Mandela Art, including lithographs drawn by the former President of South Africa, were launched by London art gallery Belgravia Gallery in 2002. The following year in February 2003 the art was officially launched on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela present. Both Nelson Mandela and Belgravia Gallery owner Anna Hunter gave speeches at the dinner. Anna Hunter spoke of the history of the Mandela Art Project and also how she had come to be involved in the Nelson Mandela Art initiative through her publishing of lithographs by HRH The Prince of Wales for 20 years. The speech given by Anna Hunter said:
“On behalf of Belgravia Gallery, I’d like to thank you for coming here this evening to celebrate this historic occasion. About four years ago we were at a meeting at St James’s Palace to discuss some new watercolours by the Prince of Wales and the programme we are involved in which publishes and distributes his work. One of the courtiers questioned why the sales have been so successful over the years – to which I replied – it’s simple, there are only 3 people in the world whose artwork sold for charity would attract so much interest: The Pope, the Prince of Wales and Nelson Mandela. This thought must have gone from my lips to God’s ears – in New York a year ago I learned that Nelson Mandela had indeed started to draw and paint and that his work would be sold.
We were deeply honoured to be asked to be associated with this spectacular initiative. I was amazed. Not just at the work itself – fresh, bright, well drawn, iconic symbols of the struggle in South Africa and the triumph over the tyranny of the apartheid years; We were also delighted that the funds raised from the sales of these works would benefit HIV and AIDs sufferers and children in particular. A cause so important in the light of the humanitarian disaster faced by Africa. This is not the first time that sales of artwork have been used to raise money for good causes. To my knowledge, the first was by The eldest daughter of Queen Victoria the Princess Royal who in 1858 allowed one of the paintings to be produced as a chromolithograph and sold for 1 guinea. She had seen the appalling conditions of war widows and orphans and she wanted to relieve their suffering. A great deal of money was raised by the initiative. Picasso produced some signed limited editions of his very simple sketches which included the symbolic Dove to fund the Paris Peace Movement. In the same vein the Prince of Wales has produced 17 different editions of lithographs since 1990 based on his own watercolours – views of Windsor and Balmoral Castles, English and Scottish landscapes together with views of some of the places he has visited around the world. Sales of his works have benefited his Charitable Foundation – over 500 charities have received funds ranging from International disaster appeals to cancer charities and other worthwhile causes. As a family run gallery, we have been committed to raising money for charity from the sale of art over the past 13 years. Around £4 million has been raised through the Prince of Wales’s work.
In May 2002 Mr Mandela began with a series of sketches with the subject being Robben Island. Under the watchful eye of Varenka Paschke, a young South African Artist, he quickly adapted from being a world leader to a budding artist. Varenka guided her student providing assistance with the basic composition of the sketches and method of the colour applications. Nelson Mandela completed over 20 sketches that include images he found meaningful, both symbolically and emotionally, during the period of his incarceration on the island. The works were completed in a series of colour separations, the strong black charcoal lines providing the guide to each of the colourful shades selected for sketches. It is interesting to note that there is no original piece, only a series of separations that when overlaid create the final sketch. Five sketches have been published and are raising funds for the charities in which Mr Mandela is personally involved – enabling people to ‘own’ a little piece of Nelson Mandela in return for their donation. Other sketches from the original works will be released in the future. Mr Mandela signs each of the pieces with a generous and carefully drawn signature.
It has been inspiring for my daughter Laura-our gallery manager and I to be in Mr Mandela’s presence as he signs each of the works. During the signing sessions he shares so many wonderful stories about his life experiences…those that make up the inspiration that he has become to so many of us. When the Robben Island Series was delivered to our gallery in London in September last year we were quite astonished at the directness, the strong use of line and colour, the confidence with the form. The Cell, The Lighthouse, The Church, The Harbour and The Window are Mr Mandela’s early works but few professional artists could have captured the appalling sacrifice of 17 years on Robben Island with such skill.
These places on this island where many suffered were drawn with a love which triumphed over the adversity and brutality it caused. Mr Mandela’s work emanates the grace which he has triumphed over the past and offers us, as all great art should, an opportunity to reflect on its message in our own lives. Clients were very moved by the pictures. One young woman broke down in tears telling us that her father was imprisoned here for 15 years. She remembered him only from the time he returned, a broken man, and survived just 3 more years. We all cried! The lithographs were printed under the supervision of Professor Steven Inggs at the printmaking department of the University of Cape Town to the highest standards of printmaking. The quality is equal to the production of the finest French and British ateliers – simply superb. Our first reaction to the two new lithographs by Mr Mandela, the ‘Impressions of Africa’-shown here for the first time tonight- was absolute astonishment at the likeness to the shape of Africa in the palm of his right hand- it is extraordinary and will undoubtedly become like the Window lithograph, as the British newspaper The Sun put it, “an enduring symbol of the twentieth century.” The left hand surrounded by palm prints of children, provides a poignant message that this illness is not about numbers – it is real people suffering physically and emotionally daily.
Throughout history few have left so indelible an imprint on the international stage as Nelson Mandela. His courage, his compassion and his humanity are among the qualities than have led to this Nobel laureate being recognised as the world’s greatest living statesman. It is therefore fitting that the extraordinary imprint of his right hand should so closely resemble the shape of the continent of Africa. It is as though its rhythms, sources of strength and dynamism were reflected in the character of this truly amazing man who is now also a talented artist. Never did a single individual more powerfully symbolise the hopes of a nation. South Africa became free in the way that it did because his hand reached out to all – his name has become a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples throughout the world. Nelson Mandela, now in his eighties but as resolute as ever, is once again reaching out to answer the new cry from those suffering in his beloved country, to the millions whose lives are or will be blighted by Aids.”
Mandela art is available through Belgravia Gallery.