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Nelson Mandela's Legacy: Theater that can inspire social change.


Nelson Mandela’s legacy: Theater that can inspire social change
Playwright/director/McCarter Theatre Artistic Director Emily Mann in the L.A. Times, 12/5/13
Many people know that Nelson Mandela’s life inspired novels, poems, plays and films, but few people know how powerful his effect on the theater was and how powerful the theater’s effect was on him. The theater served as a mirror to Mandela, each side influencing and reflecting the other, placing them both in time. At the height of the apartheid era, the Market Theater in Johannesburg and the Space Theatre in Cape Town, both defiantly nonracial venues in a racially divided country, produced shattering plays about black life under the apartheid regime. These plays premiered in South Africa in the 1970s and '80s and then flooded onto the world stages. The plays triggered global outrage at the South African government and support for the struggle for freedom Mandela represented. [However,] Mandela’s arts legacy reaches beyond the apartheid era. He continued to inspire theater makers around the world to write those plays that would expose social injustice. One of my plays, Greensboro, a Requiem, is about the Ku Klux Klan massacre of a multiracial group of anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C., in 1978. It brought national attention to the event and to the shocking acquittals of the Klan by an all-white jury. In its wake, the play inspired the mayor and the city of Greensboro to convene America’s first Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled on Mandela and the Rev. Desmond Tutu’s commission in South Africa. The citizens of Greensboro, as in South Africa, chose to face painful truths about their past so they could enter a future together with a mutually agreed-upon history and a new understanding of each other’s lives. This, too, is Mandela’s legacy. A play can inspire social change. His profound contribution to the arts, both the work influenced by him and for him, made not only world but theater history, and his legacy continues to inspire those who work in the theater for social justice.


Mandela, a visual artist himself, remains an inspiration to the arts
Souleo, Jet Magazine, 12/5/13
When one thinks of the global influence of Nelson Mandela his achievements in the political realm instantly come to mind from leading the anti-apartheid movement to becoming South Africa’s first black president. Yet his reach extends beyond politics as he inspires numerous visual artists that reference his legacy in their works. It is only fitting since, after all, Mandela [was] also a visual artist having channeled the pain from his 27 years as a political prisoner to complete a series of 20 drawings. Recognizing the power of the visual medium to carry forth Mandela’s legacy spoke with several arts professionals to discover their reasons why Mandela remains an inspiration to the arts.  [Below are a couple of excerpts:]

- James Bartlett, executive director, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, [said:] "It’s no secret why his image has been appropriated in visual art for decades," he says. "He is a revolutionary. Artists like revolutionaries, because they are revolutionaries. Art is about changing the way we see the world. Artists hold a mirror to society and show the reflection, no matter if that reflection is ugly or beautiful."

- During his fight to end apartheid, Mandela was able to gain the attention of the international audience. Artist David Hollier captures the breadth of that power through a portrait created from a quote by Mandela, expressing his vision of creating universal change: "Will future generations say of us: Indeed, they did lay the foundations for the eradication of world poverty; they succeeded in establishing a new world order based on mutual respect, partnership and equity?"


How significant was music to Nelson Mandela and his movement?


Nelson Mandela's subversive musical legacy
Kyle McGovern, Spin magazine, 12/5/13
When Jason Bourque began work on his upcoming documentary Music for Mandela, he envisioned the project as a "tribute to our greatest living icon," he says. "At no point do I want it to come across like this was made specifically for him passing away." Instead, the Vancouver-based director wanted to explore the intrinsic link between music and Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid: The iconic political figure’s message of equality was bolstered and spread by artists who circumvented an oppressive government to raise awareness about political and social injustice in South Africa. Here are excerpts from our conversation. Bourque: Nelson Mandela used music politically and personally, especially [when he was in prison] on Robben Island. Music was used [there] subversively. They would sing these folk songs while working on the lime quarry, which was great for smashing the rocks and getting the rhythm going at the same time. "Shosholoza" was one of the workers’ folk songs, which Mandela compared to the apartheid struggle. So, they’re uplifting the spirits, but at the same time, it’s like Mandela was giving the finger to the establishment without them knowing. While he was on Robben Island, his image was banned. Because of that, the government did their best to basically stamp out his existence. And the only thing that kept him alive for the people of South Africa happened to be music and these folk songs, many of which they would sing behind closed doors. And all these international musicians were catching onto it, of course, leading to the Special A.K.A. and the "Free Nelson Mandela" song, which gained a lot of momentum. Even though it was banned in South Africa, it worked its way through the charts in Britain.

What kind of effect did international musicians have on Mandela’s cause?

Bourque: What was incredible about the music industry in South Africa was that you had this control board that was trying to stifle any kind of music that was coming in, anything that had to do with Mandela, anything to do with freedom. So, you’d have Stevie Wonder singing a "Happy Birthday" song to Mandela, which was promptly banned. 400-500 recordings were banned, [including] music from exiled South African artists. You had these cultural ambassadors like the Amandla Cultural Ensemble that would get out there spreading the word as to the state of the South African people, and they would take that globally. That helped gain a lot of momentum leading up to the big Wembley Stadium concert [in England in 1988]. It seemed like World War II, because you’d have all these cassettes that were being smuggled into South Africa, and at the same time you’d have Radio Freedom that was being beamed in, which the South African government was trying to find and shut down, these exiled musicians — literally, it was like a war going on. And the freedom songs, many of which were about Mandela, were being used as recruitment to bring people into the movement and help keep up the fight.

The Mandela playlist: A life and legacy told in music
Gwen Ansell, National Public Radio, 12/6/13
Since the euphoria surrounding Mandela's release [from prison], the chart-topping campaign songs may have ceased [but] artists have not forgotten Mandela. The massive birthday concerts reflecting on his period in prison have been followed by events around 4664, the social action and fundraising campaign linked to his former prison number. Every July 18, the world has been urged to celebrate U.N. International Nelson Mandela Day by dedicating 67 minutes (one minute for each of [his] years of struggle) to a community service or social-uplift project. The music hasn't stopped, either. When his health permitted, Mandela spent time back in his home village of Qunu, still rich in traditional Xhosa and church music. Even young artists still remember him. For Mandela's 90th birthday in 2008, Cape Town singer Melanie Scholtz, the late jazz saxophonist Robbie Jansen and other Cape musicians created Nelson Mandela: Born in the Land of the Sun.Based on a struggle song of the 1980s, the music has become a tribute and expression of gratitude. [And] Mandela's life and times are now moving into the concert hall, as his achievements become a subject for symphonies, suites and operas. Many composers view Mandela's life and the victories he won as representative of the triumph of the human spirit on an epic scale — a Fidelio for the modern era. The Cape Town Opera company in 2010 created The Mandela Portrait, a three-part tribute featuring traditional Xhosa music adapted by U.K.-born South African Allan Stephenson, 1950s Sophiatown jazz re-imagined by Cape Town University music professor Mike Campbell and a contemporary opera final act by composer Peter Luis van Dijk. Contemporary composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen has created two Mandela-linked works. This year's Credo is an oratorio, using text based on the 1955 Freedom Charter. Last year, Ndodana-Breen premiered Winnie, the Opera, the story of the turbulent life of Mandela's second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The early scenes of the opera, such as the one in this video clip, evoke the years when the Mandela family lived on Vilakazi Street in Soweto and were instrumental in community action.

Photo courtesy of

Posted: December 6, 2013