October 2, 2017. The Joburg Property Company (JPC), an agency of the City of Johannesburg, invited each of the 134 Totem winners of the Leave a Legacy Totem Project for the Council Chamber to view their work which began as either a story or a drawing. It was carved into a Kiat Totem which is now an integral part of the Council Chambers. The Totems contain the stories of the residents of Johannesburg, told in visual form through the unique creation of these beautifully carved Totems.
The winners circled the Council Chamber looking for their story and the Totem that they inspired. The shouts of joy and laughter was heard throughout the Chamber as their signature was discovered and the look of awe on their faces, told the story of profound pride in their work and being a part of this historical building.
The idea behind the Totems was that of being able to understand the many cultures that make up the city without having a language barrier. Rather to use art as a medium to draw the varied age and culture groups together into one art form, the Totem Pole.
The journey began with all districts being advised and given workshop material to enable them to communicate with their local people and connect with them. Winners were offered R5000 for successful entries and this meant so much to so many. People would tentatively show interest but then start to walk away because they felt that they were not artists and did not stand a chance. Leaders in these communities sat with these people and spoke about their circumstances and through this each was able to draw a unique expression of their communities. Many of these people are the winners.
At a workshop in Mayfair, with mom and her two sons, each of them created a drawing and a story. Her youngest son was only about two or three years old and he would mimic everyone else’s drawing with thick crayons and created a very special abstract piece of artwork.
The stunning yet sad images created by children and how grown up they were, made some of the project leaders weep with despair. One young girl, one of the ultimate winners, took ownership of her artwork in a way that a seasoned artist would and wanted to understand exactly what the next steps were and be involved in this process. Others were just overjoyed and could not believe their artwork would be displayed in those hallowed corridors. Their pride was overwhelming to community leaders and humbling to others.
When some winners were notified they did not believe they had won and when it sunk in most were happy to give it away to those who needed it more ie set up animal shelters, give money to their mothers who had supported them all their lives, study art and donate the money to arts centres in their communities.
Many foundations that became involved in this journey did not know each other and now have the opportunity to network with each other on other projects. Through this project they have also met different members of their communities who hopefully will become familiar faces at their workshops.
In order to represent all seven regions fairly, between 10 and 25 designs were selected per region. These selections were based not only on the total number of entries per region, but on the potential for each design to be translated into a beautiful and relevant totem which represents a community of Johannesburg on many levels, encompassing all ages and demographics.
Every image was treated with great respect. At the same time entrants were consulted on the design translation of their image to create a three-dimensional wooden image. The totems are 2 metres tall, 80cm wide and 200cm deep, so a graphic designer was brought in to re-fashion them slightly to make them fit around the three sides.
The project could be described as “idiosyncratic”, meaning that the challenge has been to find the “right balance in image translation to technical translation, while maintaining an essence of the original intention by the person who made the original drawing”.
134 out of 570 entries were accepted and processed into the beautiful wooden carvings that now have pride of place in the Council Chambers. Each Totem took 16 hours to design, create and carve in brown Kiaat timber before being put in place in the walkway. Each one is signed at the bottom with the name of the artist and each Totem tells their story of life in Joburg.
It was fitting that the competition for those Totems commenced over Heritage Day in 2016. These Totems were once again in the spotlight when the JPC was listed as a finalist in the prestigious BASA(Business and Arts South Africa) annual awards ceremony held on 17 September 2017 at the Nirox Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Humankind.
Over the centuries, one of the most important ways culture has been celebrated and transferred, is through the visual arts. And the Council Chamber Totems which are now in full view of the public and the councillors, do just that on a daily basis.
The winners that attended and received their certificates of ownership, were overjoyed and could not believe their artwork would be displayed in those hallowed corridors. Their pride was overwhelming to community leaders and humbling to others.
With this colourful palette of history and culture as a backdrop, participants in the art competition were able to draw on and express their personal Joburg experiences, perspectives and heritage.
In the spirit of Ubuntu, the selected artworks were each awarded with R5000, but the greatest prize that could have been given, was the overwhelming sense of pride in seeing their work memorialised.
Each artist rushed to find their signature as it was the first time they had seen their story set in a Totem and their sense of awe was evident. From youngest to oldest, the ran their hands along the beautifully carved Kiat Totem, feeling the story come to life as it had when they first wrote or drew it.
Visitors to the Council Chambers are now able to enjoy the experience of walking the circular floors of the Chamber, complimented by the towering 2 metre high totems framing magnificent city views. Each totem carries the name of the artist at the bottom of the piece.
The Totem Art Competition praises the honoured traditions of the citizens of Johannesburg and the contributions they have to the City. When the competition kicked off, JPC invited residents to take part in leaving a lasting legacy. And collectively, they have certainly done just that.
A totem pole carving symbolizes or commemorates personal stories that recount familiar legends or notable events. As such, totems were selected as a symbol to epitomize the people’s stories of hope, happiness, sadness, struggle of every day life in the hustle and bustle of the city of Joburg.
The newly completed Council Chamber rises above Joburg as a constant reminder that those who take their seat in these chambers, represent those in the city that sweeps around them. The walkway that surrounds the Chamber was the perfect place to utilize 134 totems in order to remind those who use the space, that their decisions will affect the people of Joburg.
For more information please contact:
Telephone 010 219 9022
Website: www.jhbproperty.co.za, twitter handle @jhbproperty
Facebook: Joburg Property Company, Instagram: jpc_prop
Linkedin: City of Joburg Property Company