Pretoria High School for Girls (PHSG) launched an art installation "Cry of the Iris" consisting of over 2000 folded origami flowers in protest of women's rights abuses on Friday 19 April 2013. The installation comprises of letters, drawings and slogans by pupils about how they felt about women's rights and abuse against women. Each letter has been carefully folded into exquisite flowers such as irises, lilies, roses and water lilies by the girls and PHSG staff in a way that the messages and drawings are visible. These origami flowers were planted into the ground to create a field of meaningful messages witnessed by PHSG staff, learners, parents and the public.
The idea for the project began in 2012 through the screening by the Amnesty International Club of the documentary, Ai Wei Wei, and the Radio 702 "Stop Rape" campaign. In South Africa, two and a half million rapes take place annually, which is one every few seconds. Of the approximately 52 000 reported cases in 2009, only about 4 000 guilty verdicts were pronounced. Less than 0,2% of rapists were found guilty.
Jacqui Greenberg, the Head of the Art Department at the school, states that it is their vision for the project to travel to other schools and for the message to grow into something bigger and continue throughout the country. She plans to take the project to the Venice Biennale in June this year. She also aims to collaborate with other schools and aspires to create a larger project at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Women's Day this year.
Deputy Minister of Tourism, Ms Tokozile Xasa, who has a daughter at the school, said that it was an amazing project for girls to use art to communicate an important message. The flowers carefully planted by each PHSG pupil showed a unified voice. Xasa stated that the many voices will help to spread the message so that people will listen and make a difference.
Rhani Fondse, a pupil at the school, said that the project should raise awareness for women and mothers as "carriers of the next generation". Grade 9 pupils, Gift Baloyi and Meja Schoeman, said the letters were a way for them to show support to women who have gone through the trauma of rape and abuse. They said the project was a way to give exposure to the issues especially at girl's schools.
The "Cry of the Iris" project aims to promote a culture of human rights through the empowerment of young people and the active participation of all members of the school community in integrating human rights values and principles into every day of school life. Jabu Tugwana, human rights education officer at Amnesty International, said the project is a demonstration of what young people can do. Pretoria Girls High School is the first human rights friendly school in Pretoria and the project leaves an important legacy in the promotion of human rights. Amnesty International hopes to assist PHSG in spreading the project to other schools through their distribution network, locally and internationally and inspire them to do something of their own, building on what PHSG has begun.
Photographs by Rupert de Beer.