At a certain stage of a presentation by the South African Mint (SA Mint), at the recent FNB Joburg Art Fair, I began to wonder whether the Krugerrand could ever fall victim to the movement that wants all symbols of past white leadership eradicated.  

What if the angry multitudes of the fallist movement began posting into a rebellion on the social media that said #krugerrandmustfall?

With that in mind I asked the mint’s Managing Director Tumi Tshelo about this not so alluring prospect for the golden coin.

Image: Supplied

“You can’t delete our history,” he said. “You can’t delete the reality of all of that, what Kruger stood for and so on. And we have an obligation; we have a duty to look after it as a strong brand globally. However we recognise that we are in the New South Africa and we are saying: ‘We do need something that is an alternative to the Krugerrand – and so watch this space.’”

So there’s a less than satisfying, major news break alert. But in the meanwhile the SA Mint is finding ways of continually reinvigorating the Krugerrand, to maintain some relevance in the now. And that’s exactly what the recent art fair lauch was about, where they had set up up a booth to showcase their art-meets-money, meets-real-life, idea. 

Six major world events were selected, and seven artists were selected to illustrate them as as an overview of the life and times of the Krugerrand. The artworks were unveiled internationally at the World Money Fair in Berlin, earlier this year.

Prestige Bullion, a joint venture between the SA Mint and Rand Refinery, had come up with the concept of celebrating the Krugerrand, not for its own sake but within the context of a changing world. To show that, while humanity celebrated its advances, over the past five decades the Krugerrand has stood firm as a little monument to stability and good investment.   

“If history has taught us one thing, it is that gold is the only investment which has never faded away. Through these artworks, we aim to narrate the story about the Krugerrand’s endurance and the metal’s resilience,” Richard Collocott, Rand Refinery marketing head and Prestige Bullion Director, is quoted as saying in the promotional package. 

The six artists are Robyn Pretorius, Sindiso Nyoni, Mark Rautenbach, Lwandiso Njara, Nina Torr and Anton Karstel. It’s not an obvious choice, but an adventurous one for those looking in on the local art scene. It shows a mix of mediums, and personal approaches to big news moments by individuals a little too young to fully remember them first hand.

Anton Karstel’s heavily painted canvas evokes the first human heart transplant performed at Groote Schuur in Cape Town, in 1964. Set inside the hospital’s Charles Saint operating theatre, the close up on patient and doctor also evokes the cavity of a sliced open body. Greys and pinks mix to show the contradictory pulls of life and death. According to Karstel, the work evolved into a portrayal of the patient Louis Washkansky as a wrapped up newborn baby, having been offered the promise of new life.

Image: Robyn Pretorius

Next up was Robyn Pretorius’s portrait of boxer Muhammad Ali at the time of the Rumble in the Jungle fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa, in 1974. Pretorius, who hails from the Cape Flats, grew up doing kick boxing from the age of six. But her photorealistic rendering of Ali in a posture of almost saviour-like triumphalism is set against the backdrop of faded news clippings and other incidents of his life, like his meeting with Malcolm X in 1964.

Artist Mark Rautenbach’s depiction of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall takes as its inspiration a photograph of a segment of the wall on display in St George’s Mall in Cape Town. Mixing conceptualism and craft the work knits shards of paper to create a blue scape which the artist says would evoke the sky that those liberated would have seen once the barrier had been broken through.

Other incidents included Nina Torr’s graphic depiction of the stuffed remains of Dolly the sheep – the first mammal successfully cloned in 1996. Then there was Usain Bolt’s setting of a new world record in the men’s 100m sprint event at the 2009 Berlin World Athletics Championships. This branded him the fastest man on earth. Depicted in comic form by trend setting graphic artist Sindiso Nyoni, it takes the sportsman into the realm of earth saving superhero.

The last is Lwandiso Njara’s part mural, part sculptural depiction of the moment when Homo Naledi joined the human family tree in 2015. The mint’s description tells us that “Njara works around themes of human existence and spirituality within technocratic social orders, drawing on his own spiritual journey through Christianity and the Xhosa ancestral rituals.”

The mint’s manner of patronage and acquisition of new art is, at least, an adventurous way of using art making to enhance brand building. The works will probably have limited appeal in future, since they’re set in a specific time and place. But the initiative makes a welcome departure from being just another corporate art prize.

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