The Israeli Foreign Ministry is considering severe disciplinary measures against Yaffa Mendel, the administrative officer of the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, after she decided to hand over a rare and precious Eduardo Villa statue worth hundreds of thousands of dollars which stood in the embassy courtyard, because she thought it was “an ugly piece of junk,” Tel Aviv Times reported Friday.
According to sources in the Israeli foreign ministry, the statue is worth anywhere between $100,000 and half a million.
Edoardo Daniele Villa (1915–2011) was a notable South African sculptor of Italian descent who worked primarily in steel and bronze. He represented South Africa at the Venice Biennale on five occasions and received awards at the São Paulo Biennales of 1957 and 1959. His works have been exhibited in more than a hundred shows in Italy, Europe, England, Israel, South America, Africa and the United States.
Villa, along with Cecil Skotnes, Cecily Sash, Giuseppe Cattaneo and Sydney Kumalo, made up the artist group “Amadlozi” (Zulu for “ancestors”) for the conscious appropriation of African sculptural traditions.
Tell that to the Embassy’s administrative officer…
The statue was on the property when it was purchased by the State of Israel. Without approval from Jerusalem, Mendel decided to hand over the statue to the University of Pretoria. In 1994, Villa donated 140 small and 10 large works to the University of Pretoria, for a new museum dedicated to his works.
Mendel always hated the statue, according to Tel Aviv Times, and has been trying to get rid of it for two years. She even contacted scrap metal dealers to haul it away. The former Israeli Ambassador, Arthur Lenk, who knew the artistic and financial value of the work, vehemently refused to let I go. But after Lenk had been replaced in 2017 by Ambassador Lior Keinan, who was unaware of the great value of the statue, Mendel finally got rid of the eyesore.
The affair was revealed when a senior Foreign Ministry official was visiting the Pretoria embassy and noticed the absence of the statue, which apparently had been the pride and joy of the embassy in years past.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a response saying that “the issue is being dealt with by the Foreign Ministry’s Inspector General, and the Foreign Ministry takes the matter gravely and seriously.”
Now, that’s a relief.