• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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The Dying Slave: A mosaic artwork conceived by Marco Cianfanelli, produced by Spier Architectural Arts


 I was in Cape Town South Africa in December 2015 for my Media Fellowship program and one of the places we were lodged was at beautiful Spier, one of the oldest wine farms in South Africa with a recorded history dating back to 1692.

While rooted in this heritage, Spier has a vibrant and conscious energy. The winery is one of the most awarded in the country and the four-star Spier Hotel and meeting facilities offer inspiring Winelands getaways in the tranquillity of nature.

Every time I walked from my room to the conference hall daily, I observed a distinct mosaic artwork that has a look that ‘speaks’ to you. The picture of a struggling man, who has obviously been dealt with by hardship imposed on him by man.

The artwork is actually located at the junction of two prominent pedestrian axes at Spier, between the Spier Hotel and the conference centre. Mirror images of The Dying Slave are installed back-to-back, one a ‘positive’ image and the other a ‘negative’ or photographic inversion of the same image.

I made my enquiries about the artwork and was told that it was conceived by Marco Cianfanelli and produced by Spier Architectural Arts.

Spier Architectural Arts (SAA) specialises in collaborative work with fine artists and architects, producing signature artworks to scale for inclusion in public spaces and architectural structures around the world.

Materials used for the mosaic artwork include limestone, marble, granite, pebbles, industrial glass, porcelain, glass smalti tiles from Italy and hand crafted ceramic elements.

I was also told that ten mosaic artists worked for 5 months (6986 hours) to complete the artwork. Talk about dedication to work and the exquisiteness in the intricate details, completely Amazing!

The 42,6sqm, nine-column mosaic artwork is constructed with 1500kg of material and consists of 225 000 pieces of tesserae (pieces of stone). It was created in contemporary style mosaic (inspired by the Byzantine style).

Records have it that ‘’The Dying Slave’ forms a poignant monument to the history of slave labour on the Cape wine farms during the 17th and 19th Centuries Cianfanelli’s The Dying Slave is a starkly poignant reminder of the uncomfortable truth that the early history of colonialism in South Africa is inherently bound with slavery, with the institution of slavery arriving with the first Dutch settlement of the Cape.

The establishment of a Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope brought with it the institution of slavery and soon this spread to the winelands. Between 1652 and 1807 (when the slave trade was abolished) some 60 000 slaves were brought to the Cape. Approximately one third of these came from Mozambique or the East African hinterland; one third from Madagascar and the remaining third from India and the East Indies.

Long hours of work were marked by the tolling of the farm’s slave bell and men and women were condemned to constant supervision and the psychologically damaging condition of perpetual inferiority. There was no equality before the law and slaves formed the lower layer of a highly stratified society.

As Frederico Freschi, an outstanding curator put it in his opening address at the unveiling of The Dying Slave on the 30th August 2012, “Art and more specifically public art, has the potential to function as a powerful connector, a meaningful and integral part of contemporary public life, helping us to define and expand our common ground.  Art is also a vision of possibilities and potential – this is something that Spier has recognised, and continues to promote in various ways, not least in supporting work of this nature.” This is indeed summarises it all. When next you are in Cape Town, do visit Spier and I promise that among many other fascinating views, artwork and winery, The Mosaic of The Dying Slave is sure to take your breath away!


Kemi Ajumobi