The Light Bulb Moment - The Artist's Concept

By Gillian Anstey

"I thought the best homage I could give to a figure as significant as Duma Nokwe was a portrait. It's also a way of diminishing the ego of the sculptor," says Lewis Levin, who decided to use his signature medium, the light-filtering screen, to create Nokwe's portrait. The idea was "almost to produce a photographic image that is a ghost. When we die we become ghosts. A ghost is a beautiful name for an invisible person... We live among ghosts."

Levin says he looked at a photograph of Nokwe and was moved by the white of his eyes, the light on his forehead, his open mouth, his quiet dignity - "all of those things spoke to me". The base of the portrait would serve as a doorway, what Levin refers to as "the door that Nokwe couldn't go through physically".

Levin thought about interpreting Nokwe's photograph as a series of dots, stripping away as much information as possible from the picture, "so it filters the light, becomes a screen, and, at the same time, a portrait, an urban image". He reconfigured the image on the computer, before cutting the plate, which is a pixellated version of the negative. "The negative reverses light and dark, so that the light coming through creates the image, making a photograph out of steel," he says.

About two metres tall, the artwork is a flat metal structure incorporating the image of Duma Nokwe's face using laser-cut holes in metal.

Installed outside the Johannesburg High Court on Pritchard Street, it immediately attracted attention from passers-by. Levin says it was very moving to visit the memorial with Advocate George Bizos, Nokwe's widow and other members of his family. "It was like they were at a doorway, moving back into history. The occasion became like an unveiling, and the artwork does have the proportions of a memorial stone," he said.



back to the Duma Nokwe memorial page

"We have fought for years to get one of ours into the Bar. Are we now going to lose that over a cup of tea?"
Walter Sisulu on Duma Nokwe
Duma Nokwe, left, and Robert Resha
Picture: © Bailey’s African History Archive


Minutes of meetings as historical sources

This lesson plan demonstrates to learners why minutes of meetings are good sources of historical evidence. Learners can also learn the valuable skill of taking minutes.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
A selection of images of Nokwe’s life before he fled South Africa to escape the threat posed by the apartheid authorities.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Nokwe’s widow, Tiny, and George Bizos reunite at the memorial outside the Johannesburg High Court.
Take an illuminating 360° degree tour of the Nokwe memorial outside the Johannesburg High Court on Pritchard Street.
Audio Slideshow