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MANDELA, My Life: The Official Exhibition

THURSDAY EVENING saw the launch of MANDELA, My Life: The Official Exhibition, at Pappas on the Square, on Nelson Mandela Square, in Sandton, Johannesburg.

MANDELA, My Life: The Official Exhibition

Freshly installed at its Sandton venue as part of the commemorations of the 30th anniversary of Madiba’s release from prison, and after having opened at the Melbourne Museum on 22 September 2018 as part of a five-year international museum tour, the comprehensive show – to be in residence from 21 February until 22 July 2020 – was produced by iEC Exhibitions, TEG Live and Museums Victoria, and curated by Samantha Heywood.

Ahead of its glitzy opening, a select group of the media corps was invited to a lunchtime walkabout around the meandering space containing the heavily detailed informative and nostalgic installation centered around the life of the 20th Century liberator! 

With men in reflector jackets (no doubt from the companies which expertly installed components of the exhibition) milling around the entrance after having just put final touches to the show’s space, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Director of Archives, Razia Saleh, led the media contingent into the first section of the installation, namely, a strategically dimmed space with projectors hanging overhead and beaming visuals and accompanied by remastered audio clips from the 1964 Rivonia Treason Trial speech in the dock of the Palace of Justice, in Pretoria.

Indicative of the, at places, intricate collaborative efforts from various sources the show embodies, the very existence of the digitized audio is solely to the credit of French sound engineer, Henri Chamoux, who spent immeasurable time and effort whilst expertly sifting through 256 hours of audio initially recorded in the obsolete dictabelt format. Chamoux was able to preserve that part of South African history for posterity through his magnificent invention known as the Archeophone.

Occupying all of 850 square meters on the Upper Level of Nelson Mandela Square, the exhibition, meant for all ages, would take a visitor 1.5 – 2 hours to take in the installation of monochromatic and colour imagery, videos, audio recordings, furniture, clothing (including an assortment of the famous Madiba shirt; a replica of the jackal-skin kaross he wore pending his court appearances in the trial regarding his leaving the country illegally and of inciting strike action, and the SA Rugby Honorary Patron green blazer, among others) accolades, Struggle posters and miscellaneous tapestry, etc.  

Inter alia, the show also features a section replicating prisoners’ cells on Robben Island and underscored by impressive attention to detail on aspects such as wall paint colour combinations and metal window bars.

Elsewhere, a segment showcases aspects of Mandela’s dabble in boxing as expressed through his admiration of the sport’s American figures, namely, Muhammad Ali and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.  Coincidentally, Madiba’s affinity with Carter had unwitting parallels, as both men’s careers were cut short through incarceration, with the latter, a victim of wrongful arraignment and the former, imprisoned for a cause. 

A boxing glove contained in a glass casing bears both Carter’s and Mandela’s signatures.  Whilst “The Greatest” paid tribute upon Madiba’s passing through the following statement: “He made us realise we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colours.”  

Meandering through the mostly dimly lit space, visitors will also encounter an aesthetically laid out section displaying a collection of the trademark Madiba shirts – a la a clothing boutique’s display window.  An accompanying catalogue of the exhibition mentions that the statesman had been embraced by celebrities such as actor, Sylvester Stallone and U2 frontman, Bono, whilst donning a familiar one spotting leopard-prints.

Featured imagery draws on John Meyer’s realist paintings, the Bailey African History Archive, Eli Weinberg, Ernest Cole and inevitably, the Mandela family’s personal friend, Alf Kumalo’s photography traversing decades of documenting their existence!

There are also handwritten notes offering insights into Mandela’s thoughts, such as where he recounts how much he had forgotten of the customs of Qunu (his ancestral village) pending his 27 years of incarceration.  And typically of greats, inspirational quotes from him abound.  Gems such as: “With such comrades behind you, it is fairly easy to be the captain of one’s soul” (referring to his Rivonia Trial co-accused); “I am a black man in a white man’s court.”; “Prison is itself a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance.”; “Death is something inevitable.  When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”

Nelson Mandela wrote that he inherited his father’s proud rebelliousness and stubborn sense of fairness and nowhere was the assertion of being different from the rest expressed than through a juncture where his father took a pair of his trousers and cut them at the knee, in a determination to have his son dressed in western clothes for school – rather than the blankets boys in Qunu traditionally wore.

Putting the exhibition in perspective, the media release states that it provides a unique opportunity for people around the world to reflect on the gains of freedom and examine to what extent the fruits of that freedom have been enjoyed by all. The Nelson Mandela Foundation will use this time to promote Madiba’s legacy, seek to encourage dialogue on critical social issues and foreground constitutionalism as an energy for transformation.  

MANDELA My Life: The Official Exhibition, is a world-class exhibition on Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life, in collaboration with The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Richmark Holdings.

 A century on from his birth, this exhibition poetically and emotively explores the personal and public life of one of the most influential men in modern history.

A rich selection of rare personal artefacts, film footage and documents, combined with newly created audio-visual pieces form the heart of the exhibition and offer an insight into the world that shaped Mandela’s life and journey.

This journey is guided by the names that he was given throughout his lifetime, each a chapter representing an important moment in his growth and identity, and the history of political resistance and change in South Africa. These names have incredible multi‐layered meanings, encompassing depth of culture, of character and of resistance.

The names he carried were integral to the man he was, and the times that he received them defined his future. Just as he collected life lessons, he collected names, which he carried with him until his passing and live on in his legacy.

This official exhibition commemorates, illuminates and most importantly shares Nelson Mandela’s living legacy with the world.

A pop-up store next to the exit offers merchandize such as accompanying catalogues, t-shirts and miscellaneous items for sale. 

*The public is invited to experience the exhibition from the 21 February to 20 July 2020. Tickets are available from www.MandelaMyLifeExhibition.com

Image Jacob MAWELA (French tourists snap phone shots next to the Madiba sculptures on Nelson Mandela Square ahead of the public opening of Mandela – My Life – The Official Exhibition).

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