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An ex-student of mine, Denise Spaulding, was now one of the art teachers at Durban Girls College. She approached me with the possibility of a public commission for the school.
One of the alumni had expressed the desire to present a gift to the school. She then became the client. I engaged the client with some formative ideas, saying to her that we needed to keep it simple: “I will do you a little school girl, a young woman at the beginning of her life’s adventure”. In my opinion that was what it was all about. I visited the school on two occasions, being taken from classroom to classroom, looking for a suitable model or a suitable idea. As with all ideas, when it comes to a moment of truth, if the truth be told, most artists do not know what the hell they’re doing. No truer was the case in this regard.
On my second day, I entered the very very junior school. I was introduced to an ocean of girl faces. Little children, all dressed metronomically in their green and white uniforms, small little faces mixed with anticipation as well as anxiety. This is life’s journey and the promise of it. Towards the center back of the class was a small young girl child, slightly overweight, massively uncertain of life and the journey she was about to undertake.
Upon meeting her later my initial assumption was confirmed, when I confronted a young woman who had not only been ridiculed by her class mates but had now already embodied the idea that awkwardness was going to be part of her journey. I felt that her self and her character would be most instructive and appropriate for us all to learn how tentative and gentle we all have to be when we come into touch with humans on the early part of their life here.
In addition to this, I felt that this was the very embodiment of all of our humanity, at the same time it also fully embraced the idea that unless we cleave to the popular rerepresentation of a desired perfection, or stereo-type, we would all begin to hate ourselves and our bodies.
I remember working on this little work with great love and tenderness. My assistant was Nancy Thompson, we both fell in love with the work.
The final piece far exceeded my initial understanding of what it is that I thought I was pursuing. It reminded me once again that creativity is indeed a mystery. At one point in time your hand is only a blunt instrument and your sensibility, if you take full control of it, becomes the very problem within the work. It is almost as if one has to release oneself from oneself during the process of the work and yet remain sufficiently in touch with one self in order to fulfill the material realities of the challenge of the work.
I presented the work to the client. She was deeply touched and pleased. She presented the work to the school head mistress.
The subsequent awkwardness of the client returning to me and saying that the work had been rejected as a gift as the slightly overweight subject-matter did not fit the iconic stereo type, the image that the school wished to project into the pubic.
It was one of many unfathomable rejections that I have had to be instructed by in my life.
The client took the work back and it now stands in her garden as mysterious and beautiful as it is. It is only a pity that it does not stand where many young awkward girl children could look and find a degree of affirmation in the simple and profound beauty of that little body.
ANDRIES BOTHA, FEBRUARY 2012