| One of the two handprints painted by Nelson Mandela which was unveiled at Robben Island on Friday. (Reuters)
Robben Island (South Africa), Feb. 8 (Reuters): Nelson Mandela has Africa in the palm of his hand — literally.
The 84-year-old anti-apartheid icon returned to his former island prison yesterday for a glittering celebration to launch his new career as an artist, releasing a simple handprint that, in the hollow of his palm, appears to contain the map of Africa.
The new work, one of two new handprint artworks dubbed “Impressions of Mandela”, is the centrepiece of a new drive to market Mandela’s art to help raise money to fight AIDS.
At yesterday’s launch party on the island off Cape Town, which is now maintained as a museum, well-heeled socialites sipped champagne with former political prisoners as lithographs of the two handprints, along with some 20 other sketches by the Nobel Peace laureate, were put up for sale.
Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on Robben Island, said the experience of confinement had heightened his appreciation of both the miracle of sight and the beauty of nature.
“Then came freedom and the lifting of the dark hood from my eyes,” Mandela told a crowd of more than 100 art — and Mandela — lovers gathered for his exhibit and art sale.
“It was not merely the miracle of freedom, but it was the miracle which I experienced of a person who had regained the power of sight.”
Selling for between $2,500 to $3,000 per print — a set of six can be had for $13,000 — Mandela’s early work has focused on views of Robben Island, simple, if bleak, line drawings that he has jazzed up with blocks of vibrant colour.
“These are wonderful, unpretentious images,” said Stephen Inggs, an associate professor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, adding that Mandela’s imagery “can serve as a metaphor for the challenges he faced.”
While yesterday’s bash was intended to celebrate Mandela the artist, Mandela the politician also put in an appearance — repeating his condemnation of both the US and Iraq for “going outside the UN” in their dispute over weapons of mass destruction.
The former South African President, who has delivered several scathing attacks on US President George Bush, said he remained “disgusted with certain leaders in the world who have decided to go out of the UN because they have certain ulterior motives, meaning the question of oil.”
But he added Iraq should be condemned “with equal vigour” if it did not give full cooperation to UN weapons inspectors.
Mandela, who said he tried to phone Bush recently but was not put through, said he did send a message to the US leader expressing his condolences to the United States over the loss of the space shuttle Columbia.
Sales of Mandela’s prints will help fund the Nelson Mandela Trust and, particularly, its work fighting the AIDS pandemic ravaging South Africa — the country with the highest AIDS caseload in the world.