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DURBAN ICON (article first published : 1999-06-14)

Carol Brown and Peter Schutz

Last month, a sculpture by Peter Schütz was presented to the Durban Art Gallery for its permanent collection. The gift was made possible by the sponsorship of McCarthy Retail with matching grant funding by BASA. The imposing two-and-a-half metre high figure of a ricksha puller is titled Durban Icon and is carved from jeluton garnished with gold paint.

The two and a half-metre figure is more interpretative than representative. “I have consciously reduced the ricksha dress to a simple unified composition, avoiding obsessive colour and details. This was done to focus on and reveal the dignity of the ricksha”, says Peter. “which is for me as much a part of Durban as the beach, harbour or City Hall.”

The Natal sugar baron Sir Marshall Campbell purchased the first rickshas through Topham Bros in Pietermaritzburg in 1892. “These rickshas had originally been sent from Yokohama, Japan, to England where they failed to sell,” explains Peter. “The London agent for Topham Bros then found a purchaser in Sir Marshall Campbell and they were shipped to South Africa. From those early days, during which the dress of the ricksha had still been described by the authorities, numerous and still ongoing changes have occurred. These changes apart from being decorative also contain symbolic value and are carefully chosen. For example, cattle horns give the wearer the strength of an ox and only horns of slaughtered beasts are used in order to appease the ancestors.”

Critical to this change of dress has clearly been the move from transport vehicle to that of its present role, namely tourist attraction on the Durban beachfront. By 1920 rickshas numbered 1 430 and the last of the transport rickshas disappeared around 1960.


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