Moulding sand into art

Athina May

What began as a passion for making figurines from clay in a village in the Transkei, has matured into the creation of life-size sand sculptures on the beach at Big Bay.

Michael Myekwa and his helping hand, Bonga Matanzima, have become familiar faces in Big Bay and have drawn the attention of many onlookers awestruck by his sand creations, which include the Big Five, realistic-looking beach bathers and a horse rising from the sand.

Michael can just about anything with sand, if he has the right weather. The waves are brutal critics, though, and leave him only a brief window within which to conjure up his next masterpiece.

“The tide is coming in,” he says, his voice underscored with urgency as he surveys the sand, seeing so much more than just an empty beach.

“I will have about two hours to complete the Big Five before the tide washes it away.”

He seems as resigned to the ephemeral nature of his work as a Tibetan monk watching the destruction of a sand mandala.

Getting to work, he steps into the sand hollow created by Bonga. Using a sculpting tool fashioned from a KFC spoon, Michael starts carving detail into the rhino base he has already created.

Although he had just begun, many onlookers had already stopped to talk to Michael, asking him him whether he does special requests. He does: one of his fans proudly displays pictures of his bulldog, which Michael sculpted with sand.

“I learned how to do this sculpting in the Transkei where I grew up. There, we had red and yellow clay, and I used it to make cow figures. I would put them in front of the fire so they would harden and then we would play fight with them,” laughs Michael.

His skill grew when he went to Durban and picked up some of the techniques used by the sand artists there.

They use “black sand” to enhance their sculptures.

“In KZN, I met guys and I showed them how I make it my way. They use black sand and it gives the sculpture a nice shine. Over here, the sand is white, but it’s firm. It normally takes me three to four hours to complete a sculpture.”

Michael, lives in Happy Valley and turned to his passion for art after he lost his job as a supervisor at a packing company.

He makes a living from the donations he gets from the spectators and odd jobs such as gardening.

“When I do something, I feel it. I would love to get a job only doing this. Maybe if I had a studio or if parents brought their kids, I could teach them how to do this. It’s a tourist attraction,” said Michael admiring his own work.

Using art to change his life, Michael hopes to inspire others to do the same, and if anyone would like to view his creations or find out about art sculpting lessons, contact Michael at 060 412 3235.

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