Change the world


“I feel that art plays a fundamental role within society and the small act of drawing iconic figures, the process of creative re-representation, assists in reiterating the importance of such figures in contemporary society more so than what an archival photograph would have, says artist Jonathan van der Walt.


Jonathan drew the iconic artworks representing the names of buildings for the naming and renaming project at Nelson Mandela University.

He is also the intern gallery manager at the Bird Street Gallery, the university’s Visual Arts Department’s contemporary art gallery at the Bird Street Campus. Here he assists in the arranging and coordinating of exhibitions, the curating and hanging of these exhibitions.

Drawing is always a fundamental practice for any artist, he says. Sketching allows an artist to visualise their ideas before embarking on a final product, and in some cases, a process sketch can hold something more special than the final product.

“I do prefer drawing from life, with the use of models, as figurative art is my favourite genre to work in. However, it is also dependant on the project brief, as is the case with this project, I had to use photographs to draw reference from because of the historical nature of the specific subjects.

“And with the drawing of Sarah Baartman, I decided to reinterpret the subject a bit as the existing illustrated references were very crude, anatomically strange and dehumanising.

 “The drawing style is loose and vibrant; however, I always try and capture the subject as naturalistically as possible. With this specific project, I wanted to combine the traditional drawing medium of a pencil with the subtle incorporation of new-age digital illustration.

This fusion speaks to the Naming and Renaming project by the university, which looks to change the present and future narratives by looking to the past and respectfully acknowledging those that played crucial roles in redefining this country.

“I am truly grateful to have played a role in this project. It was a huge honour to have been given the responsibility to provide the visual material in which to support a project with such great historical and socio-political importance.

 “As a child, I always had a great interest in art, he says. Throughout his schooling, he was always drawing, painting or practising something creative, and over time he focussed that passion into the Visual Arts as an academic subject.

After school, he registered for the Visual Arts course at Nelson Mandela University in 2010 thinking he would pursue a degree in painting, drawing or even graphic design, but fell in love with sculpture, which is the main discipline of art in which he works.

The artworks he makes professionally are bronze and resin sculptures. Various processes and steps go into creating these specific types of sculptures of which many people are unaware when they just see the final sculpture in a gallery. It is a very labour-intensive process of sculpting, moulding, casting and fettling (finishing/working off), but it is an extremely rewarding process, he says.

As part of his master’s practical component, he also explored the relationship of 3D scanning and printing to the field of sculpture and the benefits it can have/has had on the industry.

In 2013 he received his bachelor of technology degree (BTech) in Fine Art: Sculpture (cum laude) from Nelson Mandela University, in which he explored the blurred lines between high and low art within contemporary society.

This exploration became the launching pad for research into craftsmanship in contemporary art, which was the major theme in his master’s dissertation, in which he promoted the artist as a craftsman over the concept of the artist as the ‘ideas man’. He was awarded his master’s in Fine Art: Sculpture in April 2017.

After hours, he continues his professional pursuit of being a practising sculptor on the South African contemporary art scene, having exhibited in over 40 group exhibitions around the country and internationally, as well as a small solo exhibition at 99 Loop Gallery in Cape Town in 2017.

Aside from exhibiting in galleries, Jonathan has been involved in several projects and commissions. Most notably managing the wire design element of the Madiba Shirt public sculpture that was erected at South Campus, Nelson Mandela University.

He was also a contributing artist in the construction of the First Choice/Woodland’s Dairy Recycled plastic billboard currently up near Humansdorp.

More about his art can be found on his website:

Or follow his progress on social media:

Contact information
Mr Jonathan Van der Walt
Associate Lecturer: Visual Arts
Tel: 0415043293