New art installation a homage to Constitution

Stellenbosch University unveiled a new artwork by the artist Strijdom van der Merwe in front of the Ou Hoofgebou depicting the institution’s commitment to unity and nation-building.

Christened The Preamble Art Installation, the artwork comprises three separate metal plates depicting the preamble to the Constitution of South Africa in three languages (Afrikaans, English and Xhosa). Water cutting technology was used to excise the words of the preamble on the plates.

De Villiers said the University was on a journey of renewing its institutional culture. This includes taking a fresh look at what is visually apparent in the spatial layout, visual iconography and visible symbolism on its campuses.

Prof Nicola Smit, Prof Wim de Villiers and the artist Strijdom van der Merwe in front of the Preamble Art Installation. Image: Henk Oets

“We want to unite the University community with symbols that heal the wounds of the past and help us move forward together. And this installation is part of that ongoing process,” said Stellenbosch University (SU) Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers at the launch of the artwork.

“This art installation will serve as a constant reminder of that framework, a constant reminder that we’ve come a long way, a reminder that our country is a better place and so is our University. But that does not mean we have arrived. To the contrary. It is our task to protect the Constitution and make sure the promises it contains are realised.  Social justice, human rights, quality of life, unity – whether in the country or at our university – the attainment of these ideals remains work in progress. So, we have our work cut out for us … literally!”

The 134-year-old Ou Hoofgebou building houses the Faculty of Law of SU.

Prof Nicola Smit, Dean of the Faculty of Law, said the project was initiated in 2017 as part of the broader visual redress process of the University.

“Discussions started even before the #Feesmustfall student protests, but the need for more urgent progress with this process was certainly underlined by students during these protests.

“Our memories of the past together with this new visual reminder of the aspirations of the people of South Africa, provide us the opportunity to use memory – past and present, individual and collective − to establish, maintain and foster our relations with all people in an inclusive and reflective manner.

 “From the start, it was important that The Preamble of the Constitution will act as a physical link between the public space outside the Ou Hoofgebou and the Faculty of Law, symbolising a society anchored in a constitutional democracy and the importance of access to justice and the realisation of social justice for all.”

 The artwork, designed by well-known landscape Artist Strijdom van der Merwe who designed the work says “Forty years ago I was a first-year Philosophy student in this very building and I would never have thought that I would make a contribution to transformation at Stellenbosch through my art.”

He said dynamic features of the artwork include its transparency and ability to reflect the changing seasons.

The work is one of a range of visual redress projects currently underway on SU’s campuses.