Rabbit in Mandela’s ear has to go, say South African officials
The rabbit was secretly added by the artists, Ruhan Janse Van Vuuren and Andre Prinsloo, in lieu of a signature.
Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG — When Nelson Mandela’s sculpture was unveiled at the seat of government in Pretoria after his burial last month, no one noticed one small detail: a bronze rabbit nestled in his right ear.
The Department of Arts and Culture has ordered the removal of the rabbit to restore the dignity of the 30-foot bronze-plated sculpture of South Africa’s first black president.
The rabbit, reminiscent of a Disney character, was secretly added by the artists, Ruhan Janse Van Vuuren and Andre Prinsloo, in lieu of a signature. It was also a comment on the tight deadline to complete the job, according to comments from Prinsloo to the Beeld newspaper; the Afrikaans word “haas” means both rabbit and haste.
“It doesn’t belong there,” said Mogomotsi Mogodiri, a department spokesman. “The statue represents what everyone in South Africa is proud of.”
His department said in a statement that there are discussions on “how best to retain the integrity of the sculpture without causing any damage or disfigurement.”
Translation: Pull the rabbit out of the ear without botching the statue. The giant work stands with arms outstretched, symbolizing Mandela’s devotion to inclusiveness, outside the Union Buildings, where the body of the prisoner who opposed white rule and became South Africa’s first black president lay in state after his Dec. 5 death at the age of 95.
The artists added the “small trademark” after the department denied them permission to add their signatures to the sculpture on the trouser leg of the figure, according to Beeld.
“The time factor was big and at times we had to work hard,” Prinsloo told Beeld, adding that it was too small to be visible to viewers.
Prinsloo told the Mail and Guardian that he was “sorry that such a small thing could cause such a palaver.”
The artists, both experienced bronze sculptors who have worked on sculptures of famous South Africans, did not respond to calls and emails Wednesday.
Paul Mashatile, South Africa’s minister for arts and culture, said the artists had apologized and the apology had been accepted.
Dali Tambo, spokeswoman for Koketso Growth, a culture and tourism-development body that was deployed by the department to commission the sculpture, described the rabbit as a “regrettable” and “senseless prank.” Tambo is the son of Oliver Tambo, the late veteran of the struggle against apartheid.
Dali Tambo said: “That statue isn’t just a statue of a man, it’s the statue of a struggle, and one of the most noble in human history. So it’s belittling, in my opinion, if you then take it in a jocular way and start adding rabbits in the ear.”
He said the artists, who belong to South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority, were selected for their talent but also in part because the project was a multiracial effort in keeping with Mandela’s principle of reconciliation.
He said their signatures could be added on the statue in a discreet place, perhaps on Mandela’s heel.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.