Text by Nokukhanya Khumalo
In 2017, the North-West University came to the conclusion that there was a need to have an artwork that would be placed all over the three campuses, which are Vaal, Mafikeng, and Potchefstroom. The North-West University sent out a public artwork open call in 2019 for design proposals from artists. The strategic intent behind this was that there was a need to demonstrate a shared purpose and values in accordance with the North-West University’s mission to unite the three campuses. Having spent the better part of the last two years in a pandemic, on my return to campus in 2022, I was surprised to see that there had been a new sculpture on the Potchefstroom campus. Obviously, the sculpture did not appear from nowhere… It had been there for quite some time.
The last time I was on campus was in 2020. The sculpture was wrapped up, so one could argue that this sculpture is not new. The sculpture is located on the grass in front of the Frans Du Toit building. It looks at the Solomon Tshekisho sculpture that is situated across the financial building on the Potchefstroom campus. The Frans Du Toit building is the language building. In 2020, I still had French as a module, and I would often pass it by without giving it any attention. So when I returned to campus this year, it felt like I was seeing it for the first time as it was finally unwrapped and erected. It took a moment to take the structure in, as it stands tall and is quite large. At first glance, one can get overwhelmed and intimidated by it as it feels as though it is hovering over you.
I did not understand the significance of the sculpture, but I felt as though this sculpture was commissioned to convey some sort of meaning. Having seen some of the preliminary sketches, I got some confirmation on what I had felt. The structure is made from a multitude of connected steel tubes as well as some perforated plates. These come together to form a sculpture that imitates a Vachellia and an eagle. The symbolism in Vachellia is quite fitting given that the sculpture is located at a university. A Vachellia is an African Acacia tree. Trees are often associated with strength as well as growth. Vachellia are no different. They are a symbol of regeneration, perseverance, and integrity.
When looking at how the North-West University has been on a mission to integrate all three campuses into one, this serves as a perfect symbol of that unity. The university has a desire to grow and develop, it serves as a place for students to plant their own seeds and grow from the different things that they learn. This sculpture was given the name Perch (2021), which is a seat or other place that is high up and at times offers a great view of something below. The trunk of the Vachellia is thick, so it is symbolic of the solid foundation that the university offers to students. It then expands into branches that house a canopy, this shows one that the university also offers a place where students can branch out and explore different facets of themselves within the grounds of the university. Perch (2021) is symbolic of what the North-West University stands to offer students, for some it is an insight into what the world has to offer, for others the university offers a chance at being something great. Perhaps students will become someone who is admirable, like the structure itself.
Michele Mathison was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1977. He works with a multitude of materials as well as various found objects, which he reconstructs to highlight their multifaceted symbolic values. Mathison’s interest extends to sources from pockets of lived experiences, as found in the spaces in which people work, eat, and socialise.