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Artists Preserve Nelson Mandela's Legacy with 95 Unique Posters

From boxer to president, Mandela's life is celebrated through graphic design.
Anton Odhiambo, Kenya. Images courtesy the Mandela Poster Project Collective

Two months before his 95th birthday and seven months before he passed away, Nelson Mandela was honored by a group of South African designers that came together to celebrate the legacy of the human rights icon. Designers from around the world submitted nearly 1,000 unique artworks for consideration, which have been distilled to 95 posters touring the world in an exhibition called the Mandela Poster Project.


Now known as the Mandela Poster Project Collective, the designers chose posters as their medium because they're easily shareable, ideal for their goal to curate an artwork for each of Mandela’s 95 living years.  “It turned into something much bigger than any one of us envisioned,” says Ithateng “Thati” Mokgoro, co-curator and member of the Mandela Poster Project Collective.

“We just wanted to celebrate the man’s life. As designers, we wanted to give something back.” Today would be the political icon's 98th birthday, and the project is still going strong. Earlier this month, the posters premiered in the United States for the first time at a one-night only exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. During the curation process, the Mandela Poster Project Collective picked out varying qualities of Mandela’s life and character they saw reflected in the art and wanted to promote. Mokgoro breaks it down for The Creators Project:

“First, you have the portraits. You have his face—it’s recognizable. Then you have Mandela the boxer, an aspect of his earlier life that many people picked up. You have birds that represent freedom, and jail bars for obvious reasons. There’s Mandela, the son of Africa; the continent has a very distinct shape. Everybody knows that shape. And then there’s the black power salute, and his many names—“Madiba” (his clan name), “Tata” (“Father”), and “Mandela” itself. There’s Mandela the story, written beginning to end. And there are his values, and there are rainbows. South Africa is known as the “rainbow nation” because everyone comes from different backgrounds. Mandela represents that.”


The collection has been touring internationally since its release three years ago. Its long-awaited North American debut is sponsored by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, an Africa-themed water park resort chain. Kalahari president and owner Todd Nelson became familiar with the project after being connected to Mokgoro through a mutual friend. A serious lover of African art (he believes he owns one of the largest collections in the country, with millions of dollars worth of art in each of his three resorts), Nelson was eager and excited for the opportunity to work with the Mandela Poster Project Collective to bring the posters stateside.

“Thati wanted to get the posters into America, and New York is a place where they could get some viewership,” says Nelson of choosing the Brooklyn Museum as their initial venue.The posters are currently showcasing at each of Kalahari’s properties in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, Sandusky, Ohio, and Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania, throughout the summer.

“We want to get Mandela’s message out. Kalahari wants to bring Africa closer to home,” says Mokgoro. “We meet each other half way. It’s a collaboration. This will help educate a new generation about Nelson Mandela’s place in history.”

To learn more about the Mandela Poster Project click here.

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