Brenda Fassie statue to return home to Newtown

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Artsvark Presser

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Artsvark Presser

The much-loved Brenda Fassie statue will be returning to the Newtown Cultural Precinct, to occupy a place of honour at the public plaza outside the Market Theatre. The move is supported by public feedback and has been welcomed by the Market Theatre and by the Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Community Development (MMC), Cllr Nonhlanhla Sifumba.

Angus Taylor's life-size bronze sculpture of Brenda Fassie outside Bassline, a music venue in Johannesburg. The Sunday Times commissioned the tribute, which was installed in March 2006. (Photo © Axel Bührmann)
Angus Taylor’s life-size bronze sculpture of Brenda Fassie outside Bassline, a music venue in Johannesburg. The Sunday Times commissioned the tribute, which was installed in March 2006. (Photo © Axel Bührmann)

Previously located outside Newtown’s Bassline (currently Music Factory), the statue was removed for repairs on 11 June 2019, following concerns about its safe-keeping. Consultations then started with stakeholders, members of the creative community and the broader public, to find the most suitable spot for relocating the Brenda Fassie statue. The objective was to find a cultural space that is accessible to the public and protected by local stakeholders.

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The Brenda Fassie Statue is a well-loved, interactive commemoration of an iconic South African musician. Affectionately known as ‘MaBrrr,’ sometimes called ‘The Queen of African Pop’ and the ‘Madonna of the Townships,’ Brenda Fassie’s music and image are well known across the nation, the continent and beyond.

The Brenda Fassie statue is one of the few public art pieces of real, historical women in Johannesburg. Whilst Johannesburg has more statues of women than many other major world cities, the majority are anonymous figures representing an abstract concept, rather than real individuals.

Originally commissioned by the Sunday Herald Times in 2006 to commemorate 100 years of newsmakers and events, the sculpture was one piece in a collection of artworks transferred to the City of Johannesburg and intended to be a gift to the Johannesburg community.

The Brenda Fassie interactive statue receives streams of visitors, including tour groups and students visiting nearby attractions. Each day, many people interact with the statue: sitting next to the singer in the empty chair, created for this purpose, taking photos, posing by singing alongside Brenda or just ‘chilling with Brenda.’

Consultation processes to find an appropriate location included:
● Social media and website coverage;
● Press releases by the Johannesburg Development Agency;
● A public event held on 24 August 2019 to engage in topics around women, public art and Newtown – which included a public board where guests and passers-by were invited to make comments;
● Site visits and exploration of all locations suggested by anyone who commented via the board, email, social media or phone;
● A formal meeting to consult with stakeholders, including the Newtown Improvement District board.

MMC Sifumba said: “The consultative process produced an overwhelming response was that the sculpture should remain in Newtown. When exploring options in Newtown, the most supported location proposed was outside The Market Theatre. We as the City support this solution as it reflects the desires of our residents and other important stakeholders. MaBrrr will always have a place in our hearts, and a home in our City.”

This site is just down the walkway from the Kippies venue and similarly interactive Kippie Moeketsi Statue. Brenda Fassie had a relationship with the Kippies venue and performed there on occasion.

The safety of the sculpture was of key concern in the discussions. The Market Theatre Foundation and Newtown Improvement District have demonstrated that they can provide 24/7 security.

Ismail Mohamed, CEO of the Market Theatre Foundation, felt the new location was appropriate, saying: “With the statue of Kippies Moeketsi already in the Market Theatre Precinct, we wholeheartedly welcome the statue of Brenda Fassie being relocated for our custody in the precinct as well. These two legends speak to two different eras in South African musical history and to two different generations of music lovers, but these two statues in conversation with each other in the precinct will resonate the dynamism of South African culture.”

The artist who created the Brenda Fassie Statue, Angus Taylor, explained that the sculpture was not designed to be a monument, but instead meant to be humble and at street level, so that the public could easily interact with it. The sculptor said that “She belongs to the people, thus public accessibility is key”.

Mr Taylor has agreed that the new location is appropriate for the intended setting for the statue, and he will assist with moving the artwork.

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