Bespoke fixing solution created by TAL for the Ndzundza/Nzunza portrait

By Tal | 2018-08-27

TAL is proud to have supplied a bespoke fixing solution for the Ndzundza/Nzunza Portrait, a larger than life art installation on the west wall of City Property’s North City House in Braamfontein, now renamed Nzunza House. Working closely with artist, Hannelie Coetzee, a bespoke fixing solution was developed exclusively for this installation which was officially unveiled on Women’s Day, 9th August 2018.

Using the concept of pixels as inspiration, Hannelie created the portrait using ceramic plates, bowls and cups from the Johannesburg-based manufacturer Liebermann Pottery. Each piece of crockery represents an individual pixel which together created the stunning image of an Ndzundza/ Nzunza woman in profile. This awe-inspiring art installation extends some 5.5 metres wide, by 33 metres in height.

The Ndzundza/Nzunza Ndebele lived in the area that is now Johannesburg and its immediate surroundings, in the 17th century. They were an inclusive society who embraced diverse influences, including Swazi and Zulu, whose cultural influences could be seen in their pottery and beadwork. This portrait harks back to that culture of diversity but also embraces the modern city of Johannesburg where people from all over Africa, and indeed the world, live and call home. 

The challenges of bringing the Ndzundza/Nzunza Portrait to Johannesburg were many, requiring a very specific solution, which TAL was happy to develop and manufacture. The first issue was that the installation is on an exterior, west facing wall of the building, subject to direct sun in the afternoons, as well as rain and frost as the season’s change. Furthermore, the ‘tiles’ were pieces of crockery where the individual items were pre-assembled onto a mesh backing, effectively creating a giant mosaic mural. Finally, Hannelie required a specific colour finish between the individual items to complete the aesthetic impact of the portrait.  After much consultation and rigorous testing both a suitable product and a technical specification for the installation was developed.

Nzunza House was previously covered with mosaics which had been removed, so a TAL Keymix and TAL Keycoat primer slurry coat was applied to the entire façade to prepare the surface for the installation.  This slurry coat provides a level of water resistance to the installation as well as providing a suitable surface for the adhesive system to bond onto.

Secondly, a highly flexible installation system was essential so that the installation could flex and move with the anticipated thermal expansion and contraction, without fear of cracking or delamination of the crockery items. Equally important, movement joints which extend all the way to the substrate throughout the installation were specified and established at regular intervals.

As Johannesburg experiences hailstorms, the larger pieces of crockery within the artwork were treated with a poly-propylene coating to protect them from damage. To ensure a strong bond between these pieces and the tile adhesive and grouting system, a TAL Keymix and TAL Keycoat primer slurry was applied to the back of each individual piece before being assembled onto the mesh backing. Additionally, these were positively fixed to the surface through carefully drilling through the larger plates and bowls, anchoring them not only with the tile adhesive but also with screws into the wall. When installing mosaics or items like this, the bonding and grouting is generally done in one application to ensure a good bond. Thus, any voids between the plates, cups and bowls within the installation were filled with the bespoke adhesive and grout from TAL, delivering a smooth finish.

Each individual item of crockery was originally plotted and laid out on the floor inside the building. Then using a pattern, portions of the giant mosaic mural were carefully moved and placed correctly on the wall outside. This meant that work had to progress in small sections. To accommodate this slower, more methodical installation, TAL supplied the product in 10kg bags, rather than the traditional 20kg bags, to avoid ‘skinning’ of the product and preventing wastage. Furthermore, as work on the portrait was done from a scaffold many metres above the ground, smaller bags were more manageable in the limited space.

Regular visits to site by TAL Technical Representatives, ensured that any unforeseen challenges with the installation were addressed in good time. It was important to keep the momentum going on the project and to complete the portrait on time. Work on the portrait was completed in June 2018 on a tight 10-week schedule. 

Ndzundza Portrait

As a company with over 40 years of working in the tile adhesive industry, to be able to contribute to this project was a great privilege. To have played our small part in bringing this artwork to the city gives us great pride.

Visit to find out more about TAL products, specifications and value-added on-site service offering. Alternatively, contact the TAL Technical Advisory Service on 0860 000 TAL (825)



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