Two months after a resolution to destroy his elephant sculptures was passed by the aThekwini municipality, renowned artist Andries Botha has still not received any official word on what is to become of the artworks. In the meantime, the sculptures have been falling into disrepair.
The unfinished public artworks, which were commissioned by the Durban City Council and are placed at the Warwick Junction redevelopment, have been covered by shade cloth and plastic since February, when Botha and his assistants were ordered to stop work when an ANC councillor allegedly complained that the artwork resembled the Inkatha Freedom Party logo.
The artworks cost R1,5-million, of which a large portion has already been paid to Botha.
A spokesperson for the eThekwini municipality, Thabo Mofokeng, confirmed that the resolution to destroy two of the three elephants had been taken two months ago. However Botha told the M&G he had not been officially informed of the decision by Durban city manager Mike Sutcliffe.
Mofokeng said that Sutcliffe was still in the process of compiling a report on the matter before informing Botha of the decision.
Sutcliffe did not respond to the M&G‘s requests for commment. He had previously denied that the similarity to the IFP logo was the reason the project was halted.
According to Botha, vagrants have occupied the area and the works have been vandalised since he was ordered off the premises. “They should present some protection to the site,” he said.
“I don’t have the stomach to check it out,” he added.
Mofokeng told Times Live that it had been decided that the elephants would be replaced with the animals that comprise the “big five”, as this was a more “appropriate” symbol for the city.
An angry Botha said that Sutcliffe had approached him, asking if two of the three elephants could be removed and if Botha could produce four other sculptures, turning the piece into the big five.
“‘I wrote a letter to Mike Sutcliffe. I explained that I will not do the big five. I am not a tourist artist.”
He said he was disappointed that the symbolism of the elephants — part of an internationally acclaimed series — had been trampled on by petty politics.
‘I am incredibly unhappy with the politicisation of my artwork. And I followed all the right procedures. I have not acted in a vacuum.’
The elephant sculptures, life-size and made out of recycled materials, were originally proposed to the council as a symbol of the Human Elephant Foundation, a conservation organisation headed by Botha and renowned conservationist Dr Ian Player.
The three elephants would have joined Botha’s many elephant sculptures that have been exhibited around the world.
Botha said: “I am still working on elephants throughout the world. That’s the irony. People overseas think this whole saga is ridiculous.”
He also expressed concern that the council’s actions were indicative of a broader intolerance of differing views. “If we start censoring works of art that we are not happy with we are on a slippery slope. A work of art speaks as an autonomous statement.”
However the saga may have permanently damaged the meaning of the work, regardless of the fate of the sculptures. “Will the symbol be able to correct itself? Either way, the work is destroyed,” he said.