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‘Ou Hoofgebou’ artwork to celebrate Constitution
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking
Published: 26/08/2020

​​An artwork in celebration of the Constitution of South Africa is being erected at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Ou Hoofgebou (Old Main Building) in Ryneveld Street, Stellenbosch.

The installation comprises three separate metal plates depicting the preamble to the Constitution in three languages (Afrikaans, English and Xhosa). Laser cutting technology was used to excise the words of the preamble on the plates. These are currently being erected at the main entrance to the Faculty of Law.   

The Faculty of Law initiated this project in 2017 as part of SU's visual redress process that aims to add art and symbols to the University's campuses giving effect to the institution's vision of an inclusive institution committed to a transformative student experience, amongst others.

“The Constitution of South Africa, 1996 is the foundation for a democratic and open society and the principle of transformative constitutionalism is a central one in contemporary legal education. The preamble to the Constitution comprises a commitment to a socially just society that is united in our diversity and the portrayal of the preamble at the entrance to our Faculty was therefore considered both appropriate and inspirational," comments Prof Nicola Smit, Dean of the Faculty of Law.

The project itself came into being after a comprehensive consultation process was followed involving, amongst others, the SU Visual Redress Committee, Faculty staff and students and the SU Management, as well as external role-players.

A dynamic experience

The renowned landscape artist, Strijdom van der Merwe, was selected for the design of the project.

“I am extremely proud of being selected to work on the design of the project as I have fond memories of this building," says Van der Merwe, who attended classes in the building as a student in the 1980s. “Due to the Ou Hoofgebou often being used as a visual symbol of the University, I was particularly careful to create a sculpture that would not distract from the front view of the building."

Van der Merwe adds that the collaborative nature of the project makes it special. “We started with a particular idea, but the design went through a number of changes as we received input from various role-players to get to where we are now."

He adds that another dynamic feature of the artwork is that the text from each plate is projected onto the ground as the sun shines through the plates at certain angles and at certain times of the day. “In this way, a dynamic experience is created between the text and the passer-by to 'experience' the preamble as it were."

“Those approaching the Ou Hoofgebou should experience a physical, emotional and even an intellectual reaction when moving through the art installation towards the building or as they leave the premises. The Preamble of the Constitution will therefore act as a physical link between the public space outside the Ou Hoofgebou and the Faculty, whilst symbolising a society anchored in a constitutional democracy," says Smit.

She adds that the faculty's staff and students are very excited about the long-awaited completion of the art installation as well as other visual projects in the Ou Hoofgebou that are in different stages of planning and implementation. 

Comments Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Transformation and Social Impact: “We believe that art installations such as this one will contribute to transforming our spaces to be welcoming, inclusive and increasingly diverse as envisaged in the University's Vision 2040 and Strategic Framework 2019–2024. It creates opportunities to encourage reflection and conversations about lessons from the past and the possibilities of our future as enshrined in our Constitution.

“This process of reflection started in the late 1990's and was again highlighted as a priority during and after the Fees Must Fall protests," says Van Rooi.

“What we want to achieve with this art installation is to contextualise the Ou Hoofgebou as part of our heritage by placing a contemporary work of art, which represents the spirit of our time, next to the classical architecture of the building. SU wants to open a discourse on art at local and national level as part of our visual redress process."

This installation is one of a range of visual redress projects currently underway on SU's campuses.

It is envisaged that the installation will be completed by the end of September. A public launch event will depend on various factors, including the return of students to campus.

  • The Ou Hoofgebou was inaugurated in November 1886. The Faculty of Law, that will celebrate its centenary in 2021, has been housed in the Ou Hoofgebou since its inception in 1921.