REVIEW: Mandela: The Official Exhibition, 26 Leake Street Gallery

This new exhibition is a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s legacy as  much as it offers an insight into Apartheid.  

There are many different labels associated with Nelson Mandela and his extraordinary life – not least a revolutionary, a political prisoner and of course a world leader. With this exhibition (the first official to be created in collaboration with The Royal House of Mandela), all of these different parts of Mandela’s life are tied together to offer a comprehensive look at his legacy.

Featuring many previously unseen objects from the collection of The Royal House of Mandela, this display is equally as much about the Apartheid regime as it is about Mandela’s consistent battle that saw him locked up and becoming the most famous political prisoner in history. Although it comes across that it is trying to portray Mandela as a saint in places (which is an impossible state for anyone to realistically achieve), it is still a fascinating and extraordinary exhibition to visit.

Taking visitors through every element of Mandela’s life, from his early years all the way through to his work with the ANC and to his imprisonment at Robben Island, this is a very concise and detailed exhibition that covers many of the important elements of his life in depth.

But while it covers his work, the display also concentrates on why what he did for South Africa was so important in the long run. The exhibition never shies away from exploring in detail the Apartheid regime including details of massacres such as the one at Sharpeville in 1960 which killed 69 protesters including forty women and eight children and injuring a further 148 people, while the individual stories of people affected by the regime are easily the most chilling and poignant moments in highlighting the importance of the resistance from the likes of Mandela.

It is a highly interactive exhibition as well – with numerous interactive screens to help break down the timeline of events further, keeping everything as accessible as possible for visitors. But it has to be said that at times it feels slightly too crowded with ideas and too many videos playing at once that it can feel overwhelming, trying too hard to ram home the importance of Mandela’s legacy.

The exhibition is extremely effective in the way in which it places Mandela’s life and achievements in the wider social and cultural context, balancing his personal struggles and ongoing fight to make a difference with those caught up in this period of South Africa’s history.

What emerges from this exhibition is an acknowledgement that while Mandela helped to make progress in South Africa in terms of tolerance and equality between different races (even working alongside those who were against him), even now there is still a way to go in terms of eradicating prejudice based on race. This is highlighted towards the end of the exhibition which focuses on the violent episodes that were still breaking out in the early 1990’s after his release. It is a story of determination, hope and conviction.

Overall, this is a thought-provoking and inspirational exhibition that allows Mandela’s voice to shine through at every opportunity and engaging throughout. Well worth a visit.

By Emma Clarendon 

Mandela: The Official Exhibition will be on display at 26 Leake Street  Gallery until the 8th April.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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