When the Brett Murray art crisis broke last month, artist Isabeau Joubert spent the weekend knitting woollen caps and a scarf in bright pink, purple and orange.
Before sunrise on May 22, when the court case around Murray’s painting started in Johannesburg, she went to St George’s Mall and decorated Murray’s popular statue Africa, placing a woollen cap on each of the Bart Simpson heads, and tying a scarf around Africa’s neck.
In doing so, she took part in isolated acts of love being displayed towards vandalised artworks and their artists which have not evoked public hatred, putting big smiles on the faces of passers-by.
Joubert is a so-called “yarnbomber”, who creates pretty knitwork “graffiti” to brighten up grey city spaces.
With Murray under fire over The Spear controversy, Joubert wanted to do “something small” to compliment Murray on his contribution to art generally, and to Cape Town, his home town.
She said in an interview last week at her loft studio in Longmarket Street that Murray’s Africa also created controversy when it was erected in 2000. Now, however, it was an accepted and much-loved statue.
Joubert was also responsible for legwarmers and a braai tong on the Jan van Riebeeck statue in Adderley Street on Heritage and Braai Day last year, and for the legwarmers on one of the pony statues displayed on the Sea Point Promenade.
Other yarnbombers have been spreading similar messages in Stellenbosch recently, decorating statues that form part of a radical outdoor modern art exhibition, Stellenbosch20. This follows the vandalism of some of the statues.
The yarnbombers “targeted” sculptor Angus Taylor and his exhibit, the statues of two naked warrior-like men named Grounded I and Grounded II. Grounded I was destroyed by vandals, but Grounded II still stands in Plein Street. A yarnbomber gave the remaining statue a scarf in what passers-by saw as some warmth for winter.
Yarnbombers have also decorated other statues in the exhibition, notably a scarf for the white statue of a female swimmer by Sue Pam Grant in the town’s Botanical Gardens, and a scarf and a cap for Strijdom van der Merwe’s The Accidental Tourist, which stands on a corner in Church Street.
The Accidental Tourist is a statue of an ancient piece of “nature”, resembling either a rock or a tree stump arriving in modern-day Stellenbosch with two suitcases.
Andi Norton, project manager of Stellenbosch20, which consists of SA sculpture of the past two decades, said they encouraged this “charming” and “cute” public interaction with art.