“During the anti-apartheid struggle, arts and culture played a very important role in demonstrating the conditions people lived under, and also their aspirations. There is value in those who are part of history telling the story, but you might miss something precisely because you were directly connected. Li Bin’s massive artwork [on Mandela’s life] represents the element of a needed dispassionate participant.” – David Makhura on Li Bin’s epic A Salute to Mandela painting.
The elected Premier of Gauteng, Mr David Makhura made a sho’t left to the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) to view the 38m long A Salute to Mandela painting by Chinese artist Li Bin on Wednesday, 6 May 2015.
On arrival in the late afternoon at the innovatively designed establishment, the premier was welcomed by the University’s leadership: Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala; Executive Director of Advancement, Mr Milcho Damianov; Vice Dean of FADA and Head of Interior Design, Prof Amanda Breytenbach; Department of Visual Art’s Prof Karen; and Mr Markus Hermann from the Zendai SA Corporation.
During a walk-through of the painting by the artist, Makhura moved casually through the depiction of Nelson Mandela’s life as a Prisoner, President and Peacemaker. “Art is about interpretation,” he joked with the academic entourage. He shared anecdotes of what he could recall from some of the historical events curated in the painting which took the renowned Chinese artist almost two years to complete.
“This is a very impressive work. The story of Mandela has been told by many people in many different ways. Looking at it from an artist’s point of view is a very refreshing representation, and quite impactful. Li Bin has told the Mandela story in a way that it hasn’t been told before by many books that have been written. Many people who have been part of Mandela’s life including those of us who worked with him in the 90s when he came out of prison, would not have told this story this way,” said Makhura.
Li Bin mentioned that UJ’s Prof Ihron Rensburg had met him during the creation of the artwork when he was in Shanghai on an official institutional tour. This was before Madiba passed away. Bin completed the artwork in December 2013, shortly after Madiba’s death as China wanted to use it as a symbolic gift to honour the world icon. The painting is in its last week of exhibition in collaboration with UJ’s Confucius Institute.
The Premier voiced insight on supporting the arts. “Perhaps post-apartheid we are not paying enough attention to the role of art in society. Including investing in the arts. I think sometimes we are investing too much on the concrete and mortar of life, but human beings need more than that. Arts and culture and the spiritual is a very important part of what we are.”
He concluded: “I hope younger generations of South Africa here at UJ can represent the reality and aspirations of a new future which perhaps in writing and speeches, we might not be able to present. They must help us to present the vision of where we want to be in the language of art.”