The Lightbulb Moment: The Artist's Concept

Artist Stephen Maqashela created the sculpture of Lilian Ngoyi's sewing machine, with an ANC blouse lying next to it, in the yard of his Alexandra home, where it became a local talking point.

"People kept coming to my house, especially the elderly who told me about her and what she did. They said she was brave and a good public speaker," he says.

Maqashela knew little about the struggle in the South Africa of the '50s, but making the artwork took him back to those times. "I felt like I was there."

Maqashela has always known of Ngoyi as a South African hero, one of the women who led the women's protest march to Pretoria in 1956. But until he was confronted with the Sunday Times Heritage Project commission, he was not aware of the close to 18 years she spent under house arrest.

He was fascinated by the idea of Ngoyi "earning money through sewing until her death". He decided creating a sewing machine was the best way to commemorate her. He said he didn't need to look at pictures of sewing machines - his mother is a dressmaker and fashion designer.

People kept coming to my house, especially the elderly, who told me about her and what she did. They said she was brave and a good public speaker.

First he went to Ngoyi's house in Mzimhlophe, Soweto, where he noticed the fence had been painted in the ANC colours, which were now fading, and was told it had been like that since she before she died. So he decided to repair and update the fence and incorporate it in his artwork.

Maqashela used car parts to represent Ngoyi's industry: a pick-up's differential came to represent a sewing machine (which he painted bronze), and a car's oil sump was painted in ANC colours to represent the blouses Ngoyi sewed at her home for ANC Women's League members.

The result was a fence one metre high and 65 metres in circumference, comprising all these objects.

Many passers-by do not realise it is a sculpture and see it simply as an unusual fence. "Some people say they have not seen a fence like this before," said Maqashela.

The artwork can be seen at 9870 Nkungu Street, Mzimhlophe, Soweto.

Stephen Maqashela was interviewed by Gillian Anstey


back to the Lilian Ngoyi memorial page

"I am hoping with confidence that, before I die, I will see change in this country."
Lilian Ngoyi
Lilian Ngoyi at her sewing machine.
Picture: © Bailey’s History Archive


Personal letters as historical sources

Working with personal letters is an excellent way of encouraging learners to want to know about people and events in history. They can potentially create an emotional empathy with people who lived in the past.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
Images from the public and private lives of Lilian Ngoyi.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Friends and relatives of Lilian Ngoyi gather for the unveiling of Stephen Maqashela’s artwork.
Audio Archive
A gripping documentary on Lilian Ngoyi’s life and times.
Take a 360° tour of the artwork at Ngoyi's home on Nkungu Street, Soweto.
Audio Slideshow