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conscience of the human spirit: the life of nelson mandela


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Photo of What's In A Name? quilt  

What's In A Name?
Felecia Tinker
Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA
Cotton fabric, batik, cotton and silk thread; machine pieced and quilted

When starting this journey, the name most familiar to me for Nelson Mandela was simply Nelson Mandela. I then learned that Mandela was born into the Madiba clan where he was given the name Rolihlahla that, in Xhosa, meant literally “pulling the branch of the tree”. On the first day of school his teacher gave him the name Nelson; as he writes in his book Long Walk to Freedom, he doesn’t know why his teacher chose that name. Mandela was sixteen at the time of his traditional Xhosa rites of passage into manhood and when he was given the name Dalibunga or “keeper of tradition”. During his time of anti-apartheid activities and before he went to prison, he used the alias David Motsamayi. Mandela was so elusive about this period of “living underground” that he was dubbed the Black Pimpernel. Upon his arrival to Robben Island prison he was given a new name, the prison number 46664; the number meant he was the 466th prisoner in the year 1964.

What is in a name? A life well lived!

Mandela Comes to Motown quilt  

Mandela Comes to Motown
Hilda Vest
Detroit, Michigan, USA
African fabrics, batiks, felt, embroidery threads; embroidered, button-hole stitched

We had stopped singing
our voices drowned
beneath the pained bridge
of despair

We had settled for
synthesized blues
and rebellious saxophones
even slave songs
lost refrain

We had stopped singing

until you came
healing us with hope
in your voice
with power in your
 – Hilda Vest

Nelson Mandela came to Detroit in 1990 shortly after his release from prison. The trip, part of a fundraiser for the African National Congress, attracted forty-nine thousand people who welcomed him at Tiger Stadium, the baseball stadium in Detroit. His speech resonated with love and inspiration and he capped it with a brief rendition of the Toyi-Toyi, a dance of revolution and celebration. I was awed by his forgiving spirit and wrote this poem to commemorate this historic event. In a quilt, the poem has taken on a new sense of permanence.

Photo of Eyes of Courage: Wisdom From Our Beloved Sage quilt  

Eyes of Courage: Wisdom From Our Beloved Sage
Sherry Evon Whetstone
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Cotton African prints, batiks, cowrie shells, beads; beaded, hand sewn, machine quilted

I have always loved Mandela’s gentle voice and sense of style; that is why I chose to re-create a beautiful beaded African shirt as the focal point of this quilt. He wore such shirts with such class and with indisputable dignity.

Wild cats along the bottom are symbolic of his courage, strength, and endurance.  The eyes of the cats are highlighted with beads to make the image “pop” and draw the viewer in for closer inspection.

Nelson Mandela was a wonderfully wise elder and it was imperative to me to include on this quilt some of his famous quotes, thoughts, and messages. I brought in the colors of the African flag in the binding of the quilt. I’ve also included here packets of spiritual sage from my organic garden as I know that would bring a smile to Mandela’s face.

You are wise. You are beautiful and proud. You are respected and missed, Madiba Mandela.

Photo of Collective Memories quilt  

Collective Memories
Valerie C. White
Denver, Colorado, USA
Cotton fabric, textile paint, and silkscreen; hand-drawn, painted, and stitched

It was the memories of home, family, and community that sustained Mandela during his 27 years in prison. In essays written after his release, Mandela writes of being determined to hold onto his “collective memories”; this wise and ancient practice would empower him to survive. In this quilt, I attempted to illustrate components of his life that form “collective memories” for us to remember him always.

Photo of Who Will Carry On? quilt  

Who Will Carry On?
Leni Levenson Wiener
New Rochelle, New York, USA
Commercially available printed cotton fabric, cotton canvas backing; raw edge machine appliquéd

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. — Nelson Mandela

For me, this quote resonated and meshed beautifully with the kind of work I prefer to do—it allowed me to focus on the face and hands of a young boy concentrating on his schoolwork. Education for children, not just in South Africa but around the world, will be the way to sustain the work Mandela began in his lifetime. The children of today will be the ones to carry on his legacy in the future and their education will be an important tool for change the world over.

As a former photographer, I am drawn to images that are like snapshots, glimpses into ordinary moments in the lives of strangers. My work is primarily figurative, I like to explore facial expressions and the delicacy of hands as well as body language, which is so universally identifiable and connects us all. I am honored to be included in this very special exhibit and join the creative voices of the other artists to celebrate the life and work of Nelson Mandela.

Photo of Victory of the Spirit quilt  

Victory of the Spirit
Sauda A. Zahra
Durham, North Carolina, USA
Cotton fabrics, photo transfer, applique; African beads and bead lettering embellishments; machine pieced and quilted

In this quilt I highlight two pivotal periods in Mandela’s fight for freedom, justice, and equality: his incarceration and South Africa’s democratic constitution. I captured the timespan between these two periods by layering the attic window quilt block pattern that visually suggests the distance between Mandela looking out into the future, and someone looking in at a new South Africa.

This visual pathway, between Mandela peering through prison bars and the seven pillars of the South Africa constitution, is marked by pivotal dates and numbers in his life and ends at names of those who shaped, nurtured, and grounded the man we know today. The boxing pose against the prison bars creates a powerful image of a man who did not let being in prison stop him from continuing to fight for his country. The South African flag colors evoke feelings of despair, growth and hope.

The quilt speaks to how Mandela survived unimaginable circumstances, thrived in spite of insurmountable obstacles, and achieved victory of his spirit that enabled him to live and die in a free democratic South Africa.

Photo of Solidarity: More Than Black and White quilt  

Solidarity: More Than Black and White
Sabrina Zarco
Pecos, New Mexico, USA
Commercial cotton fabric, cotton batting, buttons, embroidery thread, copyright free images, ribbons; raw-edge appliquéd, hand embroidered, hand and machine quilted

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. — Nelson Mandela

This quilt reflects on the life and work of Nelson Mandela. Depicted is the view from the prison cell, the raise fists of the people, dove of peace and freedom, and a portrait of Mandela. The quote sums up the celebration that is the focus of this work.

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