Two kinds of stylised flames are used to represent Winnie Mandela. The hand holding the torch symbolises the hope and courage she brought to so many people, who regard her as ‘The Mother of the Nation’. Below the hand, there are more flames. This fire stands for the ‘necklacing’ which started around 1975, the terrible execution method that Winnie been associated with in the media.
The Taxi hand signs are a silent gestural language that millions of commuters and taxi drivers use to communicate their desired destination. The Jacob’s Ladder series was a direct consequence of the Taxi hand sign ‘to Town’ that was being used incorrectly by a commuter using the middle finger instead of the forefinger.
Out of this error a second body of work emerged using this rude middle finger as an embodiment of different characters. The idea was generated by an observation in the newspaper of Jacob Zuma gesturing with a zap sign when he exited the court after being acquitted of rape charges. [This hand gesture could be seen as a phallic machine gun, as the machine gun song, Umshini wami, is believed to have been Zuma’s revolutionary trademark].
Individuals who become famous - actors, politicians and sports people for instance, are too often made into heroes, even demi-Gods by society and the media. If at all they may slip and not live up to the expectations we created of them, we are quick to judge and put them down. With Jacob’s Ladder each hand represents or embodies a well-known individual, showing his accomplishments and failings. Positive qualities of goodness, a sense of humour, errors of judgement may personify some of the characters selected. In others the immoral or even evil side of that character is revealed. The people who exemplify this hero-villain syndrome in the Jacob’s Ladder series are: President Jacob Zuma, Winnie Mandela, P W Botha, Evita (Pieter Dirk Uys) and Robert Mugabe. One sculpture, “On the Other Hand” represents the judging public. The sculptures take their title from the story of Jacob’s Ladder in the Old Testament. It is an aggressive account of flight, dreams, ladders, stolen identities and judgement. A narrative which talks about human failings, human concerns and endeavours, yet also exemplifies a means towards a greater good.