In the News: From May 11 to June 11; Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is the backdrop to the famous William Sweetlove  – Water Wars exhibition. Sweetlove’s Water Wars, is a cautionary installation highlights the consequences of man’s environmental choices…

Video from William Sweetlove

William Sweetlove, world-renowned Belgian artist, has been using his unique artworks to challenge people to become environmental thinkers and behavioural ecologists for close to 50 years, through more than 600 exhibitions worldwide.

It is fitting, therefore that he and the Cape Town Art Agency, who represent the artist in Africa, have chosen Kirstenbosch to host his first exhibition in South Africa, after the successful pre-show of some large sculptures at the V&A Waterfront. From May 11 to June 11, Sweetlove’s Water Wars exhibition will be on display in the garden, highlighting the reality of how the excesses of humanity are threatening our natural resources. The exhibition can be seen in two places in the garden. The Fisherman-hunter sculpture will be on display at the Old Dam and more than 60 penguin sculptures will be set up in the Vlei Garden.

Sweetlove describes his work as “cautionary” – conceptual interpretations of the consequences of man’s environmental choices.

“A world without plastic is no longer possible,” explains Sweetlove. “The problem isn’t plastic itself, but the fact that people burn it and throw it into the sea.”

Sweetlove’s sculptures – made from recycled plastic from landfills, or recycled bronze and aluminium – are a whimsical representation of fantasy and fact. The exuberance of his sculptures transforms ordinary animals and objects into iconic figures. At first encounter, the red, green and yellow artworks look like supersized toys, but they disrupt our childhood associations by the introduction of incongruous additions such as boots, backpacks and water bottles. These suggest survival measures; and rather than amuse, they elicit concern.

The larger-than-life penguins that will be positioned in the Vlei Garden, for example, draw our attention to the impending shortage of clean drinking water with the water bottles they wear on their backs. The fisherman becomes a hunter, unable to fish in the polluted water.

“Water Wars is a natural fit for us at Kirstenbosch,” says Philip le Roux, curator of the garden. “These works highlight the importance of biodiversity and conservation, both issues that are at the core of what we do at SANBI. We hope that the exhibition will spark the important conversations that each of us should be having about our responsibility to reduce the impact that we have on our environment.”


Who is William Sweetlove?

William Sweetlove is a sculptor, painter and assemblage artist. Those interested in labelling his work can choose from neo-pop, minimal-surrealism and postmodernism. But eat-art, eco, recycle and fossil art would all fit equally well. It makes no difference to the artist or his art. With remarkable imagery, he puts forth the message of a world in need. Sweetlove combines and contrasts high and low culture. He does the same with reality and imagination, people and animals, and culture and nature. In his work, he mockingly denounces rigidity and narrow-mindedness and addresses our basic humanity: it’s fine to establish our place in the world, but let’s not forget that our world is a borrowed thing and our actions should never be at the expense of animals. William Sweetlove has exhibited independently and as part of The Cracking Art Group and has made a name for himself in the United States, Italy, France, Germany and his native Belgium. He is currently working on a major art project in collaboration with the Vatican.

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