Where is Mandela?

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Dec 15 2013

Tags: ,

Category: Europe, France


I am not particularly keen on paying attention to the news of the day in this blog, but today, when the remains of what once was Nelson Mandela are carried to the grave, I do feel tempted. The world of man doesn’t know many like him. Maybe it’s also the vivid memory of my own engagement with the anti-Apartheid movement in the early eighties (see my filmography) that makes me want to deal today with the personification of this struggle. Without him this would have known a different ending.

It really surprises me then that I have to search in vain for his face among the hundreds of people portrayed above that have shaped the 20th century – at least according to the makers of the mural. Mandela’s is probably not the only face we miss there, but it is definitely one of the most remarkable omissions.

I saw this enormous trompe l’oeil once in Paris, two years after its execution. It was 1990, when on 11 February the whole world had witnessed how, after sheer endless years of captivity, the then 71 year old Mandela walked out of prison into freedom.
In the bottom half of the painting we discern politicians like Kennedy and De Gaulle; revolutionaries like Mao and Guevara; film stars like Bogart and Monroe; film directors like Chaplin and Hitchcock; musicians like Armstrong and Lennon; we recognize Einstein, Anne Frank, Gandhi, to name just a few. But where is Mandela? Maybe he sits unnoticed among the anonymous crowd of common people in the upper half of the painting? He did fit in both worlds; that was what made him such a special person.

Paris 1990 d(c) blogsize

Maybe we have to conclude that this wall painting was made a bit too early. In 1988 the 20th century still had 12 years to go, and it is precisely in those last years that Mandela could lead the people of South Africa in such an impressive way to the end of their long walk to freedom.

Still it is strange not to find the most iconic freedom fighter and prisoner of the Apartheid regime among this collection of people that have supposedly shaped the 20th century.

Photos of the week: trompe l’oeil mural (made by Dominique Durand and Bernard Helona in 1988), Quai Branly, Paris, France 1990

2 comments on “Where is Mandela?”

  1. A photo that captures a person who is not in it – Mandela would have been amused by the irony of it!


  2. Wonderful piece, Louk.


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