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conscience of the human spirit: the life of nelson mandela


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Photo of Transition: Toward Including Africans in South Africa's Promise quilt  

Transition: Toward Including Africans in South Africa’s Promise
Jacqueline Dukes
Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA
Cottons and beads; machine pieced and quilted, needlepoint appliquéd

Being of a certain age and having grown up Black in the Unites States, I am extremely empathetic toward the challenges of the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Being devalued, suppressed, and derailed in one’s own homeland must have been almost unbearable. I visited South Africa in 1998 as part of a teacher exchange program and felt immediately connected. My quilt is a love note to the people of South Africa and to recognize Nelson Mandela’s role in trying to bring the ignored into the democratic process, to be inclusive, and to share the resources of a mineral rich nation still in transition.

The mask motifs used here represent the many people whose lives were sacrificed during the struggle for justice. I included two women, one Xhosa and one Ndebele, because women carry and nurture the children and because many women do hand work—as do I. With this quilt I honor an insightful man who represented the collective effort to regain a place within one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen.

Photo of Simple Words for a Great Man quilt  

Simple Words for a Great Man
Elmira Essex-Sizemore
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Cotton fabric, cotton batting, silk and embroidery threads; machine embroidered and quilted

Quiltmaking provides me with an inner peace and sense of self-satisfaction, helps me reduce stress, and helps me get through some difficult times. This quilt has helped me reduce some of the anger I have felt about the injustice done to Mandela. As I stitched out the words I could feel the release, and knew that if he forgave the injustice then I could do that also. Making this quilt was a powerful experience for me and it is the first quilt I have made that speaks to social justice.

My daughter and I cried the day Mandela was released from prison. I wept because it was such an injustice to see this man have his life taken for no other reason than his desire for justice and equality for his people. As I write this statement I still weep to think about all those years he lost from his family and from society.

Photo of Mandela: A Humble Servant of the People quilt  

Mandela: A Humble Servant of the People
Ife Felix
New York, New York, USA
Cotton fabrics; appliquéd and machine-sewn

When Mandela came to the U.S. in 1990 he went to Harlem, a neighbourhood in New York City; I was there and my memory of the day was the inspiration for this piece. Mandela was scheduled to give a speech in late afternoon but people began arriving early, some even camping out the night before, in order to get a look at the man who had spent 27 years in jail in apartheid South Africa. By the time I arrived around 11:00 a.m., the crowds were enormous on the streets, on rooftops, fire escapes, and looking out windows. By 4:00 p.m. the sea of people was as far as one could see. Every now and then a chant arose of “Mandela, Mandela, Mandela.” Around twilight word spread that he had arrived; the crowd came to a hush. He stepped to the podium and the crowd erupted into chants, tears, cheers, and applause. People overwhelmed with emotion held hands as Mandela spoke. His voice resonated into the crowd and we hung on his every word. His hope for the future became our collective hope.

Photo of Dare to Dream quilt  

Dare to Dream
Deborah Fell
Urbana, Illinois, USA
Cotton, canvas, paint, gel medium, repurposed fabric scraps, cotton voile, cotton thread; raw edge appliquéd, digital photo transferred, painted, machine stitched

Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place. —Nelson Mandela

These words, written by Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama on the day that Obama was first elected president capture Mandela’s wish not only for Obama, but for the world as well. Mandela taught the world to dream and to reach for the impossible; he taught the world how to forgive and how to persevere no matter how challenging the circumstances. Mandela made the world a better place through his courage, perseverance, and fortitude. This quilt is meant to remind us that one person can make a difference.

Mandela is seen here superimposed over the world. North America not only represents where I live, but also exemplifies that Mandela’s influence reached much further than South Africa. Children’s hands—brown, white and black—holding up the world remind us that Mandela’s message crossed oceans and racial barriers; it also reminds us that the world is in the hands of our children, our future.

Madiba's Garden quilt  

Madiba's Garden
Michelle Flamer
Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, USA
Stencils with discharge on commercial cotton fabric, cotton, bamboo and wool fibers; raw edge machine appliquéd, machine and hand quilted, hand embroidered

There are at least two species of spider named in honor of President Nelson Mandela. The spider is an appropriate tribute to Nelson Mandela’s tenacity and unwavering commitment to end apartheid. Spider webs are stronger than steel and become even stronger when a strand breaks. Nelson Mandela courageously endured an unjust prison sentence for twenty-seven years. The South Africa orb spider can spin a web several feet wide. Like a web, Nelson Mandela’s influence spread across the globe and, even after his death, his strength and grace are enduring.

Photo of Ubuntu: Mandela's Greatest Gift quilt  

Ubuntu: Mandela's Greatest Gift
Marjorie Diggs Freeman
Durham, North Carolina, USA
Cotton fabrics and thread with cotton and polyester Hobbs black batting; hand appliqué and quilting

Mandela knew that the only way to achieve real freedom and peace was through the mutual acceptance and understanding of all individuals and the recognition of ubuntu, the oneness of humanity and the universal bond that connects us all. His deep belief in the idea of ubuntu is worthy of practice by everyone, everywhere, forever.

The design of this quilt had to be as abstract as the concept of ubuntu. In this piece, ubuntu is symbolized by the colors of the South African flag with interlocking circles representing acceptance, harmony, and mutual understanding. On the three solid circles are quotes of timeless value by Mandela. Perhaps the visual simplicity of this quilt will remind people of ubuntu, this great tool for achieving harmony and peace on this planet.

Madiba Shines and Good Things Grow quilt  

Madiba Shines and Good Things Grow
Laura R. Gadson
New York, New York, USA
Printed cotton, beads, metallic thread, felt, Shiva oil sticks; machine appliquéd, pieced, and quilted, hand painted

Throughout the many stages of his life, Nelson Mandela demonstrated a passionate connection with the children of South Africa. His life’s work and very being has emanated nurturing rays of hope and pride that are cultivating future generations and inspiring South Africa’s leaders of tomorrow.

I had the great fortune to travel to South Africa in 1994 as part of a doll project that made and gifted Black dolls to South African children since the presence of Black dolls was limited during apartheid.  While working for the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, I designed a cloth doll and led students and their parents in the process of construction of 60 dolls. We then hand delivered them to day care aged children in South Africa. The children depicted in my quilt were some of those I met and photographed during the trip.

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