Earth Matters Around the Web : The Geography of Nelson Mandela

The Earth Matter’s exhibition consists of five sections that take a symbolic journey through the world as interpreted by African artists. The fourth section in the show is titled “Strategies of the Surface”, which includes works focusing on the landscape and authored by artists from Jacobus Pierneef to Otobong Nkanga and IngridMwangiRobertHutter. Using these two works as examples, the latter work is an apartheid era landscape painting that, many contend, paints a colonial picture of South Africa, devoid of the indigenous inhabitants that challenged colonial claims to the land. The work by Nkanga describes geography from the detached, inhumane point of view of military strategy, conflict, and claim. The work by IngridMwangiRobertHutter focuses on land, belonging, and borders.

In these many interpretations, the emphasis is on the relationship between the land and people, race, and culture. With the passing of Nelson Mandela, it is a an apt opportunity to remind the world that much of the late freedom fighter’s work was about a similar geography, the landscape of people. This landscape is something that Mandela changed greatly, erasing the imaginary lines that separated and imprisoned people. Today, while disparate communities still exist, gone are the so called “homelands” which divided South Africa according to the edicts of racial segregation. Indeed, Mandela’s impact on South Africa’s geography is one of his greatest legacies.

Humans, however, are not the only species affected by geography. In a recent article by National Geographic Editor in Chief Chris Johns, for example, the author tells about his meeting with Mandela and the Peace Park project in Africa. Peace Parks are transnational reserve areas that allow wildlife to move freely across the continent. As Johns notes, the idea of Peace Parks—reserves that transcend political borders, enabling animals and people to move freely across a single ecological unit—resonated with Mandela. This article, which also sheds light on Mandela’s love of nature and his yearning for it during his imprisonment, captures a nuance of Mandela and his legacy that might be overlooked in many of the popular articles that have flooded the internet. The article can be found at and more information on the Peace Parks project can be found at


Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, 1886–1957, South Africa

South West African Mountains, 1944, Oil on canvas

Private collection, courtesy of Bonhams


Otobong Nkanga, b. 1974, Nigeria

Limits of Mapping, 2010, Wood, acrylic paint, metal

Untitled-1static drift-germany

IngridMwangiRobertHutter, b. 1975, Kenya

Static Drift, 2001, Chromogenic prints on aluminum

Collection of Heather and Tony Podesta, Falls Church, Virginia


Earth Matters Around the Web

Tomorrow is Mandela Day, a day that celebrates  former South African president Nelson Mandela’s birthday. Mandela , who has become an icon for democracy and human rights around the world, will turn 95  tomorrow.


Even though Mandela is critically ill and in a fragile state, celebrations and charity events around the world will be taking place to mark this occasion. Mandela spend 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island under the apartheid regime. While the  island is a poignant reminder of apartheid and its atrocities,  it is also a  heritage site and booming tourist destination. President Obama recently visited Robben Island during his visit to South Africa. Check out a video of his visit to Mandela’s prison cell here:


President Obama visits Robben Island


The history of the island can also be traced as far back as the early 15th century. For more information on a timeline of the island check out this link:]

 via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons



Robben Island is a  sensitive eco-system, and South African law states that the Island is a protected nature conservation area and, as a World Heritage Site, has to balance additional conservation requirements with the Robben Island Museum’s mission of ensuring public access to the Island’s heritage. Thus measures have been placed to ensure the conservation of its birdlife, natural vegetation, marine and wildlife as well as its geology.


 via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


Robben Island has also been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. For more information on this check out

In terms of the National Monuments Act of South Africa, the area was declared as a National Monument in 1996.Protection in terms of mining or prospecting is completely prohibited from taking place within the property or its buffer zone, and any unsuitable development with a potential impact on the property is not permitted by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

To celebrate Mandela Day with us and the rest of the world, why not participate in the Mandela Day Campaign  and give  67 minutes of  your time to a good cause, whether it be your local community or to your chosen charity. You could even dedicate your 67 minutes to cleaning up your neighborhood, planting trees, or any activity that could empower people and help improve the built and natural environment that we live in.