By Carol Brown
Last year Palestinian farmer Salman al Nabahin, in an attempt to see why his olive trees were not rooting , dug into the ground and unearthed a colourful mosaic depicting birds and other animals, which dates from the fifth to seventh century. This became global news and, together with other recent excavations featuring mosaics, has been highly publicised internationally. We have a yearning to know about how life was before the age of global communication and these mosaics have given us pictures of daily life and the flora and fauna existing centuries ago.
The famous city of Pompeii is one of the best known examples as the entire city in Italy suffered from a volcano erupting and is today a great attraction. The date of the mosaic fluctuates around the 3rd century BC, when the city and its inhabitants were frozen for all time. These have helped historians make sense of our past.
Disasters often produce great art and the pandemic of 2020 will go down in history as did various plagues over several centuries. We have all suffered the losses during the recent Covid pandemic and its impact has a far reach. The Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg took the initiative to commission an artwork which the artist produced in the latter days of the pandemic producing a joyful tribute to life and a new awakening after the previous years of dark days.
Bronwen Findlay, a well known and respected artist was commissioned to design and create a mosaic artwork on the gallery’s garden outdoor wall. She is well known as a painter, printmaker, mosaic artist and teacher. This commission was done during seven months starting from March to September 2022. Findlay was the team leader of 5 artists : Alex Shabala, Moses Mosikidi, Gavaza Mthombeni, Simba Mgeda, Sindiswe Moyo.
The preparatory work was done in her Joburg Brixton Studio where the design was worked out on large sheets of paper laid on the floor and in the garden. Once the design was finished the template was taken to the gallery where it was fixed on the courtyard wall and the work of laying the mosaics commenced. The completed size of the mosaic is 45 sq metres.
On entrance we are met with a burst of nature on the walkway – local bird life, butterflies, birds, bees and bright colourful flowers falling and blowing in the wind in an unspecified space. The ground is pebbled and adjacent to the walkway are individual glassed areas of living plants and birds which lead us into the gallery’s regular changing art exhibitions.
This imagery, as in traditional historical mosaic work, relates to its immediate environment and is appropriately a celebration of life. Findlay has always been known for her depiction of flowers which have usually been produced as paintings. Her subject matter, whilst being typical of her work in this case, is appropriate as a return to normality after the many deaths of the previous years. Flowers are fragile and only last a short while. They are often linked to mortality – their lives are short and they are important signifiers of many emotions both joyful and sorrowful . Her depictions of local indigenous birds, bees, insects are all part of an eco system which, after the years of loss, remind us of the need to preserve and enjoy. The placement of the piece is the courtyard of the gallery which is open to the sunny sky and easy to access.
Gallery spaces can be intimidating to the general public but the easy access and openness and connection with nature make the artwork part of its environment and inviting to the passer by. If you are in Joburg it is a must- see and public are welcome to stroll in and experience this important artwork. It will be on the Art Route tours and is an experience not to be missed.