Image: A mosiac of Nelson Mandela created by pupils from St James Preparatory school in Kensington hangs inside the dining area as pupils do their homework.
Picture: Paballo Thekiso
July 2013 l 67 Hours
Ronél assists Usha Seejarim with Mandela Day Project
The Children are crouched on the top stairs of the first floor of St James Preparatory School, pointing excitingly down the steps and into the dining room.
All they can see through the window panels of the closed doors are parts of an enormous artwork. It's their artwork: a magnificent Nelson Mandela mosaic which they made with Usha Seejarim, one of the country's top visual artists. And they are animated and proud.
Until Thursday, the children at school on the border of Kensington were only able to catch a glimpse of it. They had to wait until Mandela Day to see the finished version of a piece which had taken many weeks of imagination and mystery to put together. The children had to cut little pieces of colour to fit into the work designed by Seejarim and when those doors were opened at last, many gasped in delight.
"I wanted to create something that came together collectively, so that individual parts add to the whole." Seejarim says. That was the whole concept behind it. Each child was able to participate on their scale, and the magic of it lay in its coming together. What was amazing about it was what the kids went through emotionally. Here you had this abstract thing, and each one was contributing to a segment of it without knowing where it belonged.
“It was a secret in a sense. The children only got small peeks of it, but not the whole sense of it, right until the end.”
Her bright eyes serious, Grade 1 pupil Amy Muller, 7, breathes in: “Phew. The teachers made us put a lot of work into it. It was very hard work, but it is really beautiful now. I saw where my block was put. It’s by the little girl’s cheek.”
Indeed, each child seemed able to recognise their colour blocks in the picture which portrays Mandela facing outwards, smiling kindly at a young girl who we can see from behind.
“Essentially, each child got a piece of paper with a grid on it containing symbols which matched specific colours. They were given a legend where they had to correlate (or match) the symbol to the colour and fill it in,” Seejarim explains. “I took the image through a technical process involving pixilation, which created a pattern and then cat the image up into about 100 pieces (one for each child in the school). I think some of the teachers got extremely frustrated,” she smiles.
“There were these squares which were quite tiny especially for the little kids. It required quite a level of focus and commitment because it takes long and you can’t see the bigger picture. But to experience it coming together is something incredible.”
Johnson Aladelusi, 9, says the artwork “means something very special because it’s about Mr Mandela”. “He spent a lot of time fighting for our country. We can see that he is a kind gentleman. So even though it was hard work for us to do this, it’s about him, so we liked it.”
Christopher Park, 11, says he was “just speechless and amazed”. Seejarim, who worked on the project with her assistant, artist Ronél de Jager, says the 4m x 2.6m mosaic “captures a kindness in his eyes and a smile on his face, and people are moved by that”.
“It’s wonderful for these children to have got a sense of the intrinsic value of power of art, and for them to be able to know: I am part of it.” St James is a private school. Sanskrit and philosophy are taught at the school.
- Article by Janet Smith. Published by Saturday Star on 20 July 2013.
Image: Ronel de Jager assembling and colour-correcting the Mandela mosaic
Image: Completed Mandela mosaic installed in the dining area of St James School, Kensington, Johannesburg.