Nelson Mandela’s Art: A Brief Introduction

Nelson Mandela is best known for his revolutionary work battling apartheid in South Africa during the second half of the 20th Century. His time spent in prison during this period inspired his art, and in the early 2000s he produced a number of lithographs depicting his struggles while incarcerated on Robben Island. Utilising symbolic landmarks and contrasting elements, Mandela’s works drew acclaim from people all over the world.

My Robben Island – Series 1

Mandela’s early works are typified by what is seen in the Robben Island Series, which centres on his life in incarceration. Various pieces in this collection offer Mandela’s perspective from inside his cell looking out on the world, including The Window, an idealised view of Table Mountain from between the bars showing beauty and hope. Connecting the outer freedom with the harsh reality of prison is a typical theme in this series. A piece called The Cell offers a view of Mandela’s room from the doorway, contrasting bleak blue walls with his colourful possessions from the outside.

Impressions of Africa

Released shortly after the first series of Robben Island lithographs was Impressions of Africa, a series of hand prints that includes his famous Hand of Africa, which features a symbolic depression in the hand resembling the shape of Africa. A fitting image created by a man who represents Africa’s rhythm and optimism. The two other hand paintings in this series highlight Africa’s present struggles in battling against the spread of HIV. In one piece, Mandela’s hand imprint is surrounded by those of children with HIV, reflecting these new problems for the next generations going forward.

Reflections of Robben Island – Series II

After the success of the first set of Robben Island lithographs, Series II of Reflections on Robben Island was released, touching on similar themes to the first. The Guard Tower is an imposing piece in this series showing the levels of security adopted to keep prisoners in and highlighting the oppression experienced on the island. There’s also a contrasting, colourful motivational lithograph of the guard tower called Mandela’s Walk, accompanied by an explanation of his motivations for producing the piece. Likewise, other lithographs in this series by Mandela have added information and photographs complementing the works, including The Courtyard and The Ward.



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