ARTIST Loyiso Makilipi had the rare opportunity to spend time with his subject while he worked on the memorial honouring Eastern Cape boxing giant Happyboy Mgxaji.
Over the years, Makilipi closely watched Mgxaji’s boxing style. "He mixed two styles — that of Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali," he says. "All the other boxers from this area who went on to become champions copied his style."
It was this familiarity that inspired the artwork that signposts both Mgxaji and the strong boxing tradition of the East London townships. Mgxaji lived close to Makilipi’s home in Mdantsane. "I spent a lot of time with Happyboy while I was working on the concept," Makilipi says. "He helped me very much when I was doing the drawings for the art."
Through his own visual research, Lindsay added further detail while taking care to keep the artwork simple and graphic.
Lindsay and his team created a four-panel base, measuring 1.3m by 80cm — "a little higher than a table". The four panels of the base are created in intricate mosaic. The artwork was created in Johannesburg and transported by road to East London for assembly at the Sisa Dukashe Stadium.
The base of the artwork resembles a boxing ring. Each mosaic panel of the base depicts a scene from Mgxaji’s boxing life — a narrative of his career.
Each mosaic panel depicts a scene from Mgxaji’s boxing life — a narrative of his career
The background includes lettering on two sides. But this is not loud lettering: it is done in subtle white on white that includes the boxer’s name — "as if the crowd were cheering for him" — as well as facts, such as the number of fights Mgxaji won.
Colours are kept to simple black and white, but the use of red on the boxer’s belt on the top of the "table" draws the eye.
Mgxaji’s name, as well as the Sunday Times Heritage Project plaque, are part of the boxer’s belt.
The memorial is placed outside the entrance of the busy Sisa Dukashe Stadium in Mdantsane. The stadium, with a capacity of 20 000, is often full, particularly on weekends. Once used almost exclusively for boxing, the stadium now hosts a variety of community activities, from gospel music shows to soccer matches.
As viewers walk around the perimeter, or, in boxing speak, the ’ring’ of the artwork, the story of Mgxaji unfolds.
"There’s a lot of movement, a lot of activity on the panels," Lindsay says. "It’s quite energetic… You can almost imagine the noise of the crowd, and there’s a bit of a sense of dancing. Happyboy was an entertainer in the ring."
The tiles in the mosaics are fairly jagged, as if shattered by a fist.
The figure of Mgxaji is detailed, unlike the rest of the artwork. "There’s a contrast between something that is realised and something that is not realised … Happyboy realised his ambition to become a champion," Lindsay says.