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The Meaning Of Mandela



This exhibition, originally curated by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, explores the life and times of Nelson Mandela and reveals insights into the man rarely seen before in the public domain.

The Meaning of Mandela, also known as Mandela: Comrade, leader, prisoner, negotiator, statesman originally opened at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg a year ago but is now on show at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha.

It presents a new look at Mr Mandela that shows fresh images and embraces multimedia concepts. The footage, rare photographs, three dimensional objects, notes in Mr Mandela’s handwriting, silk screens and historic texts…these represent a shift in the Museum’s approach to exhibitions and narratives.

It strips back the layers of his life to reveal him as a comrade, leader, prisoner, negotiator, and finally, statesmen. It shows the human values that underpin the man. This was a man not afraid of debate, or criticism. He is a man whose upbringing in this area, largely rural in character, forged and formed him.

The exhibition’s curator, the Apartheid Museum’s director, Christopher Till, says the starting point was the hope of “revealing elements that we subconsciously know about Mandela but which hasn’t up until now been illustrated”.

“We looked for images not seen before – which are few and far between – and tried to engage visitors firstly in a visual sense. The images, the size of the panels, breathe life into the elements of Mandela’s landscape. He could so easily have become a pop cult image, such as Che Guevara or Steve Biko whose faces are on so many t-shirts. But he didn’t because he has such a strong presence and personality and he used his stature to stand up for what he believed in,” said Till.

Till described Mr Mandela as a “man who selflessly followed his destiny moulded by circumstance and conviction, to change ours for ever”.

The exhibition is a product of a transformation grant from the Department of Arts and Culture – the Museum’s major funder – combined with other funding identified by the Museum’s Council to augment the transformation fund. The Museum partnered with the Apartheid Museum, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Department of Education, the Ford Foundation, and the Mott Foundation to support this initiative.

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