Piecing Mandela’s legacy together

Nola Taylor proudly shows off her original Robben Island fence necklace.

To commemorate the third anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death, the Amplify Studio in Loop Street partnered with the Legacy Collection in an exhibition that showcased paintings and jewellery made from the original fence of Robben Island, which held captive apartheid-era political prisoners, among them Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe and many more, until their release in 1989 and 1990.

Also at the exhibition, which was held on Thursday December 1, as part of the First Thursdays initiative, was prison warder Christo Brand, whose book, Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend, was on sale at the event.

Charmaine Taylor, the designer and founder of the Legacy Collection, said the fence was rescued from a landfill in 2009 after work was done on Robben Island. She said the collection aimed to promote the message of forgiveness and peace that Nelson Mandela shared.

Monday December 5 marked the third anniversary of Madiba’s death.

“So we decided to honour him with this new range,” said Ms Taylor.

A chandelier made from the fence hung in the centre of the room, grabbing everyone’s attention.

Ms Taylor said: “When I was on Robben Island, I was privileged to be part of a tour by Ahmed Kathrada. And one of the questions I asked him was: ‘Did you ever give up hope?’ and his answer was ‘Never. We never lost hope.’ This inspired the chandelier, which is a beacon of hope. It is in the shape of a circle, which symbolises never-ending hope. Each piece in the collection is in celebration of Mandela’s life and democracy.”

Ms Taylor’s mother, Nola, came out in support of the exhibition wearing one of the original pieces of the Robben Island fence collection.

“When Charmaine first started this, she cut the jewellery herself. It was hard and rusted and difficult to work with, but she struggled through. Now I am wearing one of the original pieces that my daughter made herself,” she said proudly.

Mr Brand told stories of his time with Mandela in prison.

“I was his warder on Robben Island. I looked after Mandela while he was imprisoned. When I first met him, the warders said I was going to meet one of the most dangerous criminals of the time. Then I went to his cell and Nelson Mandela got up from his blanket on the floor and greeted me politely. I was still waiting to meet the dangerous criminal”.

“For his 60th birthday, Mandela received
55 000 cards from family and friends. I couldn’t understand why this man was so important and loved. But the more time I spent with him, the more I understood why. He was so humble and respectful and helpful. Whenever a task needed to be done, be it labour or cleaning, Mandela would do it.”

He said Mandela, who was a qualified lawyer, offered him legal assistance when he was involved in a motorcycle accident – and helped him get a promotion. “He even helped me with my book. When he died, the family invited me to the funeral. I was so honoured. He made me feel like the most important person in his life. He died peacefully because he knew what he did for South Africa.”

The owner of Amplify Studio, Todd Facemire, told the CapeTowner that they were very happy to co-sponsor the exhibition.

“We were happy to partner something meaningful and that makes and builds progress. At Amplify, we are trying to promote progress. And, of course, we like all things beautiful and we had the opportunity to photograph the event, so it was a perfect fit.”

The Amplify Studio is a free artist residency programme, a working studio and an art gallery. The residency programme supports and mentors young artists, especially photographers, for a year to prepare them for work in the industry (“New studio gives photographers a foot in the door,” CapeTowner, October 6).

The exhibition closed a day after the event.