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My Robben Island Series II

The “My Robben Island Series 2” consists of 5 sketches of different scenes from Robben Island. These consist of: Mandela’s Walk, The Tennis Court, The Ward, The Courtyard and the Guardtower.

Each of these sketches is sold together with a written motivation by Mr Nelson Mandela and a photograph taken by Grant Warren.

The Size of each work is 51 x 40 cm.

350 prints were produced of each of these and were signed in pencil by Mr Nelson Mandela.

Artists Motivation: Mandela's Walk

The guard tower seen in this image marked the corner of the Robben Island prison compound. It was the point at which the dirt road from the stone quarry met the boundary patrol road. We worked the quarries for thirteen years as part of our “hard labour” sentence. It was hard work, but we did not mind, as it meant we could leave the prison compound and have the “freedom” to walk and talk together on the long road to the quarry. These were invigorating times.w

We would feel the wind in our faces, see the birds flying in freedom and smell the eucalyptus blossoms. I remember seeing gemsbok and springboks grazing in the plains.

After a day of relative “freedom” the tower was a grim reminder as we returned to the prison each evening. Conversation between us would usually become less and less as we approached the tower.

The tower reminded us of exactly where we were and where we had expected to stay for the rest of our lives. How little we guessed at the great changes that would sweep our country in our lifetime…that in my lifetime I would exchange these prison walls for freedom, not just my freedom, but the freedom of all my country’s people, a freedom which has become a symbol for all.

Artists Motivation: The Tennis Court

“In 1977 forced manual labour was ended after we maintained a two-year go-slow strike. We asked to do something more useful with our days instead of the monotony of mining lime and stone from the quarries. This action, however, robbed us of the opportunity to exercise, and after much effort we convinced the warders to allow us to convert the courtyard into a tennis court.

Prior to this, the prisoners were marched round and round the courtyard for half an hour every day. We used to walk around the courtyard quickly in single file under the watchful eye of the guards.

 Our persistence paid off and we painted the cement courtyard surface to create a traditional tennis court layout. Strangely, Robben Island was the first opportunity for me to play tennis since university. I was by no means an expert, but the exercise was a welcome break from the walks to and from the quarry and round and round the yard.

Being able to exercise one’s mind and body through play was immensely freeing. Playing tennis and attending to my gardening became my two favourite hobbies on Robben Island. It was a strange sensation enjoying such civilised hobbies in such an uncivilised place. It caused me to reflect on the strange and perverse nature of apartheid, where they wrongly thought that one people’s freedom could only be enjoyed at the expense and oppression of another.“

Artist Motivation: The Ward

“On Robben Island, political and general prisoner were kept well apart. The only place where we could talk and share information with other inmates was in the prison hospital – and that thereby became more than just an infirmary. The hospital I have sketched here served as a vital link between us and the rest of the world. Through the hospital, news about our families, our friends, the struggle and everyday events outside the prison would trickle through. It became one of our most important lines to the outside world.  

On arrival at the prison, all new prisoners were sent to the hospital for medical observation. On arrival one of the political detainees would feign illness and thereby gain access to the same space in the hospital where they would share their news with us.

As time passed, the news became less depressing as we realised that the apartheid regime was weakening, that the voice of our struggle was being heard in the outside world and that a great wave of support was growing for all the people of South Africa.

Today I remember the stark hospital wards with fondness…these memories, like this sketch are filled with joyous colours.”

Artists Motivation: The Courtyard

“The courtyard in Robben Island was unfriendly, empty and barren place. It was a sombre reminder of where I was. From the beginning of my imprisonment I asked to start a garden in the courtyard, to change this sad looking place. After years of refusing my request, we were finally given permission to plant a small garden on a narrow patch of earth against a wall. Being able to plant and nurture life in this prison courtyard offered me a sense of freedom and satisfaction that is hard to put into words even today. A garden is one of the few things in prison that one could control.

A powerful memory that I have is of a beautiful tomato plant that I coaxed from tiny seed to tender seedling to a strong plant that gave plump bright red juicy tomatoes. Despite my efforts the plant began to wither and die and nothing I did would heal it. When it died I took it carefully from the soil, washed its roots and buried it in a corner of the garden. I felt sad. It once again reminded me of where I was, and the hopeless mess I felt at being unable to nourish other relationships in my life. My wife, my children, my family and my friends. I swore to myself that I would never take another human being, their friendship or their love for granted ever again. “

Artists Motivation: The GuardTower

“Barbed wire fences and ominous towers became a tragic backdrop to life on Robben Island. At the time of my imprisonment, Robben Island was without question the harshest, most iron fisted prison in the South African penal system. It was a remote and lonely island outpost for both prisoners and prison staff.

The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute. There were no black warders and there were no white [prisoners]. Warders demanded a master-servant relationship. There were no watches or clocks on Robben Island, we were dependent on bells and warders whistles and shouts as our time-pieces.  

In the prison, the towers looked over us throughout the day. In this sketch I have attempted to pull together the two elements that overshadowed our lives for so many years: the towers and the ever-restraining barbed wire. The image shows the harsh reality that reminds me of our sacrifice and endurance, the use of more cheerful colours in this sketch is my way of presenting how we feel today.”

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