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Nelson Mandela Exhibit Opens at NCCU Art Museum
Published: Friday, July 30, 2010

In celebration of the first Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18, North Carolina Central University’s Art Museum will exhibit “Spirit of Freedom: Drawings and Narratives from Nelson Mandela’s Imprisonment at Robben Island,” from Aug. 8 through Sept. 17. Twenty color sketches and narratives from Mandela’s series, “My Robben Island II,” will be displayed.

In the exhibit, Mandela revisits his 27 years of political imprisonment, 19 of which he spent on Robben Island, with a series of charcoal and pastel sketches. Drawing contrast to the colorless life he and fellow prisoners experienced, Mandela adds color to the stark charcoal sketches.

The sketches were the idea of a Mandela adviser who believed that they could help raise money for the fight against AIDS. The former freedom fighter returned to Robben Island with photographer Grant Warren and later worked as a student with artist Varenka Paschke, a granddaughter of the apartheid Prime Minister P. W. Botha, to produce lithographs. Steven Inggs, professor of printmaking at the University of Cape Town, turned Mandela’s work into limited edition prints.

Some of the sketches, such as “The Tower,” are mounted alongside photographs of the actual subjects and include Mandela’s own words. “In this sketch I have attempted to pull together the two elements that overshadowed our lives for so many years: The towers and the ever-restraining barbed wire. ... The use of more cheerful colors in the sketch is my way of presenting how we feel today,” Mandela comments.

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom. “These sketches are not so much about my life as they are about my own country. I drew hands, as they are powerful instruments, hands can hurt or heal, punish or uplift.”

The pieces have been loaned to NCCU by Capitol Broadcasting Co. and were originally purchased in South Africa by Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of Capital Broadcasting. Goodmon had earlier toured Robben Island with a former prisoner as guide and noticed the pieces as he passed an art gallery.

Born Rolihlahla Mandela in 1918, Mandela was active in the African National Congress (ANC), an organization focused on African nationalism and self-determination. The 1948 political victory of the white supremacist National Party in South Africa, which ran on the platform of apartheid, thrust Mandela into a leadership role with the ANC. Mandela led the resistance against apartheid in a campaign that included boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and non-cooperation.

In 1964 he was arrested and found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released from prison in 1990 and elected president of the ANC the next year. Three years later, black South Africans would vote for the first time and Mandela was elected the first black President of a fully democratic South Africa. Now 92 years old, this former South African President, Nobel Prize laureate and former political prisoner remains one of the most transformative figures of tolerance, compassion and reconciliation.

The NCCU Art Museum, on Lawson Street across from the Farrison-Newton Communications Building, is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For general information or assistance, call (919) 530-6211.

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