A towering 2.2m sculpture of a Rastafari priest will soon stand proud at the entrance to Judah Square in Concordia, Knysna.
The artwork is by local ceramist and Rastafarian Eugene Lewis and is his first statue of this scale.
The sculpture will mark the first installation in a series of new interactive public artworks currently underway as part of the #KnysnaArtProject.
With hands posed in the traditional diamond-like gesture, a symbol of the Seal of Solomon, the giant likeness of Haile Selassie will welcome guests to Judah Square – home to the biggest community of Rastafarians in southern Africa.
Born in Paarl in 1977, Lewis moved to Knysna with his mother and siblings at age seven to settle in Hornlee, where he still lives with his family, including two teenage children.
Having completed matric in 1997, Lewis found himself in the workshop of Tribal Africa – a small ceramics studio in Knysna that was producing handmade figurines wearing traditional Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swati dress to sell to tourists.
“I knew nothing about pottery, but when I saw the clay that day, I fell in love with it all… the fact that you can take it in your hands and craft something beautiful.”
It wasn’t long before Lewis became a full-time craftsman, handcrafting figurines to be sold in curio shops countrywide.
As his skill evolved, Lewis began working on his own designs, fine-tuning his skills with each new creation.
In 2010, he claimed Tribal Africa as his own when he was selected for the municipality’s small business incubator programme.
With ownership of the business came the freedom to focus on developing his own unique style – a signature look that characterises and unifies the Tribal Africa range of figurines.
Each one is now moulded by his hands, kiln-fired under his watchful eye, painted and glazed to be individual in its own right.
“I have returning customers who buy a different figurine from me each time they visit SA.”
Lewis described the art project as enabling him to be “living my higher heights”, a Rastafarian expression for complete happiness.
“This statue is a tribute to our god Haile Selassie, but it is not intended to be an exact likeness. Selassie never wore dreadlocks but they are hugely symbolic in our faith [hair which is uncut symbolises a covenant with God] so I asked Brother Maxi, the community elder, for permission to include them on the likeness.”
Helping Lewis tackle the challenge to upscale his 30cm-tall figurines into a 2.2m statue was established South African artist and sculptor Suzanne du Toit.
Born in Pretoria, Du Toit was a student of art at the City of London Polytechnic and specialised in sculpture at the University of Pretoria.
No stranger to large-scale artworks, Du Toit was commissioned to create artwork for upmarket hotels and casinos, including The Carousel, Swakopmund Casino, the Windhoek Hotel, Sandton Towers, Michelangelo Hotel, Emperors Palace and Montecasino.
Constructing the giant Rastafarian statue was no easy feat. The process involved welding an inner structure, or armature, outof steel, then covering it in chicken wire.
The inside was filled with polyurethane to cut down on the amount of cement used and the weight of the sculpture.
Judah Square developed when the municipality allocated a specific portion of land to the local Rastafari in 1993, giving title deeds and subsidised dwelling to the community.