Wim Botha

4 January, 2013

Spier' s Artist Patronage Programme is designed to give intensive support over an extended period to artists we judge to be exceptional and who we believe could greatly benefit from the creative freedom that the programme provides.The first artist to participate, Wim Botha was able to use the programme to create the sculpture 'Mieliepap Pieta' (2004), which still enjoys exposure at international museums six years after it was created.

Botha was born in 1974, graduated from the University of Pretoria in 1996, and currently lives in Cape Town. He has received a number of prestigious awards, winning the prize for best artwork at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in 2001; being named festival artist at the KKNK in 2003; sharing the first annual Tollman award with Churchill Madikida in 2003; and winning the Standard Bank Young Artist award in 2005.

In 'Mieliepap Pietá' Botha re-created a mirrored replica of one of the best-known works of Christian religious sculpture by Michelangelo. What sets Botha' s Mieliepap Pietá apart from Michelangelo' s original is that it is sculpted out of maize meal, a staple of many South Africans' diets. The original Pietá amassed so much importance that it has become an ideology in itself: the ideology of "good art." It remains almost unchallenged and is, of course, carved from marble – a medium largely reserved for religious or elite applications. In re-creating Michelangelo' s Pietá in maize meal, Botha invites the viewer to question the meaning behind this loaded icon. Maize meal is very cheap to purchase but is incredibly valuable as it meets the dietary needs of millions of people every day. As far as meeting the everyday needs of the masses, marble is insignificant as well as a non-essential luxury.

By choosing a material such as mieliepap, Botha also draws parallels to our complex South African history. In Michelangelo' s Pietá, Mary is holding the lifeless body of her son, Jesus, after the crucifiction. This imagery echoes the iconic South African photograph of Hector Pieterson being carried away during the Soweto uprising. When considered in the light of one another, Mieliepap Pietá begins to shed its specific religious context and becomes instead a universal icon for tragic human experiences.

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