The Light Bulb Moment - The Artist's Concept

As Athol Fugard's friend, Mark Wilby was certain that the last thing the esteemed writer would want was a monument.

"Monuments are generally mute, or propagandistic - neither of which apply to Fugard. So, I view this project not so much as an honouring, but as an opportunity to explore what it is that Fugard does," he says.

"The wonderful thing about site-specific art is that it enables us to explore the ghosts behind the apparently solid wall of place. And therein lies common ground with Fugard's work," Wilby says.

"Athol's plays are generally wrought from personal experience - and none more painfully so than 'Master Harold' ... and the boys."
Wilby references a moment in the play when young Harold, or Hally, recalls flying a kite made for him by his friend and father-figure Sam Semela. Hally shouts: "The miracle happened! I was running, waiting for it to crash to the ground, but instead suddenly there was something alive behind me, at the end of the string, tugging as if it wanted to be free."

But, Wilby says, young Harold's memories are not without complication, and it is these "incidents of shame" forged into the dramatic tension of the play that also see Wilby's kite now snagged on a lamppost.

"Little white boy in short trousers and a black man old enough to be his father flying a kite. It's not every day you see that."
These lines are the inspiration for Wilby's central image in the artwork - a kite, as if made of boxwood and brown paper, like the one Semela made for Hally.

As with every heritage project artwork, Wilby points out, an important consideration was permanence.

"By the nature of the commissions, some works are invariably going to step out of the mould of traditional public sculpture. For me, this was particularly challenging, in that the sculpture is a tribute to the work of Athol Fugard, and to the role of history and remembrance in his drama.

"I was dealing with the most intangible of subjects: memories and emotions - and at the same time, was required to concretise this in a way that is tamper-proof and resistant to decay."

I was dealing with the most intangible of subjects: memories and emotions.

He says the artist's brief urged artists "to think heavy metal, concrete or stone". He adds: "For a sculpture in a public park, near the ocean, this is sound advice. As a result, I'm wrestling with the challenge of levitating stainless steel."

The 80x80cm kite has been fabricated in stainless steel and steel cable, and welded to the existing 4.5m-high lamp post, which is made of metal and painted green.

The cable defines the shape of the kite, over which 1mm stainless-steel sheeting is folded, formed and stressed in the manner of paper or fabric. The 60cm-long tail, made of similar sheeting, is "tied" to the kite and wrapped around the pole, and all the materials have been arc welded into a single entity.

The stainless-steel surface has been treated with variations of texture to add depth and interest to the sculpture.
Today, the St George's Park Tearoom is painted in bright colours. But Wilby sees past them to "the genteel 1940s environment of Mrs [Elizabeth] Fugard's beloved tearoom... and the place where the schoolboy Hally came face to face with bitter truths about himself and about his society".

"Athol's magic is to take those very personal memories and, by creative and cathartic alchemy, to weave a story that resonates through all of us.

"This artwork is about those memories, and all memories. Practical considerations prescribed by the nature of the site forced me to move my ideas away from the surface of the building and, finally, up into the air.

"Frustrating at first, this process led to further confirmation that the work is not about the physical place in the end, but about an intangibility of place - the site of Fugard's memories."


back to the Athol Fugard memorial page

"The moral responsibility of the artist is to keep alive a total awareness of the realities of our time."
Athol Fugard
Athol Fugard
© Sunday Times


Resistance through theatre - Reviews as sources

In this lesson plan, learners will be asked to think about how theatre can speak to people in powerful ways that are not always possible through other media. By reading reviews and assessments of Fugard's plays, learners will appreciate the kind of impact that they had on audiences living under apartheid.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
A selection of images from Athol Fugard’s life and plays.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Get a closer view of the memorial to Athol Fugard in Port Elizabeth’s St George’s Park
Athol Fugard and John Kani
Athol Fugard discusses his relationship with Sam Semela, the inspiration behind the protagonist of ’Master Harold’ … and the boys, with Dali Tambo