Saturday, 10 August 2013

Nelson Mandela Art on Robben Island. Legal battles over Mandela's art and grave. Authenticity of the art.

Three Hand of Africa lithographs by Nelson Mandela
 Africa in the palm of his right hand, centre, is from an impression

Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 
First black President of South Africa 1992-1999 
 Nobel Peace Prize 1993

Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, eighteen of which he spent on Robben Island, the subject of his art.  He was given a life sentence in 1964 for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the South African government. He was released in 1990 largely due to an international campaign for his release   


 Robben Island


 Guard Tower photo and Mandela lithograph

Mandela took up art in order to sell his works to benefit homeless children and to fund research into Aids. He went back to Robben Island in 2002 with a photographer Grant Warren and subsequently took art lessons in his home from Varenka Paschke, 26, a granddaughter of Prime Minister P. W. Botha.  He learned to draw using charcoal, watercolour, oil and crayon and based his sketches on Warren's photos of the island.  Limited editions of lithographs My Robben Island were signed individually by Mandela and proceeds from the sales went to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, the Nelson Mandela Trust and Nelson Mandela Foundation..  

Demand for Mandela's prints far exceeded supply. Many more reproductions of the Robben Island sketches were sold than were made and his signature was purportedly misappropriated. Mandela took his former friend and lawyer Ismail Ayobthe chairman of the Nelson Mandela Trust, to court in 2004. A Pretoria court ruling in June 2005 ordered Ayob and publisher Ross Calder to stop selling art supposedly signed by Mandela. Two of Mandela's daughters Zenani and Makaziwe Mandela are also on the board of the Nelson Mandela Trust, and in May of this year they were reportedly suing for the right to control the bank accounts and sell the art within the Trust. 

Since standing down as president in 1999, Mandela negotiated tirelessly for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and elsewhere, campaigned against HIV/Aids and helped to secure South Africa's right to host the 2010 football World Cup. He officially retired in 2005 aged 87.


It is sad to think that Nelson Mandela, 95, is currently in a Pretoria Hospital "in a serious but stable condition" while even more legal wrangling has been going on regarding the exhumation of two of his children and the destination of the final resting place of one of the world's greatest statesmen. 

Mandela has been treated like a milch cow by many people capitalising on his name. Even his art has been called into question, and some critics claim Varenka Paschke had 'enhanced' his original sketches. 

Mandela's chose to sketch places on Robben Island that were significant to him in order to raise money for his charities, and he signed the original limited editions. It is unlikely he would have done so had the work not been his. Hopefully his art will stand the test of time.

The Window, from My Robben Island, Series 1

Mandela wrote an explanation or motivation for each of his sketches.The Window was "a window to the world, because I could see quite a lot. I could see my mental horizons expand." Mandela added Table Mountain to the sketch although his original cell overlooked the courtyard.  He used a black crayon to draw the outlines of his sketches which he shaded in with pastels.

The Cell, from My Robben Island, Series 1
Mandela was imprisoned there from 1962-1982


Mandela's cell on Robben Island

Mandela's concrete cell contained a straw mat for bedding, a table and a slop bucket; the cell measured 8 feet (2.4 m) by 7 feet (2.1 m). It was damp and he subsequently developed TB in another damp cell in a mainland prison in 1988. Political prisoners on Robben Island spent their days breaking rocks up into gravel or in the lime quarry. At night, Mandela worked on his LLB correspondence course from London University; he also studied Islam and Afrikaans. He was a keen gardener and was given permission to grow vegetables After 1967, prison conditions improved.

The Lighthouse, from My Robben Island, Series 1

Robben Island is  6.9 km west of the coast of Cape Town and has a long history of shipwrecks owing to reefs and the heavy open Atlantic surf. The lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1938; its light can be seen for 24 nautical miles. The island was a former leper colony,  an animal quarantine station and a defence station during WWII before it was turned into a prison. The  island is  3.3 km long and 1.9 km wide.  It has been a Heritage Site since 1997.     

The Church, from My Robben Island, Series 1
Mandela was imprisoned on the island from 1962-1982

The Harbour, from My Robben Island, Series 1

Nelson Mandela described Robben Island as" a place where courage endured in the face of endless hardship, a place where people kept on believing when it seemed their dreams were hopeless and a place where wisdom and determination overcame fear and human frailty".

The Guard Tower, from My Robben Island, Series 2

Mandela's Walk, from My Robben Island, Series 2

“We worked the quarries for thirteen years as part of our hard labour sentence. It was hard work, but we did not mind, as it meant we could leave the prison compound and have the freedom to walk and talk together on the long road to the quarry".

The Ward, from My Robben Island, Series 2

"On Robben Island, political and general prisoners were kept well apart. The only place where we could talk and share information with other inmates was in the prison hospital...the hospital I have sketched here served as a vital link between us and the rest of the world...

The Courtyard, from My Robben Island, Series 2

The Courtyard “was an unfriendly, empty and barren place. It was a sombre reminder of where I was. From the beginning of my imprisonment I asked to start a garden to change this." 

 The Tennis Court, from My Robben Island, Series 2

The Tennis Court:  "We painted the cement courtyard surface to create a traditional tennis court layout. Strangely, Robben Island was the first opportunity for me to play tennis since university."