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Former S. African President Nelson Mandela Exhibits Drawings - 2003-02-07

Former South African President Nelson Mandela is taking another step toward establishing himself as an artist, with an exhibit of his charcoal sketches. The works are being displayed on Robben Island, where Mr. Mandela served much of his 27-year jail term. They will be sold to benefit one of his charitable foundations.

As if a Nobel Peace Prize were not enough, now Nelson Mandela is making a bid to go down in history as an artist.

The South African political prisoner-turned-president is exhibiting five new drawings in a special art exhibit on Robben Island, near Cape Town, where Mr. Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in jail.

Mr. Mandela's art sales are the brainchild of publisher Ross Calder, who heads the Touch Of Mandela project. Mr. Calder says he wanted to find a new way to raise funds for Mr. Mandela's charities, without taking too much of the 84-year-old Nobel laureate's time and energy.

"We presented the idea to him, and he said, well, he believes he would like to do it, however his artistic abilities were in the deepest recesses of his mind, and we'd have to find them," he said.

So Mr. Calder recruited 26-year-old Cape Town artist Varenka Paschke to help the legendary former-president develop his artistic side. He took weekly art lessons last year, learning to work with charcoals and pastels.

Ms. Paschke says Mr. Mandela was a very keen student, and his work is no frills [straight-forward].

The current exhibition is called, My Robben Island. Mr. Mandela has sketched views of the island prison he knows only too well. One picture shows his tiny cell, seen from the outside. Another shows the view from his cell window, looking toward Cape Town on the mainland.

Mr. Calder says each picture is like a little piece of Nelson Mandela.

"Really, what they are is sketches of Robben Island," Mr. Mandela said. "They're sketches of images that are both iconic as well as have tremendous meaning to him. For instance, he chose the lighthouse because it was almost a signal that they had as it swirled around, flashing its light, they would get it through their cell windows. And he would know that, at least on the mainland, his people were seeing that same light. It was almost like a pulse."

Mr. Calder says the ex-president finds sketching relaxing, but still has trouble believing people are willing to pay money for his work.

And paying money is exactly what people are doing, lots of money. The drawings have been converted into lithographs so they can be reproduced. This is the second batch of Mr. Mandela's lithographs to go on sale. Earlier works were snapped up by celebrities, including American talk show host Oprah Winfrey and actor Patrick Duffy.

The lithographs in the new exhibit are selling for up to $3,000 each. The whole five-piece set, plus a handwritten artist's motivation statement, goes for a little over $15,000.

All of the proceeds benefit the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. The Mandela lithographs will also be sold in Britain and the United States.