Creating this 168m-tall mural in Braamfontein was a hair-raising feat

Hannelie Coetzee's latest work, comprising more than 2,000 salvaged plates glued onto a 10-storey building, celebrates traditions of inclusivity

12 August 2018 - 00:56 By tymon smith
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
'Ndundza' is artist Hannelie Coetzee's largest permanent public artwork to date.
'Ndundza' is artist Hannelie Coetzee's largest permanent public artwork to date.
Image: Hannelie Coetzee

Sunday afternoon in Braamfontein is quiet, free of the bustle that characterises Saturday activity when Joburg's young and trendy descend on the precinct in search of craft beer and food-truck delicacies at the Neighbourgoods Market.

It's the perfect time for artist Hannelie Coetzee and a handful of collaborators to take a sneak peek at the fruit of three months' labour, behind a large tarpaulin draped over City Property's North City House office block.

On the corner of Melle and Jorissen streets, the piece, titled Ndzundza  - a 168m , 10-storey mural - is Coetzee's largest permanent public artwork to date. Ahead of its unveiling on Women's Day, the artist and her team are making final checks to ensure that the lighting rig shows the work to full advantage.

The tarpaulin is slowly pulled up to reveal the mosaic portrait of a regal woman staring north. A few car guards, street kids and passersby are awed by the final product, created from 2,000 plates and other pieces of crockery thrown out by city potteries and ceramics factories.

Coetzee says her work is "very often made from industry waste, so I look out for massive amounts of quite uniform-looking natural waste, like ceramics".

She was inspired to use ceramics when she saw "Liebermann Pottery's waste - the glazing didn't close and you can't use it in the hospitality industry because you can't put it in the dishwasher because germs or whatever get in there. I had my eye on the blue pieces for a long time, probably for like a decade."

The title and inspiration for Ndzundza come from Coetzee's research and interest in the Ndzundza/Nzunza Ndebele people who lived on the highveld in the 17th century. Recent archaeological research into the group's pottery has revealed the incorporation of Zulu and Swazi patterns, indicating their inclusive social practices, which for Coetzee resonate with the attitudes of Braamfontein and her experience of the city as a whole.

The figure's towering hairstyle is a further reference to ideas of inclusivity and the ways in which different generations reflect on and reconfigure their own identities
in relation to history.

Coetzee drew on a Wits graduate student's thesis exploring the hair salons in Joburg and the ways in which traditional hairstyles inspire current trends. The author of the thesis pointed Coetzee in the direction of several hairstyle-trend Instagrammers and Coetzee drew on these to create her portrait's impressive imaginary hairpiece.

Just the glue meeting had 12 experts in the room
Artist Hannelie Coetzee on the technical aspects of creating her new mural

The design was first drawn on paper, then laid out on the ground. Several meetings were held with technical experts. As Coetzee recalls, "just the glue meeting had 12 experts in the room". The adhesive company Tal produced 2.6 tons of special charcoal adhesive for the project and the final technical team comprised "about 40 advisers".

Over the years Coetzee has assembled a team of predominantly female artisans and collaborators and she drew on their expertise for the difficult process of turning her design into the 30m-high urban landscape feature, which will now not only form a distinctive part of the Braamfontein precinct but has inspired the piece's commissioners, City Property, to rechristen the development Nzunza House in its honour.

Coetzee hopes the project will help developers to "realise that if they open up their approach to the arts, they create a lot of opportunities for artists to do ambitious stuff they wouldn't otherwise have the chance to do".

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now