Exploring the relationship between pain and beauty, the imagery is based on Michelangelo’s dying slave, representing a male figure in the ecstatic throes of dying.
Cianfanelli’s image has been cropped to show only the man’s head, referring to conventional portraiture and images of beauty in magazines or billboard adverts. The work has been created with mosaic as the medium by artists from Spier Architectural Arts. Cianfanelli had a vision to create the image from mosaic because of the medium’s ability to create large-scale work, and in order to explore the pixilation effect of mosaic.
The design for the mosaic was done digitally by Cianfanelli, using a photographic source. The image was ‘digitised’ into lines of ‘pixels’, which was then interpreted by the mosaic studio. Similar to Cianfanelli’s Madiba sculpture installed outside Howick in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, the work features columns that together create a completed image. Nine columns measuring 4.2 metres in height cover an installation area of almost 30 square metres.
The artwork is located at the junction of two prominent pedestrian axes at Spier, between the Spier Hotel and the Conference Centre. Mirror images of The Dying Slave are installed back-to-back, one a ‘positive’ image and the other a ‘negative’ or photographic inversion of the same image. The grand scale of the work has a strong graphic impact and the column placement allows the viewer to circulate through the installation and to be ‘submerged’ within the artwork. The sculpture is visible if approached from either direction, and, when seen from a distance all the columns line up and the image of the artwork is formed.