Last year in mid-November, Cape Town CBD dwellers watched from afar with interest as a mystery construction was being set up on the historic Signal Hill. This generated quite a bit of excited chatter among observant residents.
Then, on the night of November 19th, for the very first time, a man-made star lit up Signal Hill’s crown and out of curiosity, a few days later I decided to do some light research on this rather spectacular star-shaped structure, which is clearly visible to those of us who reside in the CBD and indeed many parts of the Mother City.
For those of you who don’t know about it or have not been fortunate enough to see it shining brightly up above our city, it is a temporary art installation known as: The ‘SunStar: A Beacon of Hope for the Future’ and depicts the sun’s rays, forming an 8-point star and at least for now, still stands tall above the fynbos and various other shrubbery on Signal Hill.
(It is clearly discernible both at night and even during the day when its metal frame glints in the sunlight.)
The SunStar was created by local Cape Town artist, Christopher Swift in association with Sun International (who sponsored the project and are proud to be associated with its “symbolism and message.”) The City of Cape Town, as well as The Robben Island Fence Project.
Its creator, Christopher Swift – who conceptualised, designed and sourced the materials necessary for its construction – has previously won Spier Contemporary Arts Awards and the Michaelis Award for his artworks and is also the founder of the Robben Island Art Company and Trust (RIACT).
It was set up for several reasons… They run as follows:
Firstly, it was put up a few weeks short of the one year anniversary of former President and beloved father of the nation, Nelson Mandela’s death and according to http://suninternational.com is meant to serve as, “a reminder of South Africa’s greatest story and a shining symbol of hope for the country’s future.”
This is especially significant given that it overlooks Robben Island and its internal sphere encorporates discarded fencing – which Swift received permission to use and remove for its construction – taken from the island’s former perimeter, which existed there during Madiba’s incarceration.
I find that rather symbolic given that for so long, Mandela was a core part of our country’s internal fabric and was at the heart of everything that led us out of the dark night of Apartheid and into the light of a new democracy some 21 years ago now.
It was also unveiled as a showcase for the successful World Design Capital 2014, which was proudly hosted by the Mother City little under a year ago.
As I said before this 24-metre starlike structure, which was installed around the 18th – 19th of November 2014, is apparently a temporary part of our city and was originally only scheduled to stay up for 6 months.
Thus, its days are numbered and if you haven’t seen it yet, you are running out of time, as it will presumably be removed next month.
This has not been confirmed but it is likely that it will be moved to one of Sun International’s properties once its time on Signal Hill is up.
Although many people were against its being allowed to exist atop Signal Hill, I for one will be incredibly sad to see it go – and the thousands who have flocked to take pictures of or alongside it or who have admired it either from afar or from up close and personal over the past five months will no doubt echo my sentiments.
Personally, I have never understood how or why anyone could have had a problem with it in the first place as it is a fiercely environmentally friendly project and looks most breathtaking at night.
In fact, it looks pretty damn good no matter the time of day or the angle that you view it from.
(Photo Credit: Sun International)
The reason for Signal Hill being chosen to showcase it was always a fairly obvious one: it has wonderfully panoramic views of, not only of the city and nearby Lion’s Head and Table Mountain but also of Devil’s Peak and Robben Island, as well as the fact that it has always been a free, easily accessible and highly popular place for locals and foreigners alike to visit.
The message behind the Star is both an inspiring and decidedly poetic one… “It is hoped that being able to stand beneath the SunStar… will give people a powerful incentive for contemplation, reflection and conversation about our future.”
In part, you could say it was loosely designed to remind us of the past – of the good and the bad lessons we have learned and continue to glean out of our recent history – but above all, it was intended to promote hope for our future.
I am not usually a willing admirer of art, as I usually cannot even make sense of or understand the artist’s intentions behind the work or reasons for creating it but for once I can.
That is why when I see this beacon of hope shining brightly, even in the darkest of nights when there is not a star to be seen but for it, I believe there is a link to the dark and troubled days, especially of late that we as South Africans (and as a world) find ourselves living in and the still-present possibility of our seeing better days.
The SunStar gleams proudly from up on high and even when the swirling mists descend over Signal Hill and the rest of our city is covered in dense, gloomy fogginess at night, it pierces through the gloom, casting a protective light over us.
In February, when our brave firefighters were fighting the wildfire on Signal Hill, I am convinced it stayed on the entire night (or very near to it) and I am sure its resassuring light must have made their job a little bit easier.
Earlier I mentioned that the SunStar is eco-friendly and thus, is a positive addition to our city and I shall now explain why:
1) During the day, the 4000 strip LED lights, used from a previous installation, and the supporting floodlights that burn to illuminate it at night are charged during the day by the sun’s rays and as such, it is purely solar-powered (This is one of the few lights in our city that Eskom can’t turn off… 😉 ).
2) Its centre sphere, which has a 6.4 m radius and which is supported by scaffolding that blends in with the structure’s contour, is filled (as mentioned earlier) by fencing taken from Robben Island that would otherwise have been left to rust in a landfill somewhere.
3) The aluminium trusses, which it is shaped out of, use a ground anchorage system as oppose to your typical cement one, which would have impacted negatively on the environment if it had instead been used.
4) Possibly after Mr Swift requested permission to use the discarded fencing, the Robben Island Fence Project sprang to life. It is now responsible for creating artefacts for sale that are made from fence material.
These artefacts help generate profit and aid in job creation, as well as providing the necessary means for imparting of skills among our more needy citizens.
That is why I am firmly for this beautiful piece of art and if it does get moved to a new location sometime in May, I will be deeply sorry to see it go.
For the past two months, I have watched it turn on (this usually happens on the dot at 20:00 p.m. – and yes, I have timed it…) and have waited in eager anticipation almost every night for it to do so, purely so that I can admire it from my window, which happily overlooks Signal Hill.
Then later in the evenings, I have sometimes even watched it switch off (lately this has been around 22:30 p.m. if I am not mistaken but it used to be far later than that in summer) as I lie in bed and try to spot the real stars that shine above it.
As for every South African resident’s favourite occurence, load shedding… When it struck my part of the city last weekend, literally one of the few lights you could see on in an intensely dark Cape Town was the SunStar shining faithfully upon the hilltop.
When I visited Signal Hill in February, I am sorry to say I missed my chance to see it lit up near at hand as I arrived there too late but the view of it from there (even when it is off) is still quite amazing – not to mention the glorious sight of the warmly glowing, ‘orangey’ city lights below, that twinkle like a sea of stars.
(Signal Hill is really worth seeing both by day and by night but it feels a little more special at night… Just be sure to be safe and alert if you get out at night up there.)
There may be a thousand stars in the night’s sky for me to enjoy but this is currently my favourite one…
I hope that, unlike me, you get a chance to see it up close before it is removed from its current location.
For more info. on the SunStar and the Robben Island Fence Project, please hit: http://www.suninternational.com/sunstar/Pages.
Many thanks to Sun International and Kelly Lodewys (Cape Town Travel) for the additional info. (and photo) used in this post, as well as to my friend, Micaela Thomas for the use of some of her photos in this post.
You can find and follow Micaela Thomas (@mixsie39) on Instagram.
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