Mandela's Life Brings Hope in New Melbourne Exhibition

We speak to lead curator, Samantha Heywood, about the new Nelson Mandela exhibition at Melbourne Museum.

Melbourne is home to the world premiere of the much-anticipated “Mandela My Life: The Official Exhibition” at Melbourne Museum (running from 22 September 2018, till 3 March 2019). The 800m² exhibition includes outstanding artworks, original artefacts and genuine replications of rare content from the Nelson Mandela archives, including manuscripts from his writings in prison, taking visitors through a multi-sensory, interactive, educational and emotive journey of Mandela’s 95 years of life.

The exhibit has been expertly designed by iEC Exhibitions and curated by a team of Museums Victoria staff and the lead curator, Samantha Heywood of iEC Exhibitions. We sat down with Heywood as the team was putting the final touches on the exhibition, to find out all about this fascinating insight into Mandela’s extraordinary life.

Much of the life of Nelson Mandela will be considered modern history now. How do you think the exhibition will reach through to younger generations?
The story of apartheid and oppression is, unfortunately, an on-going story and people of all ages can relate to this struggle. Younger generations can learn and develop from the exhibition a deep understanding of the challenges and the struggle that Madiba (Mandela's clan name) took his people on. The other aspect is to learn his enormous understanding of wanting the best outcome for both white and black people—his vision of a rainbow nation is one of the most amazing stories of the last century.

It’s such a moving story. Is there a particular part of the exhibition that touched you the most?
The opening gallery—we take you back to his famous trial in Pretoria when he delivers an amazing speech from the dock declaring he is prepared to die for his and the African people’s cause. It is so beautifully recreated and is such a compelling speech; it’s a not to be missed moment for sure!

Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali.

What are some of the original objects/artefacts that will be featured in the exhibit?
It is indeed a very rich collection of writings, artefacts and memorabilia—the largest ever to travel outside of South Africa. Of course, we have the extraordinary 16 paintings of the great South African artist, John Meyer; letters and excerpts from his journals whilst on Robbin Island; many original pieces from the time of Apartheid in South Africa, ballot papers and ANC posters; sporting memorabilia he was presented over the years and personal items from his rich and distinguished life.

What do you consider the most significant object/s in the exhibition?
For me personally, I think his journals and writings, particularly those whilst he was incarcerated at Robbin Island are the most interesting and moving. Having said that, with over 200 items in the collection everyone will have a different take on what appeals or interests them here.

Lead curator Samantha Heywood.

Have you learnt anything new after putting the exhibition together?
His enormous respect and balance in trying to bring all the people of South Africa together; before working on this project I didn’t have that aspect of his life. It makes Madiba an enormous merchant of change.

What is one thing you hope visitors take away with them after experiencing the exhibition?
Hope! He wanted to bring about change—to give everyone a real chance to be a contributing member of society. He was prepared to die for it and he spent much of his life in jail, even when he could have been released, to give hope and real belief to his cause.

Roshan Sukhla
About the author

Editor of Where Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast)