The city burns

The book Fire Walker explores the meaning of the iconic sculpture of the same name by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx, in Jozi.

First Published in

At the foot of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge in Johannesburg there is a large sculpture of a woman street vendor carrying a burning brazier on her head. Titled Fire Walker, the sculpture was created by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx for the Soccer World Cup of 2010.

An 11-metre high sculpture made of steel plates, Fire Walker challenges notions of traditional public sculptures, also because passers-by only have a momentary glimpse of the woman before the artwork fragments into black and white parts. The sculpture is based on a drawing by Kentridge of a firewalker, the colloquial term for women who carry these burning braais on their heads.

The Fire Walker book, edited by Oliver Barstow and Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, documents the journey of how this sculpture came to take its place on a site formerly used by informal traders and taxi washers. Published by Fourthwall Books, the book includes essays by Mark Gevisser, Mpho Matsipa and Alexandra Dodd on the nature and meaning of public art. There are also debates and conversations, and two photo essays on streets vendors and old city monuments.

A deluxe edition of the book is available in a limited-edition of 40, with frameable prints signed by Kentridge and Marx. The standard edition of Fire Walker comes without the prints but is definitely still a collectable.