In 2009, William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx were commissioned to make a public sculpture for the City of Johannesburg for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The sculpture is based on a drawing by Kentridge of a woman street vendor—known colloquially as a fire walker—carrying a burning brazier on her head. The eleven-metre-high figure would take her place at the foot of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge on a site formerly used by informal traders and taxi washers, and close to the busy Metro Mall and Taxi Rank.
Eschewing the bronze monumentalism of traditional public sculpture, Kentridge and Marx devised a figure made up of steel plates that resolves into a coherent image from one vantage point only. A pedestrian passing the sculpture has only a momentary view of the striding woman before the sculpture ‘fragments’ into its constituent black and white parts. Fire Walker represents not a grand public office-bearer, but an ordinary citizen whose survival depends on her ability to negotiate often-contested urban terrain.
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