South African President Jacob Zuma unveiled this huge statue of Nelson Mandela in December 2013, in an emotional ceremony eleven days after Mandela’s death. Within weeks, the local media reported that the bronze Mandela had a rabbit in his ear.
Mandela’s grandson Mandla Mandela (l) and South African President Jacob Zuma at the unveiling.
In May 2013 South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture commissioned Koketso Growth, a cultural heritage and tourism development company, to design, produce, and install a large statue of Nelson Mandela.
At that time Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president after 27 years in apartheid prisons, was about to turn 95 and was in poor health.
Koketso selected South African sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, and the men began work in July 2013.
Only five months later, the 30-foot statue was unveiled on the spot in front of the Union Buildings where Mandela was inaugurated in 1994, after winning the country’s first democratic election.
A few weeks after the statue’s unveiling, a keen-eyed viewer with a binoculars (or a long lens) noticed a tiny bronze rabbit inside Mandela’s ear.
Source: Associated Press
When asked about this unauthorized addition, the artists explained that they had asked to etch their signatures on the sculpture’s trousers, but that the government had denied their request. DAC spokesman Mogomotsi Mogodiri said he didn’t recall that the artists had ever asked to sign the sculpture.
Dali Tambo, chairman of Koketso Growth, the company that erected the 4.5 ton statue, said there had never been plans to add a signature, but the artists’s names would have been placed on a nearby plaque.1
Prinsloo and Janse van Vuuren told a local newspaper that the rabbit was a “small trademark” of their work, pointing out that they had labored under a tight deadline, and the Afrikaans word for rabbit is haas, which also means haste.
They also noted that Mandela loved children and had a sense of humor, so they believed that he would have enjoyed the rabbit.
Source: AFP Photo/STRINGER Art Daily
The representatives of the arts agency and Kotseko Growth failed to see the humor in the clandestine addition. “It is regrettable that the artists chose this way of expressing their opinion about not signing the sculpture,” said Tambo, calling the secret addition a “senseless prank.”2
Mogodiri told the BBC, “We don’t think it’s appropriate because Nelson Mandela never had a rabbit on his ear.”3
In response to the controversy, the artists apologized to the government and Mandela’s family. “We accept their apology and that their intentions were honourable,” Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mahatile said.4
“I am sorry that such a small thing could cause such a palava,” Prinsloo said later. “It was just a hidden signature.”5
The rabbit is gone now, apparently.
André Prinsloo (1956- ) A former university art lecturer, Prinsloo has been a full-time artist since 2012. He specializes in contemporary figurative sculptures modelled in wax or clay and then cast in bronze or fiberglass.
Ruhan Janse van Vuuren (1981 – ) Pretoria-based Janse van Vuuren’s figurative sculptures explore themes including “South African Culture, subculture, deconstruction, and black humour informed by his interest in the Philosophy of the Absurd.” http://2018.hermanusfynarts.co.za/artist/ruhan-janse-van-vuuren/
Material: Bronze, with a stainless steel armature
Size: 9 meters high (29.5 feet)
Location: In front of Union Buildings, Pretoria, South Africa
South Africa orders Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren to remove rabbit from Mandela statue, Art Daily, Jan 23, 2014.
Koketso Growth website; Projects.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner, Why is there a Rabbit inside the Ear of This Mandela Statue?, The Atlantic, Jan. 22, 2014.
Glynnis Underhill, #Savetherabbit on Mandela sculpture, says Twitter, Mail & Guardian online, Jan. 22, 2014.