Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


r1. - VM - Erna Buber-deVilliers

r1.: iThemba (Tower of Hope)

The Light Shines On

by Erna Buber-deVilliers

A disused, obsolete communications tower in a run-down area of central Johannesburg and thousands of empty plastic bottles collected from the streets ... who would have imagined the thing of profound beauty that they could become? It seems as unlikely to happen as for a King to be born in a stable.

The iThemba project is the result of a chance encounter between – again unlikely – street artist r1. and an informal garbage re-cycler, Isaac Thomas, who lives under a tree next to the highway. Isaac collects empty plastic bottles for a living, and r1 invited him to collaborate in the creation of the art-installation. “I wanted Thomas to be able to give a new connotation to the junk he collects, and to his life which it represents. I wanted him to be proud of it,” the artist said.

There are LED lights inside the bottles that turn the tower into a beacon at night, but the bottles contain something more. They contain the hopes and dreams of hundreds and hundreds of people in the form of words written on slips of paper, rolled up, and placed inside the bottles. Faith expressed in prayers, evidence of hope.

Why does hope ‘spring eternal in the human breast’? Light is stronger than darkness, darkness cannot destroy it. Love is alive in even this troubled world. “I am the Light of the world,” Jesus said. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged (Isaiah 42:3). We know, and hope lives on. We know, and our hearts are drawn upwards, upwards, and our prayers reach out, and love lights up the darkest corners and turns junk into beauty.


r1.: iThemba, Johannesburg, 2016. Photo credit: Fabrice Bourgelle.

r1. is a street artist with a Fine Arts background. His work is placed in urban environments, where he plays with familiar spaces, raising questions and offering different alternatives. In his interventions he often works with found materials, transforming them and relocating them back into the city, as modified artistic contributions. All of his artworks deal with the notion of change in urban environments and the documentation of this process. During the past ten years he has been most active in the field of public art, working extensively with street art projects in different cities around the world. His work covers a range of media, including street installations, public art, sculptures and wall art. He has lived in England and South Africa, where he has performed most of his work. He writes: “It’s not uncommon for street artists to not disclose their real names. The streets belong to everyone; I believe one should be whoever one wants to be. I like to stay anonymous to keep my freedom to intervene in the city, without boundaries or expectations. I consider the street as an open canvas. I work with urban interventions and collect everyday found materials, transforming them and placing them back where they came from, to become a part of the city’s journey. The resulting artwork is tactile, moving within the motion of the cityscape. The artworks take ownership of and manipulate city spaces, opening new relationships with daily familiarity. The end-result carries conversations, becoming a fragment of the ever-changing city’s history.” Find iThemba on Facebook:

Erna Buber-deVilliers is a retired South-African high school art teacher who enjoys writing and many other leisure pursuits.

Artway Visual Meditation December 4, 2016