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Nelson Mandela: The Artist - 2004-03-10

Nelson Mandela has been described many ways: African hero, human rights leader, and humanitarian. Now he can also be described as “artist.” In New York City, 25 works of art by the former South African president are on display. The images are based on the 27 years he spent at Robben Island prison.

The exhibit was organized by Anna Hunter, owner of Belgravia Gallery in London. From New York, where she attended the opening of the Mandela exhibit yesterday, Ms. Hunter spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the works of art.

She says, “This exhibit has been really popular in London and other places it’s been taken to. And we particularly wanted to answer the requests of our lovely American customers, who all when are you going to bring it to America?”

In describing the exhibit, Ms. Hunter says, “There are a number of pieces that Mr. Mandela has drawn, color artworks from the series of Robben Island. Five of his first reminiscences of Robben Island, individual pieces including The Harbor, The Church and an amazing imaginary view from his cell window across to Table mountain and South Africa. That’s the first series. And there are some more pieces that he’s done of Robben Island since then and this amazing piece, The Hand of Africa, where his palm print was taken, it’s a lovely black palm print, and in the middle of it is the shape of Africa. It’s quite extraordinary.”

Mr. Mandela began his artwork in March 2002. It was suggested he could use the pictures to raise money for his charities, such as his foundation on HIV/AIDS. He had not done any artwork before. Ms. Hunter says the former South African president said, “If I have any talent at all, it’s in the far recesses of a very old mind.” He suggested an art teacher might help him learn something. The lithographs range in price of between $4,500 and $18,000.

The Mandela exhibit at New York’s Rockefeller Plaza, will continue until March 27th. It’s expected to then tour the United States, but a tentative schedule is not yet available.