Mandela Exhibit Makes World Debut In Cincinnati

Mar 23, 2017

"Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."

Those famous words from the late South African anti-apartheid leader begin the new exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center commemorating the life of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu is making its world premier in Cincinnati. It features works by South African documentary photographer Matthew Willman. He was commissioned by The Nelson Mandela Foundation to document the former South African president's life.

Matthew Willman's portrait of the store quarry where Mandela worked during his imprisonment. During a return visit shortly after his release, Mandela placed a rock on the ground. Others followed suit, creating this pile. It's seen as a sign of ubuntu.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

"The whole exhibit is geared around the idea of accountability," says Willman. "That you as an individual, it doesn't matter where you come from or who you are, you can make a difference. And that difference starts first with yourself."

The word "ubuntu" means humanity. The ubuntu philosophy is about caring for one another.

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Willman continues, "We talk about the grand themes of unity and tolerance and togetherness that Mandela preached and was very good at doing in our country, but we must also remember that Mandela's life was a sacrifice - a sacrifice for his people - but sacrifice of his own life."

The exhibit features Willman's photography along with artifacts such as a signed copy of Mandela's autobiography, and a recreation of his cell at the notorious Robben Island prison.

The exhibit includes a signed copy of Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk To Freedom."
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Willman says there's one particular image visitors should be careful not to miss. It's a sometimes overlooked black-and-white image of Mandela's poor, rural birthplace.

"That place, you cannot stand there and say 'oh, there's a picture and I'm looking at it in real life.'"

Mandela's son, thinking his legacy would, or should be, bigger than his father's, had the building demolished.

"The viewer needs to look at it and say, 'my word,'" says Willman. "He was born on Thursday the 18th of July, 1918. What was happening in the world? World War I was coming to an end. Europe lay decimated. And here we have a man who was now born who would now lead, not only an entire nation, but he would change the idea that hope exists. And it was born of such poverty-stricken ruralness."

The exhibit runs from March 24 - August 20, 2017.

Matthew Willman captured this image of Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU