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conscience of the human spirit: the life of nelson mandela


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Photo of Madiba: From Prison to Reverence quilt  

Madiba: From Prison to Reverence
Marlene O’Bryant-Seabrook
Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Cotton fabrics (both U.S. and African), transfer artist paper, felt; hand appliquéd, machine quilted

This quilt was created to pay homage to an extraordinary man, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately called Madiba. In 1990 I sat with anticipation waiting for the televised release of Nelson Mandela from prison. I expected to see a man who visibly showed the toll of 27 years in a harsh prison environment. Instead, I saw a tall, erect, majestic figure who had shed the number 46664 and strolled with a sense of purpose from prison into the hearts of those in his country and around the world. Etched indelibly into my mind are also the news pictures of the queues of more than 16 million persons who stood in lines over a three-day period in 1994 to cast their votes in South Africa’s first fully democratic election. I am aware that many were dressed those days in Western style clothing but, for the figures in this quilt, I chose to depict them in African attire because I was impressed with the number of Black South Africans who took advantage of this first-time opportunity to vote.

Photo of Trials, Tribulations, and Temporary Lodgings of Nelson Mandela quilt  

Trials, Tribulations, and Temporary Lodgings of Nelson Mandela
Valarie Pratt Poitier
Natick, Massachusetts, USA
Cotton and metallic fabrics, cotton or polyester threads, netting; machine stitched, strip pieced, appliquéd

Each area of this quilt has an appliqué that represents a time in Mandela’s life of great change for him, others like him, and for the different decision makers of his country. The tree, for instance, is made up of scraps representing the colors of his Xhosa traditional clothing. It also represents the unlikely parts that make up a society, different but each relying on the other for cohesion. The tree, with foliage in the shape of South, has been shaken and turned on its end by a figure representing Mandela, whose Xhosa name was translated by some as tree shaker or troublemaker. From the left side of the tree a brown hand holds a voting sheet being lowered into a basket in the colors of the African National Congress to which Mandela belonged.

What many people in the U.S. do not realize is that our country went through something similar to what happened in South Africa. This quilt gives me an opportunity to create a safe space to talk about issues of freedom and rights that occurred and are still occurring here in the U.S. today.

Photo of Mandela, the Children's Advocate quilt  

Mandela, the Children's Advocate
Glenda Richardson
Ft. Washington, Maryland, USA
Commercial cotton, tea dyed cottons, beads, bone pendants, photo transfers; machine quilted, appliquéd

During my research for this project, I noted that several sources mentioned that during his 27 years on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela was not allowed any visits by children. This was a harsh and dehumanizing punishment experienced by all of his fellow prisoners. Upon his release, Mandela delighted in the presence of children and became a staunch advocate. My quilt includes his most famous quote on the importance of the treatment of children: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." It also includes additional quotes on the topic, and names of organizations founded by Mandela for the benefit of children.

The fabrics that I chose for this quilt are African and Indonesian themed. The complementary designs remind me of the "Madiba shirts" that Mandela often wore. The girl depicted on the quilt was inspired by a photograph of a beadmaker's daughter that I took on a trip to Ghana.

Photo of To Johannesburg through the forest of my Africa quilt  

To Johannesburg through the forest of my Africa
Latifah Shakir
Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA
Recycled cotton clothing, African fabric, African dancer's Woven belt, cotton scraps; pieced, appliquéd, beaded, painted, hand and machine quilted

When Nelson Mandela’s banning was lifted in 1952 and he was able to travel, he visited his mother and family in Johannesburg. En route he passed through several forests where he enjoyed sightings of animals; he referred to it as “the Africa of the storybooks.” He found it haunting that South Africa could have such wealth of natural beauty at the same time it had such inequality for its citizens.

Photo of In the Fortress of the Enemy, You Inspired Us quilt  

In the Fortress of the Enemy, You Inspired Us
Denise M. Sheridan
Arroyo Grande, California, USA
Cotton fabrics; hand appliquéd, quilted, embroidered

In 1975 I visited South Africa as a student; now, nearly forty years later, I made this quilt because Madiba Nelson Mandela greatly influenced my life and the lives of eleven other African American students who visited the country while he was imprisoned on Robben Island. We smuggled Afrocentric contraband to Black South African students and then smuggled their political writings back to the U.S. to be published. Mandela’s courage changed the course of all of our lives forever.

Many of the images on the quilt are from photographs I took on that 1975 visit.
Hand embroidered on front of quilt: Claremont Engineering, MS Ebony, SS Universe Campus, The Isley Brothers, Taxi-White Only, Stevie Wonder, Fulfillingness' First Finale, 46664, Robben Island Precinct. Hand appliquéd on front of quilt: 1975, IFP, ANC.

I believe that art is a powerful bridge to help develop cultural competency skills so desperately needed between diverse peoples and nations. Quilts are a vehicle for centering those so frequently marginalized in the art community, namely women, and more, specifically, women of color.

Photo of Tata: Father of the Nation quilt  

Tata: Father of the Nation
April Shipp
Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA
Cotton fabrics and batting, cotton, rayon, and polyester threads; machine quilted

In creating this quilt I wanted to capture the twinkle in Mandela’s eyes and the warmth of his smile. I appliquéd his face with hand-dyed and batik fabrics of rich colors. His head rests atop the continent of Africa that is comprised of 47 countries on the mainland; each country is cut from a different piece of African cloth. The continent flows on a sea of black-striped, pieced fabrics.

In Mandela’s Xhosa language, tata means father. Many South Africans refer to Mandela as Tata to show their affection and respect for him; many consider him as the father of their democratic nation. Some call him Tata because they held him so dearly in their estimation that they considered him one of their own family members.

Photo of Peace Mandela, A Tribute to Madiba quilt  

Peace Mandela, A Tribute to Madiba
Carole Gary Staples
West Chester, Ohio, USA
Cotton fabrics and batting, waxed cotton, acrylic felt, fabric paint, and mixed media materials; machine pieced and quilted, machine and raw edge appliquéd

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. — Nelson Mandela

Peace, the freedom from oppression and contention is a universal desire. I was inspired to create a mandala for Mandela because of its spiritual and ritual symbol of the universe. Nelson Mandela was truly the universal embodiment of peace, perseverance, strength, and forgiveness. 

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