A CONCRETE angel looks after Hillbrow and its residents, standing opposite Constitution Hill with its arms widespread, reminiscent of the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janiero in Brazil.
The sparkling white angel, called the “Angel of the North”, is on the corner of Queens and Kotze streets, outside the restored Governor’s House. It is the creation of Winston Luthuli, who says when asked why he makes sculptures: “It’s something I have to do.”
Angel of the North is part of the Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville public art programme, begun in early 2008 and overseen by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA). Public artworks, ranging from mosaic concrete benches and carved wooden tree stumps to murals and metal sculptures, have been positioned across the three suburbs.
The winged angel weighs in at 2,4 tons, and stands two metres tall, taller still on a 3m pedestal.
While Hillbrow is seen as a no-go zone by many, this sculpture, it is hoped, will help to change that perception. “The Angel of the North was created as a welcoming figure to counteract some of these perceptions,” reads the brief.
“Its presence serves as a kind of sentinel, and is incongruous with what one might expect to find in this crime and grime-ridden part of Joburg. It does not represent any particular religion, as angels are present in the folklore of many different cultures and generally represent a higher state of being.”
Luthuli says it is not about being Christian, but rather he hopes it will have an effect on people, changing their minds about crime in the area. He also created the four cheerful football players in Sivewright Avenue in Doornfontein, and has three similar angels in his studio in Pageview.
Originally from Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal, the artist started making wooden sculptures after dropping out of school. He moved to Joburg in 1989, and exhibited at the Market Theatre gallery and Mandela Square in Sandton.
He started making cement sculptures in 2003, and several of his works have been positioned at the Hillbrow Hospital and bought by African Merchant Bank.
Angel of the North is not the only statue in the area, however; behind the Governor’s House are two wooden sculptures created by Americo Guambe. Carved from two tree trunks, Tree 1 depicts a young girl on a ladder looking over the top of the tree towards Hillbrow.
Below her the tree is decorated with carvings showing the nationalities of people living in the suburb. Tree II shows a young boy pointing towards the city, with a smaller branch behind him depicting the Hillbrow Tower.
There are also several more wooden sculptures by Guambe in Pieter Roos Park in Hillbrow.
The new works of art uplift the block, bringing a playful quality to the harsh surfaces of the flatland suburb.