New exhibition documents Nelson Mandela's struggle against apartheid

New exhibition documents Nelson Mandela's struggle against apartheid

Mandela27 charts cultural events in Europe and South Africa during the period of Nelson Mandela's imprisonment.


Thursday 03 April 2014

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A new exhibition inspired by Nelson Mandela’s efforts to end apartheid is opening at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry on Friday 11 April.

Led by Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute (SGI), Mandela27 charts the cultural changes that took place in Europe and South Africa during Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island.

The project is the culmination of a two year creative collaboration between educational partners, cultural establishments and technical specialists in the UK, Sweden, Belgium and South Africa, including World Heritage site Robben Island Museum.

Both physical and digital, the exhibition includes a serious computer game depicting prison conditions on Robben Island, where Mandela was confined for most of the 27 years he was held captive. It also includes an online interactive timeline revealing social and cultural events across Europe and South Africa during this time. These are brought together around a replica of Mandela’s Robben Island Prison cell.

The installation has been exhibited at the BELvue museum in Brussels and houses photographic and educational displays depicting the history of apartheid and the events which led to democratic change in South Africa.

The immersive computer game, which is being launched at the Herbert as part of the exhibition, takes the form of a dark graphic novel. Based on actual events at Robben Island, the game offers participants the opportunity to experience life as a political prisoner under the apartheid regime.

By highlighting the bleakness of Mandela's 27 years in prison against the rich, cultural heritage of South Africa and Europe during this period, the exhibition provides a poignant snapshot of an oppressed people’s struggle for equality.

Jacqueline Cawston, programmes director at Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute, said:

Many people are familiar with the story of Nelson Mandela and his incarceration in Robben Island but little is known in Europe about cultural events in South Africa or vice versa during this time.

This gap in understanding was the starting point for our project and we have worked closely with our European and South African partners, exchanging knowledge, skills, cultural experiences and stories to create an exhibition which we hope is a fitting testimony to an internationally renowned and respected figure.

We are paying tribute to a great man’s fight for freedom and equality while fostering closer cultural links between continents.

Christopher Kirby, Head of Programmes and Collections at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, said:

We are delighted to be hosting the UK launch of the Mandela27 exhibition. The recent death of Nelson Mandela and his status as an international icon of reconciliation makes this focus on the man and his beloved South Africa a timely event.


Nomatshayina Mfeketho, Manager of the Education Department at Robben Island Museum, said:

With South Africa celebrating its 20 years of democracy, this launch could not have come at a better time. Here at Robben Island Museum we have no doubt that this project will be of great benefit and will help to put into perspective what was happening in South Africa during the 27 years of apartheid that Mandela was imprisoned.

The exhibition will also give a vivid picture of the events happening both inside the prison and around the globe, showing us the inter-connectedness of the world, but most interestingly showing us how the world was somehow connected to Robben Island despite its isolated location.

This cultural initiative helps to strengthen the partnership between our countries, whilst helping to create a wider platform for research, youth development, and world cohesion.  It is through initiatives like this that the legacy of the late Dr Nelson Mandela will be kept alive.

Mandela27 opens to the public at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Jordan Well, Coventry CV1 5QP on Friday 11 April and runs until Sunday 1 June 2014. For further details, including opening times, visit

A host of educational materials, including instructions on how to construct a replica of the prison cell which forms the centrepiece of the exhibition, are also being made available. Further information about this along with more details of the Mandela27 project and the partners involved is available at

Mandela27 has been created with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union.

For further information, please contact Mark Farnan, communications assistant, Coventry University, on +44 (0)24 7765 8245 or email