Last week, Cape Town unveiled a new sculptural tribute designed by Michael Elvion called ‘Perceiving Freedom,’ honoring the life and work of Nelson Mandela. What was it, you ask? A statue symbolizing Mandela’s inexhaustible efforts to end apartheid, poverty, inequality, and racism in South Africa? Well, in as much as a 30-foot-wide pair of steel Ray-Ban Wayfarers can symbolize any of those things, then yes!
To justify his sculptural non sequitur, Elion says that his sculpture “links us to the mind of a man whose incredible capacity to transcend enduring physical hardship, with unwavering mental fortitude and dignity, transformed the consciousness of an entire country.” His justification is that the Ray-Bans point from Cape Town towards Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for nearly 30 years. You’d think it would be the other way around if Elion was trying to get the point across that Mandela never stopped looking towards the future of South Africa, but whatever.
Needless to say, the Internet is having a field day on this one. The Africa Is A Country blog labeled it “bullshit.” City Lab agrees, pointing out that it’s not even clear if Nelson Mandela ever even owned a pair of Ray-Bans.
That got us thinking. What if Elion had stayed true to his theme of honoring Mandela by strewing random oversized objects around Cape Town, but made them things we actually know Mandela owned during his time at Robben Island. As it turns out, we have a list of possessions that Mandela was forced to give up upon being incarcerated. What if Elion had made these seemingly innocuous objects his muse instead?
In the slideshow above, you’ll find some of our ‘rejected’ Nelson Mandela tributes, along with a brief artist’s statement about what each is meant to represent. Again, allow us to reiterate: unlike Ray-Bans, these are all items we know for a fact that Nelson Mandela really owned. Enjoy!