The University of Pretoria (UP) is now home to a spectacular 13-metre sculptural public artwork – the Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) THINK Bench, a contemporary functional piece designed to celebrate and encourage innovative and collaborative thinking.

This 10-ton concrete bench, unveiled today [13 August], has been installed on UP’s Hatfield campus. Appropriately located between the Merensky Library and the Student Centre, this thoughtfully interactive sculpture can host more than 20 students, seated.

RMB wanted to find a way for young talent to congregate and contribute through having conversations that matter. The bench was designed by artist Louis Olivier and his team from the Workhorse Bronze Foundry. Being a bench for students, it was imperative that young artists were involved in the creation, hence two assistant artists – Allen Laing and Nkhensani Rihlapfu – being mentored throughout the process. The bench spells out the word ‘THINK’ from one side, while another perspective reveals life-sized human silhouettes in different thinking poses. It acts as a reflective reminder to students passing by that sometimes one needs to change one’s perspective to think differently, reinforcing the bank’s brand ethos of ‘innovative and solutionist thinking’.

Prof Tawana Kupe, UP’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, said: “This impressive piece represents an ethos and a way of life at UP which our staff, students, and alumni are all products of. The RMB THINK Bench challenges our perceptions and is symbolic of how we shift perspectives by providing our students with high-quality teaching, learning and exposure to research excellence and community service. We also challenge our students to be critical thinkers, to think collaboratively and to apply their knowledge and skills in unique and creative ways that have a positive impact on society.”

“Many graduate thinkers from UP have been employed by RMB over the years, and we hope that one day, a new generation of successful alumni will fondly look back and remember conversations at the RMB THINK Bench, recalling how seeing things differently sparked that great idea that helped change the world for the better,” Prof Kupe said.

RMB’s Art Custodian, Carolynne Waterhouse said: “Renaissance artist Raphael’s The School of Athens served as inspiration to the initial team of Louis Olivier, Nkhensani Rihlampfu and Allen Laing. This group of young artists saw the link between the imagined School of Athens fresco which features the ‘greatest thinkers of all time’, and the learning and thinking spaces that universities are.

UP became a natural partner for this project, especially when RMB received a thorough proposal from the Student Representative Council requesting a bench and elaborating on its potentially powerful role as ‘a safe space for students to think fearlessly and collaboratively debate and share solutions’. This way RMB can help to nurture ‘thinking’ as a critical, active ingredient towards the further development of the academic value-chain.  

The bench at UP is one of a greater edition commissioned by RMB, the first of which was installed on the RMB Think Precinct at its Sandton headquarters in Johannesburg. Now a recognisable landmark in Sandton, the THINK Bench project was inspired by RMB’s vision to be part of an initiative to unlock creative and innovative energy in prominent places of ‘fearless thinking’ around the country.

As an interactive piece, the RMB THINK Bench also aims to break down the barrier between people and art. This easily accessible, experiential art piece invites students and others to pause, take time out of their busy days to reflect, share ideas and appreciate the presence of art in their lives.