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MTN SA Foundation commemorates healthcare workers at Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital


Johannesburg, 20 Jul 2021
Read time 10min 20sec
Artwork called Shift-19.
Artwork called Shift-19.

MTN SA Foundation today unveiled a sculpture to commemorate the pivotal role that South African healthcare workers have played in helping South Africa progress through the COVID-19 pandemic. The artwork has been donated and installed at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) in Johannesburg.

“With the prolonged impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on South Africa and on artists and the art world, we decided that now was the right time to embark on a positive project. Through this project, MTN Foundation is enabling South African artists to get up, get going and progress through the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN SA’s executive for corporate affairs.

The project was done in a call for entries, where MTN SA Foundation invited five emerging artists between the ages of 21 and 35 to submit concepts for artworks that use technology as the medium to recognise South African healthcare workers. The selected emerging artists were:

  • Neo Mahlangu
  • Keneilwe Mokoena
  • Tristan Roland
  • Setlamorago Mashilo
  • Alexa Pienaar

“The judging panel was delighted with Alexa Pienaar’s concept,” says O’Sullivan, “so we commissioned Alexa to work with Mohammed Hassan, at Red Apple 3D printing to bring the concept to fruition. All five artists received financial support for their involvement in the project.”

Pienaar, who recently completed her master’s in Fine Art at the University of Johannesburg, proposed an installation called Shift-19, which stretches 3m in length, consists of 15 3D printed discs that metaphorically and visually represent that of a disassembled telescope. “COVID-19 has had an impact on how we see the world, on our perspectives, and this comes through in the piece,” says Pienaar.

The disassembled pieces of the telescope that hold layers of city skylines (and other significant shapes) construct a large silhouette of a healthcare worker putting on a mask, which can only be seen from the front of the installation. When viewed from the front of the installation, these pieces construct a large silhouette of a healthcare worker putting on a mask while walking towards the viewer, coat flapping behind. This resembles a superhero pulling open everyday clothes to reveal a superhero outfit underneath. “This is done in remembrance of the heroic efforts of the healthcare workers during these challenging times, as the silhouette is that of bravery,” she says.

The discs assembled around a steel frame are flat cut-outs with landscape imagery in their inner semi-circles and patterns of the virus’s round shapes as textures on their outer platforms. This is accompanied by a smaller telescope through which to metaphorically view the larger ‘pieces’ of the telescope and, ultimately, Johannesburg city in the background. But once the viewer looks through the smaller telescope, they discover that it functions as a microscope, revealing the coronavirus, the tiny virus that has had such a huge impact.

Jacqui O'Sullivan from MTN and Konehali Gugushe, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, the founder of NMCH, unveiled the artwork at Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital last week.
Jacqui O'Sullivan from MTN and Konehali Gugushe, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, the founder of NMCH, unveiled the artwork at Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital last week.

“I’m humbled to have been selected to commemorate healthcare workers. While we continue to distance ourselves from our families, friends and other relatives, and may feel physically isolated, new avenues of technological exploration and reconnection become possible,” says Pienaar. “Shift-19 is an interactive installation around which to move and view the separate pieces, as one would shift one’s perspective and view a situation from multiple angles. It, ultimately, serves as a symbol of realisation, adaptation and gratitude” says Pienaar.

The sculpture has been donated to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. “Not only is the hospital a state-of-the-art specialist paediatric academic and tertiary referral hospital but it also houses a notable art collection,” explains O’Sullivan.

“The hospital provides child-centred highest quality medical services to children of southern Africa, regardless of their social and economic status in a safe, comfortable, healing and yet playful environment for children.” Says Konehali Gugushe, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, the founder of NMCH. “NMCH is a flagship project of the fund. We continue to celebrate the incredible work at the institution and the various partners who have joined us on our journey. The 3D artwork piece is set to be placed within the Children’s Garden at the hospital, with a playful and fun theme for children to interact with. It was a natural fit to have the installation of the art piece on NMCH grounds, particularly as we also celebrate Mandela Month.”

The hospital is currently running a fundraising campaign called #ServeLikeMadiba and Give Like They’re Yours, which is a call on the public to support the only dedicated children’s facility in Gauteng, including its patients and families. In July, the month of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, MTN SA Foundation aims to drive SA forward and encourage the public to donate through the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund MoMo account at www.nelsonmandelachildrenshospital.org/mtn-momo/.

“Children with health conditions often experience feelings of loneliness and anxiety, a feeling that their lives are defined by their diagnosis,” says Bongi Mautloa-Dhlomo, art curator at the hospital, “and the creative sculpture can be an important part of the healing. We therefore encourage South Africans to donate to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital and help our children heal and grow.” 

Artist’s statement

With the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic over a year ago, we as South Africans (and globally) face many challenges with regards to our everyday lives and how we adapt to the dangers and complications posed in our societies. Without a doubt, healthcare workers have had an enormous impact on our safety, sanity and sense of hope on many levels. 

With the MTN #ItsGoTime project, several notions, such as health, safety, progress, connection (technological), the future of younger generations and, ultimately, our perspective of our changing lives, came to the fore. While we continue to distance ourselves from our families, friends and other relatives, and may feel physically isolated, new avenues of technological exploration and reconnection become possible. 

With the proposed installation for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, I focus predominantly on how children and younger generations may perceive their (and our) current situation and how they/we may potentially comport our lives moving forward. Perspective, therefore, in my opinion is key in moving forward from the past year’s challenges and setbacks posed by the pandemic. Furthermore, while the coronavirus functions on both a microscopic and macroscopic level – healthcare workers analyse and dissect it on a microscopic level while larger communities, cities and countries encounter it on a larger landscape – we too are confronted with it on a close, intimate and familial level as well as a scope as large as the prospects of our futures and the futures of our loved ones.

The proposed installation (Shift-19), which stretches 2.5m in length, consists of 15 3D printed discs that metaphorically (and visually) represent that of a disassembled telescope.

The discs assembled around a steel frame are lined with flat cut-outs with landscape imagery in their inner semi-circles and patterns of the virus’s round shapes (as textures) on their outer platforms. This is accompanied by a smaller telescope through which to metaphorically view the larger ‘pieces’ of the telescope and, ultimately, Johannesburg city in the background. 

The disassembled pieces of the telescope that hold layers of city skylines (and other significant shapes), furthermore, construct a large silhouette of a healthcare worker putting on a mask which can only be seen from the front of the installation. When viewed from the front of the installation, these pieces construct a large silhouette of a healthcare worker putting on a mask while walking towards the viewer, coat flapping behind. This resembles a superhero pulling open everyday clothes to reveal a superhero outfit underneath. This is done in remembrance of the heroic efforts of the healthcare workers during these challenging times, as the silhouette is that of bravery. 

Alexa Pienaar, the commissioned artist, next to the negative space silhouette of a heroic healthcare worker in her artwork call.
Alexa Pienaar, the commissioned artist, next to the negative space silhouette of a heroic healthcare worker in her artwork call.

The silhouette, however, is defined by the absence of objects rather than the objects themselves (which surrounds the silhouette). While this decision was made based largely on a technical level, it can also be interpreted as the elimination or eradication of COVID-19 through the efforts of healthcare workers. 

The textures and colours of the flat ‘cut-outs’ , placed within the semi-circles of the telescope, function in accordance with this as they simulate the textures and colours of commercial face masks or sanitising hand-wipes. They also begin to function like walls, as we are often confined within the walls of our houses or workplaces and distance ourselves from one another, but with the ultimate goal of preservation and protection. 

This leads us to the final element incorporated within the installation: technological advancement and digital connection. The textures, as well as the disassembled structure of the telescope (3D printed), signal the rising necessity of technology to stay connected with one another and to steer our everyday lives in a more technologically supported and digitally advanced direction. The small telescope incorporated within the installation (which individuals, particularly children, can interact with) contains a small 3D printed model of the coronavirus, which can be viewed through the lens of the telescope, as one would when looking through a microscope. This act of looking through the lens also simulates how we would view the world through a lens or screen with the exponential growth of social media platforms since the rise of COVID-19. However, rather than finding an expected view of (perhaps) the city in the background, we are reminded of the underlying threat that we deal with on a daily basis. 

Ultimately, Shift-19 is an interactive installation around which to move and view the separate pieces, as one would shift one’s perspective and view a situation from multiple angles. It serves to commemorate the efforts of healthcare workers and to promote the possibilities that we hold with regards to connection, communication and digitalisation. It ultimately serves as a symbol of realisation, adaptation and gratitude.

Artist’s biography

Alexa Pienaar is a young South African artist who recently completed her master’s in Fine Art at the University of Johannesburg. She was born in Pretoria, grew up on a small farm in the Western Cape and now finds herself back in the bustling streets of Johannesburg. She has showcased her work at various group exhibitions (as well as a solo master’s exhibition), including the annual group exhibition at the Pretoria Arts Association, the Sasol New Signatures Awards, the Johannesburg Turbine Art Fair and the Thami Mnyele Fine Arts Awards, to name a few. She was also announced the Thami Mnyele Sculpture Merit Award winner of 2018 and was recently (2020) awarded the Chancellor's Medal in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at UJ for the most meritorious master’s study. She is largely intrigued with landscapes, particularly the open fields of grass and farmlands of her hometown and her journey to and from Johannesburg. Her most recent works incorporate familiar landscape imagery and sculptural objects which are then incorporated into larger installations, and focuses on the embodied, the experiential and the psychological effects of her environments. She largely draws on contemporary South African landscape elements as visual metaphors of her lived experiences as she believes that they have forged her identity. She does this while aiming to determine her place in a contemporary South African society, as well as her sense of ‘being/belonging’ in it.

Editorial contacts
Senior Manager: Public Relations Leigh-Ann Chetty (083) 209 1310 Leigh-Ann.Chetty@mtn.com
Manager: Communications and Public Relations Mthokozisi Ndlovu (083) 209 2683 Mthokozisi.Ndlovu@mtn.com
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