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conscience of the human spirit: the life of nelson mandela


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Photo of Free At Last quilt  

Free At Last
Bisa Butler
West Orange, New Jersey, USA
Cotton, chiffon, netting, acrylic paint; machine quilted and appliquéd

The debt we all owe Nelson Mandela as human beings cannot be quantified. He fought for the rights of all people, he fought for a free and democratic South Africa without apartheid. Mandela was and is the physical embodiment of the struggle and triumph of good against evil.

Mandela is literally and figuratively depicted here as one with his beloved country. As a man of the people, he is made of the very fabric of the South African flag — the green black and yellow of the African National Congress, and the previous red, white, and blue of the former South Africa. He brought all of South Africa together and focused on healing rather than hate.

I call my quilt “Free At Last” because not only did Mandela prove to the entire world that as long as your mind is free, so will you be, but also he is now soaring with our great ancestors like Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King gave the phrase “free at last” worldwide recognition in a speech, and I found it perfectly fitting here.

Photo of Pupil of the Eye 3 quilt  

Pupil of the Eye 3
Helen Butler
Evanston, Illinois, USA
Cotton, satin, Adirondack spray dyes, Lumiere acrylics, batting, rayon and metallic thread, Lutradur mixed media sheets; screen printed, whole cloth quilted, spray dyed, photo manipulated.

I love process, love watching how the germ of an idea unfolds, shifts, and then emerges from the invisible to the visible. There is a level of submission inherent in process that cannot be explained, only alluded to. There is mystery, there is faith, there is trust in the progression, there is patience, there is generosity, there is kindness, there is befriending the unknown. This shape-shifting dimension is abundant throughout creation but most welcomed in the arts.

Much of my work is framed by story.  I believe that story is a primal form that joins object and people in a relationship. It gives context to life. My story with this quilt reflects a faith tradition that regards people of African descent as the pupil of the eye: 
Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye
Which is dark in colour,
Yet it is the fount of light
And the revealer of the contingent world.
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Precious sight is accomplished because the pupil acts like a hollow reed. To my mind, Nelson Mandela demonstrated this power of precious sight as an example for all humanity.

Peace and Reconciliation quilt  

Peace and Reconciliation
Cynthia H. Catlin
San Pedro, California, USA
Hand-dyed cotton fabrics, polyester, organza, and wool batting; machine appliquéd, thread painted, machine quilted, and trapunto

The artwork is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, the national healer and champion for social justice, equality, and education. I was inspired to honor freedom fighter Mandela because of what he stood for and the impact he had on the world. His was a legacy of commitment to democracy, equality, and public service.

In this quilt I hoped to capture his gentle spirit and non-violent ways, and to convey his regal but spiritual presence. The bird is a symbol of hope, peace, and love for all mankind. The silhouette with outstretched arms represents his call to God for comfort, resolution, and a cease of fighting. We are all infinitely richer for his service.

Photo of A Man For All Seasons quilt  

A Man for All Seasons
Andrena Stoddard Coleman
Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
African fabrics; machine pieced, hand quilted

This quilt was inspired by my recollections of Mandela through news reports, articles, and conversations I had with others about the legacy of this great leader.  My goal in making this quilt was to depict the life, challenges, and victories of a man who represented the plight of all people. The photographs chronicle his long walk, from a young man through his later years. The fabric, a collage of scraps I collected from a Nigerian dressmaker, represent the colors of all nations.

Photo of Quarry Ghosts quilt  

Quarry Ghosts
Marion Coleman
Castro Valley, California, USA
Batik cloth, thread; stitched, fused, fiber collaged

This quilt represents the spirits of prisoners held at Robben Island and how imprisonment failed to conquer their spirits. I hope that this educational social justice art quilt will move viewers to think about the trial of the ancestors and the efforts of all freedom fighters. I hope that it will help educate people of all ages about segregation, strength of spirit, determination, and forgiveness.

Let Freedom Reign quilt  

Let Freedom Reign
Laura Croom
Warrensville Heights, Ohio, USA
Cottons, vinyl, Lumiere acrylic paint, photocopies, variegated cotton thread; quilted, embroidered, painted

Mandela was a kind man who believed in peaceful harmony without any form of violence. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with President F. W. DeKlerk for ending apartheid and bringing about peaceful democracy to South Africa. The peaceful being inside this man was amplified when he was elected as the first black president of South Africa and he invited the men who were his prison guards to his presidential inauguration. I am always touched by his words: “As I walked out of the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I did not leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.”

Photo of Wasted Years quilt  

Wasted Years
Carolyn Crump
Houston, Texas, USA
Cotton, hemp, and felt fabrics, paint; free-motion quilted and painted

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. It always seems impossible until it's done. — Nelson Mandela

Throughout history bars have always been used to confine animals, protect property, set boundaries, and isolate criminals. This was not so in the case of Nelson Mandela. He surrendered to the bars and laws of that day because he knew that imprisonment was a small price to pay for the cost of freedom for his people; the bars could not stop his quest.

This work aims to show the strength and courage of a man who knew that his love for his fellowman was stronger than any bars that he would ever face. This great and wonderful man never allowed the bars or time to shake his soul or his mission. No matter what he endured, he maintained hopes for a brighter day. Giving up was not an option, he was determined that having begun a good thing, he and his fellow activists would see it through to completion. The bars of the jail cell represent his faith, hope, trust and sacrifice.

This man showed the entire world that one person can truly make a difference. Madiba, though your spirit has now been set free, a grateful nation and, yes, the entire world honors you.

It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done quilt  

It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done
Adriene Cruz
Portland, Oregon, USA
Fabric, sequins, beads, mirrors, crushed lemon verbena

As an abstract artist it was quite a challenge to design a work honoring Nelson Mandela. After careful consideration it seemed a quote might be the way to go but how? Unsure of the outcome, I started beading his words on strips of woven fabric and the design then came together with the placement of his words. His journey of many rivers to cross came to mind and then meditation on his quote guided my process. It was a pleasure and an honor to create this piece.

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