Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world – Nelson Mandela, 1994
The words of Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech still reverberate 20 years later. In 2004, they served as the inspiration for the title of a poignant work by South African artist Ann Marais — Never Again!…? — which will be auctioned in Cape Town at Stephan Welz & Co.’s Fine Art and Design Auction on Tuesday, 10 June.
Never Again!…? is a sculptured porcelain clay work in a Perspex box: the scene set in Room 1026, the notorious interrogation room on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, where numerous detainees ‘jumped’ to their death while in detention. The sale of this powerful piece of art happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Rivonia Trial verdicts and sentencing, which took place on 11 and 12 June respectively, in 1963.
A finalist in the 2004 Brett Kebble Awards, Never Again!…? was made 10 years into South Africa’s democracy and serves as a stark reminder of one particular horror of the apartheid regime whilst also offering a cautionary warning. In the work, two interrogators look towards the open window in a moment of suspended time, the upturned chair in front of the window suggesting a struggle and creating a powerful tension and sense of absence of the third person.
“The question mark at the end of the title Never Again!…? is significant,” says Ainsley Taylor of Stephan Welz & Co’s Ceramic Department. “The artist feels civil society needs to be ever-vigilant in protecting a free and democratic society. The transparent Perspex box is symbolic: not only is transparency essential, but truth will also always be exposed.”
Months after completing the sculpture, Marais was listening to the radio when she heard about a book called Timol: A Quest for Justiceby Imtiaz Cajee. The book tells the story of Timol, who plunged ten stories to his death in 1971 at John Vorster Square. Killed by ‘defenestration’ – being teasingly dangled and dropped from a high police window – he was immortalized through his own death with the chilling term that Security Police would use to mock his fate: “Indians can’t fly.”
Marais tells of how she rushed to the book store to purchase the book as soon as she heard about it. “When I saw the cover of the book I burst into tears as that anonymous open window in a building was exactly my sculpture – what synchronicity, what transference of human intuition there seemed to be by my sculpture and then the publishing of this book. It amazed me as I knew nothing of this particular man, Timol. I wish my sculpture could be a small recognition of his suffering and that of his relatives and all those who suffered such a tragic fate,” said Marais.
Cape Town-based artist Ann Marais has been a full-time ceramic artist, potter and sculptor since 1977. Her evocative figurative work explores the interior landscape of the human psyche, and is also used as a platform for social and political comment. Marais has exhibited widely in South Africa as well as Italy, France, New Zealand and Hong King, and has works in museums both locally and abroad.
Never Again!…? was purchased by its seller directly from the Brett Kebble Art Awards exhibition in 2004. It is currently valued at R 20 000 – R 35 000.
The Stephan Welz & Co. Fine Art and Design Auction will take place on Tuesday 10 June at The Great Cellar, Alphen Estate, Alphen Drive, Constantia. Pre-auction viewing is open to the public at no charge, daily from Wednesday 4 June – Sunday 8 June, 10h00 to 17h00 daily.
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