Bonhams to offer first NFT edition of Nelson Mandela's artwork

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Bonhams to offer first NFT edition of Nelson Mandela's artwork
Nelson Mandela, Robben Island Church. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams is to offer the first NFT of Nelson Mandela’s emotive watercolours in a dedicated sale, Nelson Mandela's "My Robben Island", a NFT edition drop, on Wednesday 9 March at New Bond Street. Offered through the NFT platform, Nifty Gateway, these exclusive NFTs are the first to be minted of Mandela’s own artwork and are to be sold at $699 for a single image and $3,495 for the set. The size of the edition is determined by popular demand – up to an upper limit of 10,000. The NFT edition is being offered in partnership with Makaziwe Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter.

Giles Peppiatt, Bonhams Director, Modern & Contemporary African Art, commented: “Nelson Mandela is quite simply an icon whose life is a source of strength and inspiration to millions of people throughout the world. Having previously sold original artwork by Nelson Mandela at Bonhams, we are delighted to offer these NFT editions which will allow collectors and admirers to share in his work.”

Makaziwe Mandela, commented: “I am extremely pleased to be partnering with Bonhams and Nifty Gateway to offer these exclusive NFTs of my father’s work. NFTs are an exciting way to democratise art, and I’m delighted to share my father’s legacy in new forms.”

Nelson Mandela (1918 - 2013) stepped down as President of South Africa on 16 June 1999. Following his retirement, he turned to making art as a therapeutic activity and produced a series of watercolour sketches that depicted his imprisonment on Robben Island. He created the works in which graphic lines are filled with dazzling colour to imbue Mandela’s memories of his imprisonment with deep emotional and symbolic meaning.

The NFT edition of “My Robben Island” consists of six items: five original watercolours and The Motivation, (a text written by Mandela that details his reasons for visualising the harsh realities of his 18-year incarceration on the island). All works bear the signature of Nelson Mandela.


The Cell

This work depicts the interior of the prison cell that Nelson Mandela occupied during his imprisonment on Robben Island. The open door reveals the meagre possessions he was able to retain upon his incarceration. Highlighted using splashes of vibrant colour, the neat pile of personal objects arranged under the barred window stands as a luminous beacon of hope within the bare cell. The cell has since become a site of pilgrimage for those committed to the tenets of freedom that underpinned Mandela’s political convictions.

The Window

In this work, Mandela illustrates a view from the window of his cell on Robben Island. The hazy blue outline of Table Mountain is articulated through three vivid orange bars. The inclusion of Table Mountain in the composition resounds with symbolic meaning. An awe-inspiring site of natural beauty, the iconic South African landmark embodies the strength with which Mandela fought for freedom in his native country.

The Lighthouse

This work depicts the lighthouse which warned passing ships of the dangers of Robben Island’s treacherous shores. Set against the vast expanse of the blue sky, the lighthouse serves as a contradictory symbol. Although it protected distant sailors, it also served as a tool of oppression that emphasised the impenetrability of the island. The sparse lines used to depict the flat landscape and surrounding buildings emphasise the authority attributed to the lighthouse as both a guiding light and symbol of isolation.

The Church

Rendered in luminous orange tones, the Robben Island church is the beating heart of Mandela’s sketch. Although prisoners were not allowed to enter the church, the warm hues of the work express the spiritual freedom that Mandela associated with the building. He explains in The Motivation: ‘[i]t 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’.

The Harbour

This work illustrates the first sight of the prison the new prisoners would have experienced as they approach Robben Island by boat. Upon arrival, they were made to change into prison clothing in an attempt to strip them of their individuality. Mandela uses bursts of colour to highlight the sea, the last site of the prisoner’s freedom, and the landing strip, the new ground of their incarceration. The work consequently embodies the transformation of the individual subjected to imprisonment through the artistic treatment of island landscape.

The Motivation

The Motivation asserts the impetus behind Mandela’s sketches of Robben Island. He explains, ‘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’. The text is executed in his own handwriting, emphasising the deeply felt personal significance of the works.

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