Maverick Citizen


Mannequins for Mother Earth – Natania Botha’s ‘body of work’ is an artistic plea for the planet

Mannequins for Mother Earth – Natania Botha’s ‘body of work’ is an artistic plea for the planet
Natania Botha. (Photo: Thom Pierce, The Actionists)

Natania wants her mannequin art to stand as a conversation starter, to encourage the public to take climate change more seriously.

Six years ago, Natania Botha was walking along a beach on The Bluff while on a trip to Durban. She noticed the environmental centre that was lying vacant and the beach that was covered in plastic litter. The sight of such neglect affected her so profoundly that she resigned from her job as a marketing executive and dedicated her time to cleaning the beach. 

Over the coming months, she managed to pull together funding to get the environmental education centre reopened and mobilised 2,000 people over four days to clean up the entire beach. 

This was the first step in her journey as an environmental Actionist. 

“If I’m going to leave this for someone else to do, then it’s not going to happen. If you have the ability to do something then you have a responsibility to do it.”

At the age of 16 Natania’s father left suddenly and she was forced to support herself and her mother by leaving school and getting a job at Woolworths in Brits. Her first task was to wash one of the store mannequins. It was from this simple experience, at a formative time in her life, that Natania developed a strong emotional connection to mannequins, their form and power as a symbol of life. 

It was not until many years later that this fascination developed into an artistic endeavour to express humanity’s responsibility towards the planet through a bold series of sculptures titled Reflections of Resilience.

For the past six months Natania has disconnected herself from the outside world to tirelessly work in her home studio to create 40 mannequins adorned with mosaics, created from ceramic items collected from around the world. She has sourced thousands of tiles to diligently compose a series of human portraits that stand as a “body of work” to invite humanity to delve into their own experience and explore the connections that envelop them with the natural world.

“This collection is entirely dedicated to the river of life. The pattern is free flow. You become an empty vessel where the art reveals itself going through your hands.”

Natania wants the work to stand as a conversation starter, to encourage the public to take the topic of climate change more seriously. The message of the work is that we should, as South Africans, be talking about climate change at home and around the braai. We have evidence of extreme weather but most of us feel like it doesn’t immediately affect us, so we don’t engage with it.

“I want to get a strong message out there to world leaders that they need to consider the communities that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, usually the poorest communities.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Free at last — one man’s noble quest to clear criminal records from vulnerable people’s past

Up close, you can see that each piece has been painstakingly assembled; combining colour, shape and pattern to create a unique, anonymous figure. Experienced together, the 40 pieces are an eye-catching statement, and have a power transcending their individuality. 

Natania’s dream as an artist is to make art worthy of museums and to use her artistic voice to advocate for a harmonious coexistence with Mother Nature. Through her collection of beautiful figures, she has taken her first steps towards doing just that. DM

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected]


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • I’m so proud of all of your hard work and endless energy you give to making the planet a better place through all that you do! It’s fantastic that you are receiving the recognition for doing this in this great article. May you continue to motivate and encourage those around you, and keep making your beautiful art. We need 100 more passionate activists like you! Be blessed.

  • Kenneth Arundel says:

    Just plain wonderful.

  • Cathy Dzerefos says:

    This young woman is a powerhouse. Here she is shown picture perfect with her beautiful art but she does not shy away from cleaning up garbage and digging into the hard ground of a building site to plant a tree.

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