The light bulb moment: The artist’s concept
Donovan Ward was a young boy at the time of the D’Oliveira saga, but his memory was jogged when asked to commemorate the cricketer, writes SUE VALENTINE.
ON the whitewashed wall outside Newlands cricket ground a sheet of oxidising metal with a hole punched through it by a bronzed cricket ball commemorates a shameful incident that shone a spotlight on apartheid’s interference in sport.
Artist and sculptor Donovan Ward was barely six years old when the event took place, but like many South Africans - and Capetonians in particular - he knows the story of how the National Party government withdrew its invitation to the English touring team because of the inclusion of a black South African, Basil D’Oliveira, in their squad.
After he accepted the Sunday Times commission, Ward spoke with his father who remembers Bo-Kaap-born D’Oliveira as not only as a gifted cricketer but a talented soccer player too. Further reading and research provided the fuller story of D’Oliveira’s decision to pursue a cricketing career in England because the racist policies of the South African national cricket selectors denied him the same opportunity as his white countrymen.
Asked about his concept for the Basil D’Oliveira artwork, Ward says what informed him was the notion of sport breaking down boundaries and the role of sports activists in helping to change the system. "I was also thinking about the playing of sport and people meeting each other and getting to know one other," says Ward.
"In the artwork I focused on the role sport can play in breaking down barriers or boundaries and making the seemingly impossible real," says Ward.
The design comprises a sheet of metal, a ball and a chain. Although Ward has not worked in metal before, he says he chose the medium because it’s durable and because it’s seen as something that is hard to penetrate.
Ward chose corten steel for the metal sheet, an all-weather steel that doesn’t corrode like ordinary mild steel which continuously breaks down as it oxidises. Ward says at some point, "after a couple of years", the oxidisation on the surface will stabilise and there will be no further corrosion.
"I work a lot around fragmentation, things breaking down, so I think there is a thread to my other works, it’s just that the material differs," he says. "But cutting into metal, this is a first for me."
The jagged hole in the steel plate was cut by laser, as were the crack marks that have been lightly scored in the metal, and which Ward has painstakingly etched deeper with a pencil grinder.
"As the plate oxidises, before it stabilises, it will undergo a change in colour. It will deepen and become quite dark. A crust will form and that can hide the cracks and start filling them in, that’s why it’s important I cut deeper with the grinder."
For the ball and chain image Ward used a cricket ball attached to a stainless steel chain.
"I first made a positive in which I used an actual cricket ball, mounted that to a base and inserted a link into the ball. Then I sent it to a foundry, they made a mould, then a bronze casting of the cricket ball mounted onto the base plate," says Ward.
The focal point of the metal sheet is the hole at the centre, created by the bronze cricket ball "punching through", but which remains wedged in the hole. Clamped to the cricket ball and hanging down the length of the metal is a stainless steel chain that is fixed firmly to the sheet.
The artwork is a simple structure bolted onto the wall next to the ticket office at the Campground Road entrance to Newlands cricket ground. As time passes and the process of oxidisation and weathering takes its toll, the whitewashed wall below the work will take on some of the artwork’s colouring.
"You can expect a few rust stains," says Ward with a wry grin.