” aesthetic criticism with the medium of a sledgehammer.

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