KY Museum showcases life of Nelson Mandela

“Tata: The Father of a Nation,” a quilt by April Shipp, hangs in the Kentucky Museum on Friday. It is part of an upcoming exhibit showcasing various quilts remembering and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. According to Shipp, the word “Tata” means father in Mandela’s Xhosa language, and the quilt is designed to capture the familial love many South Africans have for Mandela. 

Emma Collins

As part of the International Year of South Africa, the Kentucky Museum will be showcasing an exhibit featuring 59 quilts that honor the life and works of human-rights champion Nelson Mandela.

The exhibition, Conscience of the Human Spirit: The Life of Nelson Mandela, will open tomorrow, Sept. 9, during the kickoff for the International Year of South Africa, and it will remain on campus until the end of January.

“The Women of Color Quilters Network and Michigan State University worked in tandem to create each piece,” Brent Bjorkman, the director of the Kentucky Museum, said, explaining that the two groups premiered the exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2014 at the International Quilt Conference.

Sandy Staebell, the registrar and collections curator, said the women involved with The Women of Color Quilters Network offered many different aspects and interpretations of Mandela’s life in their work.

The original display consisted of 51 art quilts— quilts that are designed to be used as pieces of art rather than blankets.

“It was originally all U.S. artists,” added Donna Parker, the exhibits curator, “But they received eight donations from South Africa.”

Those eight quilts, along with the 51 originals, all depict different moments from Mandela’s life, from his 27-year-long incarceration to his election as South Africa’s first black president.

Each quilt is unique, and the artists have used a variety of materials—buttons, beads, glass and more—to bring Mandela’s story to life.

To help engage the public and bring people in to see the pieces, the Kentucky Museum has planned several events.

On Sept. 12, members of campus sororities and fraternities will gather at the museum to make small quilt squares that will be displayed alongside the exhibit pieces.

Throughout the semester, the museum will also welcome various guest speakers. One guest speaker, Cynthia Lockhart, created “Mandela/Prince of Peace,” which is one of the quilts currently on display.

Staebell encourages campus groups and community members to experience the exhibit.

“This is a real opportunity for people. Such an inspiring individual, and then the way these women have put together these hangings is amazing,” she said.

The opening reception for Conscience of the Human Spirit: The Life of Nelson Mandela will be held at the Kentucky Museum on Sept. 9 at 4 p.m.