Dali Tambo: Artists must remove rabbit from Mandela's ear

Dali Tambo says sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren should have consulted him before smelting their signature rabbit into Mandela's ear. (Gallo)

Dali Tambo says sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren should have consulted him before smelting their signature rabbit into Mandela's ear. (Gallo)

Dali Tambo, who led the project to build the 9m-high bronze statue of Nelson Mandela in front of the Union Buildings, has not lost his sense of humour on discovering that the sculptors secretly placed a rabbit in the icon's ear.

"The rabbit now exists, so we can't melt it down," said Tambo.

"It has its own notoriety, and we might find an appropriate place for it. It might even end up in the garden near Mandela."

The son of late South African struggle icon Oliver Tambo, Dali was well placed to work closely with President Jacob Zuma, Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile and an arts committee on the minute details of the statue before its creation.

Tambo is chief executive of Koketso Growth, a cultural heritage and tourism development body, which was appointed by the arts and culture department to create Mandela's statue.

Sculpture kings
The company has been involved in the creation of 49 bronze statues, and each minute detail of this giant sculpture, including Mandela's smile and his open arms, was approved by the government before being given the go-ahead.

It was no small undertaking and the statue cost R8-million to create, from start to finish, said Tambo.

The discovery of the mysterious minuscule rabbit was a disappointment to him.

Although he understood it was the hidden signature of sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren that had been smelted into Mandela's ear, he said they should have consulted him first.

Tambo said the rabbit, which has a growing following after South Africans took to Twitter using the hashtag #savetherabbit, will now be removed at the artists' own cost.

"It has been normal over the past 2 000 years for artists to put their signatures on bronze sculptures," Tambo said.

"It is part of the valuation, of the look of modern sculpture. Rodin always signed his work, ­discreetly, somewhere.
This was a collaborative work, and there was discussion about whether Madiba's shirt should have patterns on it, or the national flag or a coat of arms.

"It was decided there shouldn't be anything on him, and even his shirt should be plain. I received a request to put a signature on the leg, but what size it was to be, all these decisions, still had to be made.

"In our mind, it could have gone either on the heel or on a plaque, but there simply wasn't the time to do it.

"I am seeing the artists, and we will see where we can put a signature. It is certainly not done, as it would not be right if it were Winston Churchill, to put animals in the orifice of a statue.

"Tomorrow there would be a statue of [Barack] Obama, and we would have a mouse coming out of his nostril."

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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