Alex Trapani No.4 1997 | | Art in South Africa
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No.4 1997 | Old fort Constitution Hill

The exhibition was held in October of 1997 at the Old Fort in Hillbrow as part of a production titled "No. 4". The production was created and directed by Nan Hamilton.

The cellblocks were long passages with rows of cells facing each other.

The entrance to each cell had a steel door with a credit card sized opening in it. Each cell had three arches making up the ceiling, a single window with bars, shelves with three levels each and vast amounts of graffiti. The walls were painted either grey or green up to eye level and above that, pail yellow. The many layers of paint had fallen victim to damp and neglect.

The artists were given strict instructions that no alterations were to be made to the spaces. No painting, no nails, no changes what so ever. This made the challenge of presenting work in these spaces difficult.

Making work for an exhibition of this nature is tricky because one does not want to subdue the decades of history, mystery and markings that a space of this nature already holds. In fact to enhance these aspects is what the artwork, or works had to achieve. It also becomes a challenge to make sight specific work without forsaking the underlying themes and concepts that one normally works with.

The concept of freedom, in spite of circumstantial bondage, became an important theme to deal with in this project. In other words, one may be in prison but the mind and spirit is free because of a faith in something greater than what the eye can see. In this particular case, the sacrifice made by the innocent Jesus Christ for the sake of freedom, and the injustice of His execution, became important. Over the past 2000 years (and presently) men and women were tortured, beaten, locked up and martyred for going against what they believed was a corrupt and ungodly system. This becomes an important metaphor for the hundreds of people who were innocently locked up in these cells because they challenged a system that was a crime against humanity. They did it for freedom.


In Biblical Numerology the number 8 has incredible spiritual significance for the prison work and is used in work that follows the project.

  • New beginnings. 8 equals number 1 because 7 is the perfect number, a complete number (7 days in the week. On the 7th day He rested).
  • When a covenant was made between two people the animal would be divided in half. They would stand back to back between the two halves of the animal and each would walk around one of the halves completing a figure 8. They would end up facing each other as they completed the 8 and would be covered in the blood.
  • In Jewish tradition, 8 days from a child’s birth he is circumcised signalling the covenant promise that they are god’s chosen.
  • It means, “to make fat”, to “cover with fat”, to “super abound”.
  • One who abounds in strength.
  • Super abundant Fertility, Pregnant, Prosperous.
  • Oil, anointing.
  • Scientists no believe that electrons do not orbit the nucleus, but move around it in a figure 8.
  • 8 is the first three-dimensional number. It is the first cubed number – 2 to the cubed root or 2x2x2=8. Length x breadth x height.
  • The numerical value of the name of Jesus in Hebraic (Jeshua) = 888


Genesis 28: 10 – 15

The story of Jacob’s Ladder. As he sleeps he has a vision of angles ascending and descending a ladder. This happens in Bethel (which means the house of God.)

In verse 18 he took the rock that he used to rest his head on and set it upright as a pillar. He then poured olive oil over it. It became an altar to God. Jacob means, “deceiver”. Later God meets with him again at Bethel but this time Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord. The angel eventually brakes Jacob’s hip and renames him Israel (he who struggles with God).

Jacob was a prisoner to his own deceit.


John 3:19. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light ecause their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” – Jesus Christ.

Light = Truth.

John 8:32. “And you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” – Jesus Christ.

Other symbols: Red wine; Communion glasses; olive oil; relevant numbers

From the perspective of a Christian, a lot can be said and a lot can be questioned about the current circumstances that the human race has created for itself. Using art as a language to communicate Christian thought, Trapani believes that he has got a responsibility to relate what he has heard and experienced. In believing that God is the Creator, there is an ongoing exploration and elaboration on our existence and an attempt to give physicality to that which is unseen and intangible by the natural senses.

Various materials and processes are used to set up a metaphorical language that explores the complexities of the character of Christ and Christian lifestyle. Issues around the relationships between; Spirit and body, God and mankind, the truth and the lie, freedom and bondage, cleansing and infection are important. TRUTH however is a concept of increasing importance and is constantly explored. The Artworks become portholes to understanding Christian truth assisting in seeing past the obvious, the surface, the facts.

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