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Global poster exhibit honors Nelson Mandela’s contributions to humanity

The Nelson Mandela Poster Project, established in 2013 by a group of designers from South Africa in recognition of Mandela’s 95th birthday, is now on display in Gallery 360. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

This month, 95 posters were installed throughout the concourse of Northeastern’s Gallery 360, each one celebrating Nelson Mandela and honoring the late South African president’s lifelong contributions to humanity.

The posters collectively comprise the Mandela Poster Project, established in 2013 by a group of designers from South Africa in recognition of Mandela’s 95th birthday. In 60 days designers from more than 70 countries submitted over 700 posters, 95 of which were chosen. The collection has been exhibited in South Africa and throughout the world. The first U.S. exhibition was held last year in New York.

Now it has come to Northeastern. The show will be open through April 23.

Mandela, who died in December 2013, was a champion for peace and social justice and a global advocate for human rights. His opposition to South Africa’s white minority rule landed him in prison, where he spent 27 years before emerging to lead the country out of decades of apartheid. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and the following year he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

“Nelson Mandela is celebrated as a global icon,” said Kelo Kubu, a brand communications strategist and member of the Mandela Poster Project. “His dedication to serving humanity is in many ways unprecedented. I do not think there are many people who can sacrifice 27 years in prison and dedicate the rest of their lives to serving humanity.”

Many of the posters feature images of Mandela himself, and some include statements such as “Man of United Colors” and “95 Years of Living for a Better Tomorrow.” Others highlight Mandela’s powerful quotations. One is “We tried in our simple way to lead our life in a manner that may make a difference to those of others.” Another is “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a manner that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“The 95 posters represent 95 years of a life of an extraordinary being,” said Kubu, who is co-founder and executive director of Gamatong Design, a Johannesburg-based brand communications consultancy, and TEDx Ambassador for Africa. “There are different messages based on the different phases of Nelson Mandela’s life. What I hope visitors can take from the visit is that ‘it is possible.’ It does not matter the size of the challenge in front of you. This is more relevant today. Defeating apartheid in South Africa took a long time but it was done. Racism and fascism are rearing their ugly heads today, and in Nelson Mandela we can find lessons of how to fight back.”

Campus curator Bruce Ployer worked closely with the Mandela Poster Project Collaborative and Boston-based South Africa Partners, among other organizations, to bring the show to Northeastern. South Africa Partners, which was founded in 1997, builds partnerships between the U.S. and South Africa in the areas of health and education. Mary Tiseo, South Africa Partners’ executive director, said the poster collection is a fitting tribute to Mandela.

“Together, these posters show the complexity of his life and the struggles that South Africa went through with apartheid—and continues to struggle with to reach its aspirations,” Tiseo said. “To see him through the eyes of 95 different artists just adds to the appreciation of what a complex individual and exceptional leader he was.”

South Africa Partners’ office coordinator, Tyler Renée Brace, is a Northeastern alumna who spent months helping to organize the Gallery 360 exhibit and an upcoming reception for the show. “Nelson Mandela’s work is important to what we do at South Africa Partners, and it’s been wonderful helping to bring this show to Northeastern,” she said.

Northeastern’s connection to Mandela dates back many years. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Northeastern in absentia in May 1988, while he was serving his jail sentence. And in 1993 Mandela appointed Margaret Burnham—who would later join Northeastern’s faculty in the School of Law—to serve on a three-member international human rights commission to investigate alleged human rights violations within the African National Congress. The commission was a precursor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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