War Museum Art Collection: 100-year anniversary of the National Vrouemonument Bloemfontein - 2013
Anton van Wouw`s Vrouemonument commemorates the suffering of the 27,000 Boer women and children who died in British concentration camps during the Boer War. The monument`s central bronze group depicts two sorrowing women and a dying child. This mournful image is taken from an account of the Springfontein camp written by Emily Hobhouse, the famed social worker who brought many of the injustices of the Boer War to the world`s attention.
In her speech for the unveiling of the monument on the 13th Dec 1913, Hobhouse linked the sculpture to its subjects:
For this monument is a symbol... I have been privileged to watch its creation. I noted its conception in the sculptor`s thought, I saw its first issue in the common day; moulded by his hand... at length chastened to his mind and meet for the supreme ordeal, it was cast into the pit of burning metal whence issued the perfected work. Even so did Destiny, the mighty Sculptor, like clay in his hands, take those simple women and children from their quiet homes, mould and chasten them through the successive stages of their suffering, till at length, purified and perfected to the master-mind by the fierce fire of their trial, they passed from human sight to live forever a sacred memory in your land. So too does my glass sculpture reference the bronze women in Van Wouw`s work.
Just as the bronze was cast in the burning pit, so was the glass melted in the fire of the kiln before issuing forth as the `perfected work`.
The making of the sculpture
The body and head were hydrocut from 8mm optiglass.
The arms and bonnet were hand cut by machine and fashioned in the glass kiln.
For the skirt I used a mixture of original broken glass recovered from the site, and other old glass that I have collected from around South Africa over the years.
The larger pieces of this glass were fired in the kiln to a temperature of 300 degrees celsius before being plunged into a bucket of cold water. This enabled me to easily smash the glass into smaller pieces.
The broken bits of glass were then fused in the kiln in the shape of a skirt.
The face was engraved onto the glass and then inked up using Charbonnel printing ink.
Glass: A reflector of human suffering
The fragility of glass echoes the fragility of the human mind and body.
The ductility that allows glass to assume complex forms mirrors the human body`s complexity and near infinite variability.
The reflective property of glass creates a reflective space leading and allowing the viewer to re-imagine the horrific experiences of the women and children, to reflect on the incurable wounds and at times total destruction of those who were involved.
The glass skirt, itself composed of shattered fragments of occupying British soldiers` abandoned beer bottles and plundered glass artefacts found at the site and in the surrounding area, symbolises the shattered lives of all the women and children who were incarcerated in the camps, and, more generally, all victims of war.
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