The Light Bulb Moment - The Artist's Concept

My proposal for the memorial to Bessie Amelia Head was for it to take the form of a “tree seat” using the tree at the entrance to the Werde School.

The tree symbolizes permanence and stability. The tree was made part of the memorial by its relationship to the surrounding seat structure.

One of the most permanent and stable parts of Bessie Head’s history was her time at the (then) St Monica’s Diocesan Home for Coloured Girls and the education she received there which afforded her the ability to produce the work for which she is remembered.

The memorial has been designed as a very solid platform base around the tree, built to a height which would make it a comfortable place to sit.

The tree seat would be clad in stone fired terra cotta ceramic pieces. The terra cotta pieces are angular pointed shapes. The way that they are positioned on the seat tries to convey feelings of determination and struggle, perhaps hardship and an overall feeling of being African.

In contrast, a delicate lace-like cloth (made from glass, mirror and glazed ceramics) with an image of Bessie Head in the centre, is seemingly randomly placed onto the terra cotta seat. The idea is that this ceramic lace “cloth” should look delicate, almost so that it could be blown away in the wind any moment.

To me, even though Bessie Head was in many respects a really strong African woman who produced some amazing work, she was, due to the circumstances of her life, also incredibly fragile and delicate. After reading about Bessie Head, and reading her work one gets the feeling that she could have been “blown away” into oblivion at many different stages of her fraught and difficult life.

I feel that the life of Bessie head was one of contrasts, of polar differences which she battled to come to terms with, of different identities and a feeling of never really belonging to any place or community.

I have tried to portray this in the memorial which strives to represent these differences; strength and fragility, permanence and transience, and at the same time to make it something quite beautiful, peaceful and lasting.

back to the Bessie Head memorial page

"I'm an individual. Nobody shall make me ashamed of who I am!"
Bessie Head


In this lesson plan, learners will get a small taste of the power of Bessie Head's writing. They will also be exposed to the great personal suffering she endured, partly as a result of the hurtful ideas about coloured people that were encouraged during apartheid. Head's letters tell us a great deal about the loneliness caused by prejudice.

Lesson plan
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Artwork photo gallery
More images of Bessie's memorial artwork erected at Werda Hoerskool in Hillary, Durban.
Archive photo gallery
'Life in pictures' - these images range from when she was a young journalist to when she was at Serowe, Botswana.