Mkhonto Gawzela’s Frieze at the Campanile

Cultural / Landmarks / Memorials in or near Central Hill, Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsMkhonto Gawzela’s Frieze at the Campanile

Where? Strand Street, Central, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Overnight? Stay in Central Hill, in Eastern Cape

At the start of Route 67 is the Campanile Tower, a tall red brick edifice built in honour of the 1820 British Settlers. The origin of its name is Florentine, as is its architecture for Bell Tower, which is what it is - a 170 foot tower at the top of which is a bell that sounds three times a day, and a clock.

The memorial is at the entrance of the railway station and the harbour right where, it is said, the settlers first set foot in the country. And it still stands head and shoulders above, just about, everything built subsequently in the area, reminiscent of St Mark’s Campanile in Venice, although that reaches a good 320 feet in the air.

Port Elizabeth recently introduced an urban renewal programme incorporating modern and colourful pieces of art to add ethnic, cultural and authentic influence to the city’s historical monuments.

The Campanile Frieze is one of these additions by the New Brighton-based artist Mpumzeni Ezra ‘Mkhonto’ Gwazela, who combined Indian, Xhosa and Western influences, featuring a sweep of South African actors, writers, artists and musicians in a string of cameos along the length of the wall.

The characters and personalities include Athol Fugard, George Pemba, John Kani, and the artist himself. Taking a couple of months to research the design, he enlisted the help of his Master’s supervisor at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

The russet clay frieze is in keeping with Gwazela’s history. He and his friends taught themselves to make animals out of clay, even though the river banks were out of bounds for the children of his village.

After studying in East London and NMMU he collaborated on a frieze for PE’s Red Location and on the back of this work was approached to do the frieze at the base of the Campanile. Despite his acclaim - his work has sold to France, Thailand and other African countries - his desire is to open an art school with his wife, who is a printmaker, to teach others.

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