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Menings | Opinion > Onderhoude | Interviews > English

Hannah Lurie talks about sculpting, writing and life

Hannah Lurie - 2011-08-18

Untitled Document

Title: No Title Necessary
Author: Hannah Lurie

I received a copy of renowned sculptor Hannah Lurie’s collection of poetry recently; it is titled, quite cleverly, No Title Necessary. In this anthology of light verse she documents her feelings about her life in Durban and abroad, her years in London and in Paris and beyond. Through her artist’s eye she describes her experiences in vivid detail. Hannah Lurie has been a stalwart of the Live Poets Society (LiPS) in Durban for many years, but it is as a sculptor that I know and admire her most. I decided to ask her a few questions about her life and exceptional art work.

Q&A with Hannah Lurie

Hannah, you have lived a very colourful life in Durban for many years. Have you spent all your life in Durban or have you lived in other places?

I was born and educated in Johannesburg, but came to Durban when I married a Durbanite. I was thrilled to be in Durban, and my husband Aubrey and I were the first couple to live in Glenashley in the cane-fields, which sparked my interest in sugar-cane and the indentured labourers. My research even led to my having correspondence with the Mayor of Taubate in South America. All this research has been given to the museum here.

What is it that you love about this city and how has that fed into your work? Can you tell the readers of LitNet about your work in general, and where your sculptures have been exhibited?

Durban is a magic place and in the words of the Jeremy Taylor song, “Ag Pleez Daddy”: “there’s lots of sea and sand and sun and fish in the aquarium”. I developed a huge interest in the arts, culture and folklore of my fellow citizens and based a lot of my work on the tokoloshe, lobola, and soothsayers. “Throwing the bones” is an image I exploited to the fullest, making totems from bones and resins and then finally a huge one in bronze. Interesting, amusing, and scary.

I have work in many collections: Standard Bank, FNB, Durban Art Gallery, even Polokwane, and have made many trophies, eg for the Silver Quill Awards, Café Society Awards for Independent Newspapers and Illovo Sugar, and badges, insignia, etc. I have also had a jewellery exhibition. I’ve had fifteen solo exhibitions and many joint exhibitions in my career.

I am such an admirer of your sculpture. You have done sculptures for many important places. I remember vividly when your sculpture of Douglas Livingstone was stolen from the courtyard of the Kwasuka Theatre. Could you also fill us in about the Douglas Livingstone sculpture? Has it ever been found?

One morning I received a call – or rather a sob – from Pieter Scholtz, who commissioned the bust. He told me it had been stolen. It had been pulled out of the stone plinth. We were devastated. The story made front page news and a reward was offered for its return. I phoned every scrap metal dealer, to no avail. And then, as I was walking out of the Durban Art Gallery about a month later, David Bascin from the Sunday Tribune called my cell phone:

“He's back!” he cried.

“Where?” I asked.

“At the Kwa Muhle Museum.”

“I'm on my way!”

It seems a tramp brought Douglas back in a wheelbarrow and refused the reward, declaring this was his gift to Durban. I put Douglas in the boot of my car and met Pieter at the Arts Café, where he and I toasted the rescuer and Douglas. There was a forensic label around his neck from the metallurgist and I called the police and told them, but it was too low on their list of priorities to bother with it. I still have it as a souvenir. Douglas is soon to be given a special place and a ceremony at his alma mater, Kearsney College.

How did you become a sculptor? Was it always something you aspired to? Did you study for this vocation?

I was taking painting lessons and suddenly thought, why don’t I drop maths and take art for matric? I sighed with delight when I learnt it was possible. I still painted while holding down a secretarial job, but finally ended up at Durban College of Art (which is now DUT) under the wonderful, inspiring tutelage of Mary Stainbank. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!

Then, during my three years in Swinging London in the sixties, I worked in the studio of Karen Jonzen, the famous terracotta sculptor. After I’d served my time with her I could call myself a sculptor.

Your poetry book, No Title Necessary, is full of memories of trips overseas and events which touched you at home. Do you write poetry to make sense of your daily life, or do you write as an expression of your artistic self?

I have had the good fortune to have been granted a studio at the Internationale Cité des Arts five times. How can one not adore Paris? Just thinking of it gives me goosebumps. It's the most inspiring place to write and work, with its architecture, museums, galleries, the Seine, Notre Dame and everything else. I don’t actually make sculptures there. I draw, photograph and write, and the drawings become sculptures when I get into my own studio at home in Durban.

I believe poetry and my other writing act as a catharsis, the outpourings of the heart and mind and a recipe for my sense of humour. I wrote a “bookette” – a short book – in Paris called I’m Too Sexy for My Hair. 26 000 copies have been printed and it depicts the journey, often amusing, of breast cancer. I hate the word “survivor” when people refer to a person as a “survivor of breast cancer”! You don't survive chicken pox or even pneumonia. Survivor is a TV series. I received the Mariette Loots award for it.

Would you see yourself primarily as a visual artist or as a writer? Why?

I see myself primarily as a sculptor who writes poetry or stories. I hope to have a retrospective exhibition in the next year or two. Sculpture is my career.

Are you still sculpturing? What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on a sculpture depicting an abused woman. It’s not fun, but it’s life. My maquette of the indentured labourers is being cast in bronze at present. I have tried in vain to have a monument erected to them. I’m not giving up.

Which of your many creations are you most proud of and why?
There are several special pieces that come to mind of which I am proud. The lovely Elizabeth Sneddon at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, as well as portrait busts of John Medley-Wood, who laid out the Botanic Gardens, where he is based. Last year I made one of Bongani Thembe, the director of the KZN Symphony Orchestra. I enjoyed his company too. Then there is the one of Anne Frank – she who wrote the diary before being led to the gas chambers of the Nazis, which I made for the Holocaust Museum. Then there are two Xhosa young men greeting each other in the centre of a building in Johannesburg. They are each three metres tall and joyful. There is also the dancing girl in the foyer of the Blue Waters Hotel in Durban. She is also three metres high. Then there is Spice Trader, a stainless steel ship about 4 x 5 metres in Prospecton, which I made for Robertsons Spices some years back.

And so it goes ...