Our New Constitution is accepting of all races, cultures and religions. It represents the cleansing and healing of a nation through reconciliation and Ubuntu. Ubuntu represents respect and generosity towards all people, “…a sense that my humanity is bound up in your humanity…”
Witness consists of 11 large separate sculptural shapes. Each stand alone and, like South Africa’s many cultures, each are different in their own right and, in their simplicity of form, become part of the landscape they are standing in. They are designed for a large outdoor space to take up about 40 to 50 meters across and the height of the tallest sculpture could be 4/5meters high depening on the site.
As a group, the eleven sculptures show how, in the South African context, our constitution recognises that all contribute to the whole whilst retaining and preserving cultural identities. The witnesses are recognisable as abstract shapes that grow and belong to the environment in which they stand.
At certain and specific times, however, the viewer experiences a change in perspective: The shadows of the seemingly random shapes collectively form the word Ubuntu. Witness visually and powerfully addresses gaps, distortions and biases, and with the recognition of the Ubuntu shadow, the viewer resolves them into a harmonious whole. The experience becomes more meaningful as the shadow of respect and friendship touch all who pass by.
The witnesses all lean at a 30° angle to the ground. This enhances the readability of the shadow Ubuntu, visible when the sun shines at 10 o’ clock daily. This time would be different depending on where the sculptures ultimately find a home. At night, a positioned light will ensure that the word is clearly visible on the floor. The leaning of the work creates a tension in the space and is significant semantically across many cultures. We lean towards each other in friendship. We lean over backwards to accommodate. The World Book Dictionary mentions inclining or bending ‘…in thought, affection, or conduct [and] to lean toward mercy…’ And, tellingly, to ‘…lean on [slang] to put pressure or coercion on…’. This obviously can refer to the huge amount of pressure, nationally and internationally, that was needed for change.
The seemingly arbitrary shapes in the sculptures were initially inspired by kitchen and household implements, because people were tortured and dehumanised by the use of or denial of every day necessities. Yet it is such necessities that help to sustain us in our way of life. Such duality of meaning becomes significant when the artwork is positioned in a sensitive location where a sense of history and humanity are important.
The sculpture also represents both the past degradation of humanity and the present which, through our new Constitution, signify the highest respect towards all people. The individual sculptural witnesses are also representative of our diverse languages (11 official languages) and cultures, different people who collectively are witnesses to our history.
The witnesses stand to acknowledge yet repel acts of violence and inhumanity. They stand in the presence of the new democracy. The coming together of these sculptural shapes form the word that recognises the essence of those people and their achievements for all of us – when standing together, their very differences are what enable them to project in shadow the word Ubuntu.