"Until his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was better known as a cause than a man. But as a statesman, he set a moral compass for the world and raised the bar for mankind. Having already earned a global reputation as an author, in 2001 he decided to step out of his comfort zone and turn his memories into art. Inspired by the late John Lennon, whose artworks had commanded worldwide attention, his intention was to share a part of himself that had been completely hidden from the world and at 83 years old, he began sketching slowly, the ‘Struggle Series’.
In 2002, he returned to Robben Island and choosing places that held significance for him, he created strong black charcoal pieces with certain elements imbued with intense colour. It was only once engrossed in the creative process, that the therapeutic effect of visually recording his past became evident. The sources of his mystic appeal had a lot to do with the culture, traditions and values of his upbringing. For him, the commitments and obligations that arose from kinship and community often intersected with his politics. So his later charcoal sketches were about his homeland, which formed a strong influence on his upbringing and his view of the world.
The world that formed my father was very close to his heart, even throughout his 27 years in prison, he spoke fondly of Qunu, the world that formed him. This is why the ‘African Icons’ and ‘Homeland’ sketches are a tribute to the land, environment and animals, which impacted so powerfully on his life. It was his way of celebrating his history, lineage and his heritage.
Tom Lodge, a South African scholar and author observed that, though the city eventually became his home, my father was intensely rural and it was really half of his early life that really mattered when it came to ones roots. Not withstanding his wider political and social loyalties, there were deep rooted historical identities that could not be denied – the first experience of human solidarity in the family, in the clan, in the tribe – these constituted real identities, the nurseries for larger solidarities."
- Dr. Makaziwe Mandela