mandelaTHE WORLD LOST a legendary statesman this week. After spending 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) defeated generations of white minority rule when he was elected South Africa’s first black president, serving from 1994 to 1999. A standard-bearer for peace and reconciliation, Mandela died on Dec. 5 at the age of 95.

Following a long period of failing health, in early November, an African National Congress official reported that Mandela said, “I am not sick, I am just old.”

Years ago, Mandela revealed how he would like to be remembered: “I would like it to be said that, ‘Here lies a man who has done his duty on earth.’ That is all.”

“I would like it to be said that, ‘Here lies a man who has done his duty on earth.’ That is all.”
— Nelson Mandela

MANY ALSO REMEMBER MANDELA AS AN ARTIST, visually communicating his perspectives as eloquently as when he spoke. In 2002, he translated his memories and experiences on Robben Island into a collection of colorful, poignant charcoal and pastel drawings (“My Robben Island Series” I and II). He also created images of his handprint (“Impressions of Africa”) and an earlier series of hands depicting injustice and freedom, hurt, healing and uplift in South Africa (“The Struggle Series”) in 2001.

With the help of a tutor, Mandela sketched the drawings of Robben Island from photographs. The New York Times reported on the project. In the article, Mandela explained his relationship with color:

In prison, he said, almost everything was gray, the stone buildings, the sand and crushed seashells, the dull khaki uniforms.

”Then came freedom and the lifting of the dark hood from my eyes,” he said of his release from prison. ”I could not get enough of this looking at, feeling, touching and experiencing this new recovery of the experience of color.”

”When I initially did the sketches in black chalk, the images looked quite bleak,” Mr. Mandela said of his drawings of Robben Island. ”I then thought it should be a celebration and introduced the bright cheery colors.”
— The New York Times

The works were produced in a series of lithographs. A few years after sales of the Robben Island images commenced at Belgravia Gallery in London, Mandela sued his former lawyer when it appeared the proceeds were not reaching the charities designated to benefit from the transactions. The Art Newspaper reported on the controversy and resolution of the case in 2008, though Mandela remained unsatisfied with the outcome.

More information about all three series can be found around the web, including at Touch Galleries of Sydney, Australia, and North Carolina Central University Art Museum, where the Robben Island series was exhibited in 2010. CT


Top photo: via Festival Karsh Ottawa | Creative Commons


My Robben Island Series I: The Window


My Robben Island Series I: The Church


My Robben Island Series I: The Cell


My Robben Island Series I: The Lighthouse


My Robben Island Series I: The Harbor


My Robben Island Series II: Mandela’s Walk


My Robben Island Series II: The Tower


My Robben Island Series II: The Ward


Impressions of Mandela: The Right Hand


Impressions of Mandela: The Bars and Key (Freedom Series)


The Struggle Series: Imprisonment


The Struggle Series: Freedom


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