Art Against Darkness: What Nelson Mandela Drew


“It is true that Robben Island was once a place of darkness, but out of that darkness has come a wonderful brightness, a light so powerful that it could not be hidden behind prison walls, held back by prison bars or hemmed by the surrounding areas.”  Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

More than a decade after he walked out of prison – after the Nobel Peace prize, after his presidency, and long after he was globally revered – Nelson Mandela began to draw.


He revisited the wretched, sun-baked island that was once his prison and came away not with images of horror but of light. Mandela’s color-filled sketches – produced as lithographs in 2002 – symbolize his triumphs over the tyranny of the apartheid years. (Top: The guard tower / Above: The harbor, where new prisoners arrived)


The ultimate vision of hope, a lighthouse, kept ships away from the dangerous rock shelves that surround Robben Island. During Mandela’s 18-year imprisonment, it was a constant reminder of the impossibility of escape.

mandela-churchPrisoners were not allowed to enter the church, yet it remained a powerful spiritual symbol.  Mandala remained a spiritual force for millions, even in the months of severe illness that led to his death this week.

For more on Mandela’s art, see Global Art Junkie, where I posted on the Robben Island sketches this summer.


There are 8 comments


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  2. michellecfecit

    his lines carry a strong sense of minimalism but aren’t limited. such an ease of expression & sense of hope in these works as was present in the man himself! i love the outbuildings that sit at the base of the lighthouse & how the line trails off.
    what a beautiful & graceful presence mr. mandela was to this world!


  3. Reflecting on Nelson Mandela’s Art « Global Art Junkie

    […] I posted this as Nelson Mandela lingered in hospital in July, as tributes to his influence as a freedom fighter poured into South Africa from around the world.  His world role was the focus, but there is less often acknowledgement of his remarkable art.  In 2002, he began a series of more than 20 sketches about Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.  These are a selection of the sketches – historic documents that underscore the tyranny of his imprisonment.  (See another post on his art, on Canadian Art Junkie, here) […]


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