"Today when I look at Robben Island I see it as a celebration of the struggle and a symbol of the finest qualities of the human spirit, rather than as a monument to the brutal tyranny and oppression of apartheid.
Robben Island is 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.
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 in by the surrounding sea.
In these sketches entitled: My Robben Island, I have attempted to colour the island sketches in ways that reflect the positive light in which I view it. This is what I would like to share with people around the world and, hopefully, also project the idea that even the most fantastic dreams can be achieved if we are prepared to endure life’s challenges."
- Nelson Mandela June 2002
The Robben Island I collection of works depicts some of the most iconic images from Robben Island, from the open door to the artists cell and meager belongings to the brightly coloured church. Each piece carrying its owns story:
This image reflects a vision Nelson Mandela would reflect upon from inside his 9x9ft cell, Although the range of Table Mountain is not visible from the cell he would often gaze into the courtyard wall and imagine his country of birth, on returning to the Island in 2002, prior to completing this image, the artist once more gazed from the cell window and said “It looks a lot more colourful now than it did a few years ago”. After sketching the image he said to the gallery director "That window, you know, was actually a window to the world, because I could see quite a lot… Through my mental horizons expand".
It was here that the Susan Kruger first docked and delivered to the island a band of brothers exiled to this barren piece of earth, surrounded by turbulent seas, violent currents – a natural fortress to contain these brothers, to prevent easy access to their fellow countrymen – for fear they may share their vision for a united land, a free land, a land for all South Africans… Equally. When Nelson Mandela left the Island the harbour quay was as empty as the prison cells… The waves lapping at the tyres sounded as it the harbour was applauding his departure.
This image is one that would flash through the artists mind on regular intervals, from the first time he was thrust into the 6 ft x 9 ft cell to the last time he exited… that hard sound of the key clanking the tumblers in the lock would be the first thing he heard in the morning and the last thing he heard at night. But they day of his departure from the island the sound changed significantly. He would say that on the day of his transfer from Robben Island to transfer to Victor Verster prison, his warder seemed to be turning the key in slow motion – he was unaware if it was turning the lock to his freedom or yet another transfer.
Although the prisoners were never allowed in the Robben Island Church Nelson Mandela always felt a sense of calm as they marched past this beautiful building en rote to the lime stone quarry. Their route back to the cells at the end of the day once again passed the church, now bathed in the sunset, the same sunset that cast its spell of African colours on his people and his land some 10 kilometres in the distance.
The artist would often lie on his bed at night and count the flashed of the lighthouse lamp as it cast its rays through the bars, briefly reflecting a shadowy outline of the bars along the adjacent wall. Mandiba imagined the light beams pulsing into the night and wondered if people looked out and the island lighthouse and thought of him and his brethren in this forlorn place. When colouring the works the artist accidentally pressed his hand on the sketch, in the sky to the left of the lighthouse, after applying a bit more pastel the image was almost invisible… its shadow reminder of this mans humbleness can still be made out on the image.