Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in 1918 in Transkei, South Africa; was given the Christian name Nelson by his white teachers; became a student activist against the country’s apartheid laws that segregated people by color and oppressed blacks; co-established the country’s first black law firm; planned a national strike; was tried for treason in 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment; was released in 1990 after ten-year “Free Mandela” campaign supported by U.N. Security Council; helped establish a multi-racial, multi-party transitional government; won 1993 Nobel Peace Prize; voted for the first time in his life in 1994; was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, he presided over the transition from white minority rule to multicultural democracy.
That is the capsule life story of the man who is beloved in his country as “Madiba” and “Tata Madiba,” his clan names. On July 18, 2013, he celebrated his 95th birthday. For weeks prior — while he was reportedly at the edge of death in a Pretoria hospital — graphic designers in 70 countries created and submitted more than 700 posters to celebrate his life and legacy.
The project was coordinated by the Mandela Poster Project Collective, a group of twelve volunteer designers led by Mohammad Jogie and Jacques Lange. A former vice president of Icograda, the International Council for Communication Design, Jogie is creative director of two Johannesburg design firms and founder of Creative Week. Lange, a former Icograda president, is principal of Blueprint Design in Johannesburg and heads the Design> Magazine Group.
From the 700 submissions, the Collective selected 95 posters, which were exhibited at the University of Pretoria. Held over by popular demand, the exhibition, above, was covered globally by more than 80 television stations, newspapers and online news sites, including CNN, BBC, Sky News and the Huffington Post; media on six continents including all South African TV stations, the Scottish Daily Record, Radio New Zealand, Irish Examiner, Birmingham Mail, Himalayan Times, Bangladesh News 24 hours, Cape Breton Post, and Online Athens; and U.S. papers like the Washington Post, the Boston Herald, and even the Hollywood Reporter.
“The world’s creative community was asked to donate posters and they responded with creativity, love and mind-blowing stuff,” commented Ithateng Mokgoro, a South African designer and member of the Collective.
Here are 18 posters, representing a selection of participating artists and countries:
“There is not one image that dominates the field of representation, but rather a few images that keep cropping up,” wrote Professor Amanda du Preez of the Department of Visual Arts, University of Pretoria, in an article entitled Mandela: Icon Lost and Regained. “…Mandela with raised fist as he leaves prison, young Mandela with boxing gloves, profile images but mostly a broad generous face smiling. In cases where Madiba is associated with another sign, e.g. the continent of Africa, both are unambiguously identifiable. One poster cleverly uses the icon of Africa to construct the iconic image of Mandela’s face, while another conjures the legend’s face from words such as liberty, freedom, hope and democracy. In many instances, symbols such as the dove and broken prison bars are utilized to convey key ideas associated with Mandela such as peace, freedom, liberty and justice. One of the most fascinating examples is a poster wherein Madiba’s face appears in a broken fence. The colors used in most cases are bold green, blue, red and green, echoing the South African national flag and Mandela’s links with the African National Congress.”
The exhibition moved from Pretoria to Cape Town and is currently on view in at HP headquarters in Johannesburg; HP printed the posters for exhibition from PDFs that the designers submitted to the Collective’s specifications. An international tour will follow; the organizers report that invitations have been received from Brazil, China, Egypt, Italy, Mexico and the USA. The posters will ultimately be auctioned by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust to raise funds for a new children’s hospital, the third in all of Africa.
All 95 selected submissions can be viewed on www.mandelaposterproject.org. Plans are also underway to publish a limited-edition, coffee-table book showcasing 500 of the submitted posters.
I was privileged to be able to speak with Jacques Lange about the process that led to this true coming together of the international design community.
Q: How did this remarkable project get started and mushroom into a global initiative?
A: The MPP was inspired by an exhibition that Mohammed Jogie and I curated last May, which was part of Africa Week celebrations in Croatia. The exhibition, “Another Africa: Contemporary African Design,” featured 23 designers from several African countries and different disciplines and attracted substantial interest. This was such a satisfying experience that we decided to engage the international design community to celebrate Madiba’s contribution to humanity and his 95th birthday. We had exactly two months to get something together. We committed ourselves to collect 95 exceptional posters in 60 days — not a competition but a curated collection — by utilizing our personal networks and social media. The project started before Tata Madiba’s health deteriorated and he was hospitalized, so it was not a reaction to his current condition.
We were completely surprised by how beloved Madiba was by the designers around the world. As a gesture of designers’ commitment to live by the ideals of Madiba, we approached the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust to offer the poster collection to the trust as a means to raise funds to make Tata’s dream of building Africa’s third children’s hospital a reality. The trust accepted our offer, which sparked even more support from the creative community.
The Madiba magic started to play out and the project kept on expanding in scope and scale.
Q. How big a role did Facebook play in this success?
A: It was a logical decision for us to use Facebook and Google+ to solicit submissions. The Collective is a small group with limited resources, but one of our team’s strengths is our vast networks and connections, so we pooled these and created a Facebook group, a much larger, like-minded community, and a Google+ community. What started as a small project very quickly went viral, and interest started streaming in from all over the world.
Facebook was an ideal platform to create excitement and participation because contributing designers could follow the project ‘live’ and see how it was unfolding in a very transparent manner. Because of the general high standard of work posted, each new contribution inspired another. We could clearly see that the most exceptional submissions immediately sparked a flood of more contributions. During the last week before the closing date of submissions, we really battled to keep our mailboxes cleared and even had to get up several times every night to clear them to make space for more submissions.
What is also incredible is that after the submission deadline passed we continued to receive contributions, even though the designers knew their work could not be considered for the curated exhibition of 95 posters.
Q: Has Mandela himself been well enough to see photos of the exhibition and receive these extraordinary birthday cards?
A. We do not know if Madiba has seen the results of MPP. We do know that he has been recovering enough to be able to watch television. So we hope that he’s seen it!
Q: Are the posters going to be framed and used as art throughout the children’s hospital?
A: Yes. The details will be finalized once the hospital is built. One of our next priorities is to arrange for the auction in early 2014 in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust. We hope to raise at least ZAR 1,000,000 (South African Rand — approximately $100,000 U.S. dollars). Proceeds from the sale of the limited-edition book will also go to the Trust.
Q: You wrote, “The story behind the project is quite interesting because it deals with what designers want for the future of our profession.” We designers love doing posters, and don’t have that opportunity very often. But you meant something much deeper and broader than that, didn’t you?
A: My personal belief is that the definition of ‘design’ is to humanize technology, information, and spaces to improve the human condition. My firm had the honor of designing the identity and other commissioned work for the Nelson Mandela Foundation after Tata retired as president of South Africa. The Mandela Poster Project is different because it’s a volunteer initiative run by a small group of like-minded designers who wish to honor a great man and his contribution to humanity, guided by Tata Madiba’s example of selflessness. Magic happened because hundreds of other volunteer designers, as well as several sponsors joined us in the spirit of true altruism by contributing submissions and sponsoring production.
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