Pen adds to Braamfontein art


The Pen of Knowledge, the City’s latest artwork, on the corner of Biccard and Leyds streetsThe Pen of Knowledge, the City’s latest artwork, on the corner of Biccard and Leyds streets. A CONCRETE and wood pen, symbolising knowledge, has taken shape in Braamfontein. It is the latest public artwork from the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).

The designers, Sabelo Mthembu and his brother Sibusiso, based the idea for their sculpture on the adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Entitled Pen of Knowledge, the artwork is a 3,5m tall structure, with a solid round concrete base and a pointed nib. It consists of interlaced, plaited teak, a very robust material.

“We saw the pen as something that symbolised knowledge. It is a universal, tangible and accessible item that is associated with knowledge,” says Sabelo.

Thanduxolo Mendrew, the acting chief executive of the JDA, pointed out that this sculpture was a valuable addition to the growing portfolio of public art by young, black artists.

“The JDA’s consistent investment in public art since 2003 has provided opportunities for artists such as Stone Mabunda, Mboya Moroa, Moses Mthembu, Usha Seejarim, Bekizwe Ntanzi, Shepherd Ndudzo, Americo Guambe and Doug Anwar Jahangeer; and through this work we are pleased to introduce Sibusiso Mthembu as the creator of this significant public artwork.”

The brief for the sculpture was open-ended, but it had to relate to travel, as the location is near Park Station, on the corner of Biccard and Leyds streets. The Mthembus – Sabelo designs and constructs wooden furniture and Sibusiso is an architect – brainstormed their idea, and discussed why people move, says Sabelo.

They decided it was because they wanted to get some comfort in life. Once comfortable, they would go to university and seek knowledge. “We work because we have knowledge, which is the springboard of action,” explains Sabelo.

The structure is tilted at an angle, specifically created to illicit interest in passers-by. “If it was vertical, it could be anything, but at an angle, it stands out. You wonder what it is.”

The concrete base has nine radials projecting from it, representing the nine provinces, and people moving between the provinces.

Wood and steel

Sabelo says it was difficult to work with the teak. The wood had to be interspersed with thin steel lacing. “This has never been done before. It is a very unusual marriage of steel and wood,” he explains.

It has been a technically challenging project, but the brothers have enjoyed the using their skills. The nib was particularly challenging, as it is an intricate piece. The project has taken almost five months to complete, and involved an engineer to get the angle of the base correct.

When asked why they chose the pen, Sabelo answers: “We tried to achieve something not too partisan, something timeless, something to show that knowledge and education are important.”

He was aware that passers-by were intrigued by the structure as it rose from the pavement. As it neared completion, they began to recognise it as a pen, and proclaimed it to be a “beautiful object”, he adds.

“We got the reaction we wanted.”

Mendrew said the JDA would “like to see the public art industry in Johannesburg grow into an inclusive creative industry that creates jobs and livelihood opportunities for a wide spectrum of artists”.

“We have seen growing international interest in the public art portfolio that is being created in Johannesburg. Local tour guides are also beginning to offer art tours that showcase the wealth of public art that has been installed across the city,” he added.