News Brief

The Late Nelson Mandela's Artwork Will be Auctioned Off in New York

'The Cell Door' is an artwork Nelson Mandela completed after he served his only term as the president of South Africa.


For the first time ever, one of Nelson Mandela's artworks will not only be displayed in public but also auctioned off by Bonhams. Following the end of his presidential tenure in 1999, Mandela took up drawing as a favorite pastime. Many of his drawings are depictions of the things he'd seen and endured during his 27-year imprisonment on Robben Island.


The Cell Door is almost childlike in its simplicity. The pastel drawing, completed in brown and purple wax crayons, depicts part of the anti-Apartheid veteran's tiny cell where he spent the majority of his time. The focus of the drawing is of course the cell door which is seen to be visibly locked by a key.

The drawing has been in the possession of one of Mandela's daughters, Pumla Makaziwe Mandela. According to the BBC Africa, she said, "I think for him, art was a good way of expressing himself or trying to come to terms with his history and his (I wouldn't want to say) demons but just coming to terms with his whole life."

The artwork will be auctioned off today in New York and is expected to fetch as much as 90 000 USD. Speaking about the prized artwork, the director of the auction house's modern African art, Giles Peppiatt, said:

"The word 'iconic' is so overused but to have a drawing of one of the most important men of the 20th century… would be a remarkable thing...It was a very personal, very poignant work for him."
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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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